The Morning Pages will unleash your creativity and unlock your mind, allowing ideas to come out and expand. What is this strange tool, and why does it work so well? You might think it’s something extremely complex, but it’s not. It might be one of the simplest, most effective tools you can use to not only unleash your creativity and help it flourish but also cruise through times when you feel blocked or uninspired. We all have those moments, so I suggest you check out this tool that can help you as it has helped thousands before you.
A while back, I wrote an article that talks about why I believe journaling is great for you and your creativity. In addition to the act of simple journaling, I described a specific sub-set of it called Morning Pages. In this article, I am revisiting that topic because I truly believe it deserves a dedicated post.
The Creative Process
Look, we don’t all feel creative. It’s a fact. It might be a result of our upbringing or the things we were exposed to throughout our lives. I grew up in a creative home—both my parents are architects—but I can’t tell if that’s the only reason I feel creative.
In contrast, some people feel creative naturally, even if they haven’t been exposed to anything particularly related to art. You can see it in children from an early age. Their propensity for exact sciences versus art is undeniable. It’s only later, as we grow older that the border between those two concepts gets muddled.
According to research, some people are more left-brained, and others are more right-brained.
People who tend to be more analytical and methodical in their way of thinking are leaning more toward the left-brain, while those who are more artistic and creative are right-brained. Neuroscience has studied this in-depth because knowledge in this area is critical when examining different diseases. But it has also led to categorizing the many things our brains do and linking our behaviors to specific brain areas.
So we now know that the left side of the brain is responsible for words, sequencing, linear thinking, math, logic, and facts. The brain’s right side is mostly responsible for feelings, visualization, imagination, intuition, rhythm, arts, and holistic thinking.
It’s not hard to imagine that, just as our bodies develop differently, our brains are not the same from one person to the next. And just as there is non-symmetry in our bodies, so there is in the brain. For some, it’s more comfortable and natural to tap into those activities driven by the left side versus the right side and vice-versa.
One thing that is important to understand is that this delineation is not strict. We all have two brain hemispheres, and they perform their respective activities, save for situations when a disease or accident has damaged the brain.
The second thing that is critical to consider is that even though some of us might be leaning toward one side or the other or being somewhat balanced naturally between the two, our ability to use those features doesn’t come entirely out of the box. Just like the bicep on your arm can grow if you exercise it in certain ways, your brain can grow and improve. We often say sharpen your mind or train your brain.
It’s true. You can exercise your brain, and in time it will increase its capacity. If you work on math exercises all day long, you will begin to sharpen the left side of your brain. If you paint and write every day, you will train the right side of your brain.
Are We All Creative?
Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
I love this quote because, if you think about it, creativity stems from curiosity, and there are no creatures on this planet more curious than small children. Curiosity kindles and fuels creativity because, by being curious, you will experiment. By experimenting, you will create new things-and the cycle repeats.
The problem with growing up is that we begin to narrow our curiosity and therefore stifle our creativity. The education system wants us to learn logic and linear thinking much more than it wants us to be curious. That’s why we have a curriculum, which is nothing but what other people have thought we should learn. There’s nothing wrong with that; we need structure in our learning. But we also need to accept that we should not completely silence the creative child inside of us.
In a very popular and enticing TED Talk about education, Sir Ken Robinson argues that all children are naturally creative. Still, as we reach adulthood, our creativity has been “educated out of us.”
If this is all true, then how do you harness the creativity inside of you, improve your creative thinking skills, and put them to good use?
Julia Cameron – The Creator of Morning Pages
Last night I watched The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s latest movie. Although I am biased toward the great work he has done, I believe I am objective when I say it’s a great movie. Most of my friends disagree, but that’s okay. They are often wrong. But I digress.
Did you know that from 1976 until 1977, Scorsese was married to Julia Cameron?
Julia was born in 1948 in a suburb of Chicago, and in her early years, she was a writer for the Washington Post and Rolling Stone Magazine. Today, her official Wikipedia page lists her as an American teacher, author, artist, poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, composer, journalist, and pigeon fancier. I had to research what the latter meant, as this is indeed the very first time I’d heard the term.
In any event, Julia’s life was not without ups and downs. During the seventies, she began abusing drugs and alcohol, which led to different stages of psychosis and paranoia. She later detailed this dark period of her life in her memoir, Floor Sample.
By 1978, Julia had realized that the path that she was on not only was leading her away from her creative fountain, but it might very well end her life. She made an effort to stop substance abuse and focused her life on teaching.
As she regained her creative impetus and recovered, Julia continued to research creativity and ways to unblock it. Little by little, she wrote a book designed to be a set of notes for herself. It was a way to document the process she was undertaking of unlocking her creativity.
As soon as she realized that the material had value, she began making copies and distributing them to various beta readers.
Eventually, the book was published in 1992 by a major publisher under the title The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity. The book became a bestseller and one of the few self-published non-fiction books to have attained massive popularity.
The book’s entire goal is to help people (not just artists) unlock their potential by tapping into their creative supply. We all, Julia asserts, are creative in one way or another. The problem is that we don’t allow that creativity to manifest because of our own biases and beliefs.
But the methods and tools presented in the book have been applied by thousands upon thousands of people, and the message is consistent: they work.
Among these tools, the one that we will focus on in this article and the one on which you will find the most research available is called Morning Pages.
What Are Morning Pages?
Here is what Julia writes on her website about Morning Pages:
“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. * There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*-they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind, and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize, and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages; just put three pages of anything on the page… and then do three more pages tomorrow.”
At first sight, this looks a bit confusing. What do you mean the pages can be about anything? After all, isn’t that the essence of a creative block-that the creativity is somehow temporarily frozen so that nothing can come to the surface? So, saying to write about anything when your mind is blank is of no help.
