Morning! It’s time for morning pages!
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll already know how I start my days, clogging your timeline with #amwriting tweets and lovely cups of tea. Every morning, it’s time for morning pages as soon as I can manage it, leaving bed for the kettle to wake myself up with words. It is a practice, a ritual, and a habit, one I’ve done for years and years. I flex my fingers; I empty my head. It is the only form of meditation I actually commit to and do. Without morning pages, I feel a bit scratchy, a bit foggy and shocked. Like the proverbial tree falling, is it morning if I’ve not done pages? My head isn’t so sure.
So, what are morning pages? Do they have to happen in the morning? How do they work and why do I, along with writers across the whole of the world, continue to do them, day after day? Morning pages as a writing practice came into popularity with Julia Cameron’s creativity manifesto, The Artist’s Way, though the idea itself is first found in Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer, published in 1934. Here, Dorothea suggests: “Just as soon as you can – without talking, without reading the morning’s paper, without picking up the book you laid aside the night before – begin to write. Write anything that comes into your head: last night’s dream; the activities of the day before; a conversation, real or imaginary; an examination of conscience. Write any sort of early morning reverie, rapidly and uncritically.” Simply write without direction, without hope or control of the outcome as a way to begin the day. While Julia says the writing must be done by hand, Dorothea says, “If you can teach yourself to use the typewriter in this period, so much the better.” Julia says to fill three blank pages, while Dorothea suggests we should write as long as we have free time, until you have “utterly written yourself out.” So, even the gurus of morning pages can’t quite agree on how they should be done – only that they should be done – and that they should be done in the morning.
I’m all for the following of rules, but only when they suit me. As both Julia and Dorothea agree morning pages must be done in the morning, so do I. “End of the day pages” would be a diary or gratitude journal. You want to write while you’re still a bit fuzzy, before the day has had a chance to get you into its rhythms, its demands. Julia says longhand matters, because, “There is an energy to the hand that leads our thoughts to a deeper and more connected place than writing on the keys does.” That may be true for Julia, but longhand hurts my hand and is all but unreadable, should I wish to read it. If a typewriter is acceptable to Dorothea, I choose the laptop, whose keys are quieter and whose heft is less in the lap. And while Julia would most certainly not approve, I do my morning pages online at the excellent (and free) site 750words.com, which sends me an email every morning, reminding me to write, just in case. They also track your moods through looking at your keywords, if you want them to. This is me, today, as most mornings:
Typing away, I’m unaware that I’m feeling anxious or that I’m concerned mostly about death. Is it true? Does it matter? I’m not conscious of doing or trying to do or say anything. I’m only letting my head noodle though my fingers and following my thoughts where they go. Sometimes, my morning pages read like to-do lists or laundry lists of concerns and worries, mistakes and hopes, plans and dreams. Sometimes, my morning pages are filled with self-pity, so that I can rid myself of it and move on. My morning pages can be first stabs at new thoughts – new ideas, things I’m thinking about writing – and sometimes the earliest writing of new projects happens here with morning pages that look like monologues from characters or snatches of dialogue, things I or my characters might say or think. Sometimes, I write about what I wish I were writing about – and I find that I am writing about it, simply because my ego and my inner critic are still waiting for the tea to kick in. Morning pages can be whiny or inspirational, they can be true or false, they can be bursts of newness or relentless churning returns to old slights and digs and memories. In short, morning pages are a place to dump the contents of our messy heads to make some room, for whatever will come. It is meditation in action, through fingers, and also a frame for thoughts, feelings, and imaginations.
Morning Pages certainly have their detractors, even when they begrudgingly join in, as does Oliver Burkeman in his Guardian article. Yes, morning pages take time, though I manage my 750 words, most mornings, in 10 – 12 minutes. Julia Cameron would say that’s too fast, but she can’t reach me from her ranch in New Mexico to where I am, laptop on my knees in bed, or sitting on the porch of the Blue House, angling my limbs toward the sun. Sometimes I do morning pages standing up with a cup of tea at my elbow, typing away until the website tells me when I’ve hit the magic number and it’s time to stop. The website keeps track of our days and words. Apparently, I’ve written more than 3 novels worth of morning pages on the site already, unreadable, unusable words that will never be published and are of no value to anyone but me. Only occasionally do I copy what I’ve written in morning pages to paste into a document, rare mornings when an insight comes into what I want or what a problematic character is really doing, and I know I’ve caught a snatch of something that I didn’t have access to, in my conscious mind, the one that’s concerned with deadlines and word counts and “is this working” and when can I have another cup of tea? These bursts of words you didn’t intend, of thoughts and feelings you didn’t know you had, are gold. While not the purpose of morning pages, they are a benefit, an added extra that can lead your writing – indeed, your life – in whole new directions. And that’s all we want to do, by writing, isn’t it? To understand ourselves and others, to see, for a few brief moments, how it is that the world works and where our place is in it, and how to word it?
Well, at least that’s what I found in morning pages this morning, thinking about why I do them. Whether by hand or fingertip, standing or sitting, dressed or pyjama-ed, with tea or without, why don’t you give them a try, some morning and see what comes?