Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What Are Morning Pages?

A few of us have been reporting in on Twitter every day after we've written our Morning Pages. There is camaraderie and accountability in doing so. This has spurred some interest in others to likewise do them and the question came up: What, after all, are these Morning Pages?

So I turned to their creator Julia Cameron and her book The Artist's Way where she talks about them.

Morning Pages are handwritten pages of approximately 750 words written strictly in a stream-of-consciousness style in the morning as close to waking up as possible.

There's no wrong way to do the Pages. These scratchings aren't meant to be art or writing even. They're not supposed to sound smart or clever. Doing Pages is the mere act of moving a pen across a page and writing whatever comes to mind, be it petty, silly, whiny, weird, self-pitying, fragmented, negative, babyish, angry, or.... No one other than you will ever know what you've written within the pages of your notebook. MC Richards says, "Poetry often enters through the window of irrelevance." So you keep doing your Pages no matter what you write in your book.

We have all internalized this perfectionist, which Cameron calls the Censor, who critics our every move in life. Well, the Censor is there to criticize your Pages as well. So Cameron says, "By spilling out of bed and straight onto the page every morning, you learn to evade the Censor. Because there is no wrong way to write the Morning Pages, the Censor's opinion doesn't count."

If you want to do the Pages, you have to commit to doing them faithfully. You have to be all-in. The Pages are non-negotiable. Do not try to skimp or skip writing them. Whether or not you're in the mood is irrelevant. The Pages have to be written, and in so doing, you will learn that you can write whether you're angry, upset, sorrowful, depressed, ecstatic, tired, or downright bored. Write about your emotions. And if you have nothing to say, write "I can't think of anything to write about today" till you've filled three pages or 750 words. You will find that within a few lines of this, your creative mind will kick in and you'll be writing about something other than being unable to write.

In her book, Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg gives this insight about her writing: "This is the practice school of writing. Like running, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Some days you don't want to run and you resist every step of the way, but you do it anyway. You practice whether you want to or not. You don't wait around for inspiration. It'll never happen. If you run regularly, you train your mind to cut through or ignore your resistance. You just do it."

Another way to look at this: The Pages are like meditation. Pish-posh, you say. How can writing about the mundane be spiritual? They're a valid form of meditation because "they give us insight and help us effect change in our lives," according to Cameron. "The Pages are a pathway to a strong and clear sense of self." You come at the Pages from a negative standpoint and in writing your heart out, a solution may present itself or a coping mechanism. Chekhov advised, "If you want to work on your art, work on your life." To which, Cameron says, "In order to have self-expression, you must have a self to express." Writing as a meditative practice will help you find your self.

You've been nodding along, agreeing with everything that I've written, but you ask: What if I am not a writer? Well, you don't have to be one. You can be a lawyer, a dancer, a painter, what-have-you. Picasso famously said, "Painting is just another way of keeping a diary." In fact, it's writers who have the hardest time with these Pages, because they attempt to write them instead of merely doing them. There's a difference. The former has an agenda, the latter is a free-form exercise where you let it all hang out. As a result of doing these Pages, what you will discover is that this free and expansive aspect of your personality that you've cultivated on the Pages will come out in other areas of your life.

So if daily Morning Pages sounds like something you'd be interested in doing, join me in Paging. Tweet me every morning and let me know you've Paged.