Or so it seems.
You see, the problem is not that all of a sudden, you are no longer creative or that your imagination has vanished. Those capabilities never go away, and as much as you might not believe it, they continue to expand and diversify as you grow older.
It is the connection between what’s inside and their outward expression that becomes broken.
Ideas are there. They exist, but they just won’t come out.
And when they do, you are not present to express them.
If you want an analogy, it’s the same as if you were in a coma for a year, and then, when you wake up, your leg muscles are so atrophied that you can no longer walk. Will the doctor then tell you to think a lot about walking and one day you’ll walk again?
No, of course not. That’s because you haven’t forgotten how to walk. Your legs simply no longer respond accordingly. No—the doctor will tell you to begin with small steps and not stop even if you fall. To get up and start again. And again, and again.
Soon, your legs will recover.
Creativity works in the same way. You need to pull it out of your head little by little. The more you do, the more the “door” opens wider. If, in the beginning, it doesn’t seem like creativity at all, much like your post-coma steps don’t look like walking, the more you go, the better it gets.
And this is the essence of Morning Pages.
Here are the elements of this tool and why they work.
Virginia Berninger, a researcher and professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, said that “pictures of brain activity have illustrated that sequential finger movements used in handwriting activated large regions of the brain involved in thinking, language, and working memory. Handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential finger strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding only involves touching a key.” Many other studies have analyzed how hand-writing is a brain-stimulation tool, and it keeps you focused, much more so than its typing counterpart. In addition to this, I find hand-writing also extraordinarily tranquil and peaceful, whereas typing always makes me feel on the run as if I am in a rush.
If you write fifty words per minute and continue writing at that pace for twenty-five hours or so, you will produce as many words as the first Harry Potter book. Of course, that is impossible. A much more viable alternative is to write one hour a day for twenty-five days. Even that might be hard to maintain. But thirty minutes per day doesn’t seem so daunting, does it?
In my article about the Divide and Conquer method, I talk about the power of breaking things down into bite-size pieces, and that’s how you can swallow an elephant. Morning Pages relies on that element as well. By writing consistently every morning for at least ninety days (the approximate time it takes for new habits to stick), you create a routine. Routines are known as “pull” habits. You no longer need to “push” yourself to do it; the routine itself “pulls” you into it. By applying this technique consistently, you set yourself on a path to ensure it will work for you. It’s the old consistency over intensity mantra. Don’t skip a day! Not even a day!
First thing in the morning
This is critical. As your day goes on, there is information that comes in (inputs) and information that goes out (outputs). The inputs come from the news, your friends, your family, Facebook, the weather, and so on. The problem is that in today’s world, there are so many inputs rolling over us constantly that they drown our minds before the day even starts. Once you turn your phone on, it will hijack your mind in seconds. All your ability to create an output (which is the result of your creative work) takes a second chair. Sometimes, that chair is so far behind that you never get to it.
That is why it’s so important to set your Morning Pages first thing during your morning routine before you allow the day’s inputs to hijack your brain. Before you see anything, talk to anyone, listen to anything-sit down, and write your three pages. It will teach your brain that you put importance on your output, and, in time, it will learn how to prioritize it.
Stream of consciousness
No matter how blah your day or week or month is, there is always something on your mind. Even if it’s something so mundane that it would bore even Mother Theresa to death, it’s still something. Your mind is never blank. So, by merely allowing your hand to write what is on your mind, you will never run out of material. If you really cannot think of anything, simply write that you can’t think of anything. Ponder over three pages about how impressive it is that you have reached the Zen of having your mind completely blank. Keep going. You’ll see that eventually, something will come up. That is the power of using your stream-of-consciousness versus writing prompts. I know this will be hard if you are a perfectionist but look at it as a perfect practice ground to break that pattern, too.
One of the biggest impediments for anyone, regardless of whether they see themselves as artists or not, is the emotions we feel when we think somebody will judge us. Even if you are a well-established actor or writer or singer, every time you perform, there’s a part of you that’s wondering how your performance will be received.
With Morning Pages, what you write is private. So private that even you should never read it. Because neither you nor anyone else will ever see it, there will be no judgment. Ever. Nobody, including you, will ever wonder if the writing was good because that’s not the point of it. By taking this burden off your shoulders, the process will go forwards without any encumbrances.
Doing Your Morning Pages
Now that you know what Morning Pages are, this is a quick recap on how you can start doing them today:
- Get a good notebook. Ideally, a lined one with thick enough paper so that it won’t show up on the other side if you use a fountain pen.
- Buy a decent pen. I find that fountain pens are good, but they tend to get expensive and require some maintenance. Use anything that makes it easy for you to write. You should not struggle to write. It should flow easily.
- Put today’s date on the first blank page, and number two more pages.
- Fill those three pages with long-hand writing.
- Tomorrow, go back to step 3.
- Keep going until the notebook is over.
- Put the notebook somewhere in storage. Don’t read it.
- Get a new notebook, and repeat.
That’s it! It’s so simple that it almost sounds silly, right? Well, try it out. It works! Especially if you are a writer, Morning Pages will be a great addition to your arsenal of tools to combat severe writer’s block. As a writer, I’ve hit that wall many times, and this method was there to save me. Good luck!
If you liked this article, you might also check my research into the writing habits of 10 famous writers. A lot of them have to do with establishing routines similar to morning pages.
Other Resources on Morning Pages
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Do you consider yourself a creative person, and why?
- Did you ever feel blocked and uninspired in any endeavor? If so, how did you breakthrough?
- Have you ever used Morning Pages, and if yes, how was your experience with it?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!