By: Noelle Sterne
“I’m writing. The pages are starting to stack up. My morale is improving the more I feel like a writer.” ―
No Dust on Cameron’s Jacket
Three shelves in my library are crammed with guaranteed-to-break-your-writer’s-block books. All have a thick dust blanket, some have grown moss, and a few have put down roots.
One book, though, never even got to the shelf. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, went with me everywhere and, to my astonished wonder, revived my lifelong, nearly stone-cold dream of writing consistently. BC—Before Cameron—all my fervent declarations and self-promises, after a few heady days or weeks, crumbled like smashed cookies before the screaming demands of the rest of life.
Cameron understands this. As the book’s over-quarter-century bestsellerdom confirms, she has reawakened many blocked writers, artists, composers, sculptors, cinematographers, and other “creatives,” as she calls us, to get going again and keep moving (p. 139). She is a true doctor of letters; however long you’ve groaned and not written or given up on your writing dreams, her elixir works.
What Are the Morning Pages?
By now, you may be familiar with Cameron’s rehabilitative program in the book; many courses and groups have taken off from it. Cameron herself calls them “creative clusters” and offers very sound advice if you’re inclined to establish one (https://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/creative-clusters/). If you’re basically an introvert (I speak from experience), you can certainly do the program on your own, as I did.
The book is carefully designed to entice you back into writing. Over twelve weeks, in gradual doses of one chapter a week, Cameron prescribes specific assignments that nudge you to regain respect for yourself and reacquaint with your creativity. Integral to the treatment is what she calls, and many writers know of today, the Morning Pages (MP). But unlike the assignments, their contents are not prescribed at all.
At first jot, the MP seem like all those timeworn, well-meaning platitudes from our early writing teachers about keeping journals and diaries. But the MP are different. They jumpstart our inventive engines so we can reach the cruising speed of uncompromising daily writing.
The primary purpose of the MP is to clear our heads of the pervasive preoccupying gunk we carry around that drags us from our work or stops us cold. As Cameron tells us, the MP are the unjudging receivers of that constant stream of dismal thoughts, feelings, railings, and lamentations that bombard our minds and get in our way.
You know the ones: whiny, grossly self-pitying, obsessively repetitive. The MP provide a safe, nontoxic dumping ground for these landfills of jealousies, rages, and self-indulgent trivialities. Cameron consoles us, “Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid, or too weird to be included” (p. 10).
Morning Pages Include Everything
You may be protesting, “Hold it! This is the stuff I spilled out ad nauseam in my secret adolescent diary, cursing my existence for not yet having a bestseller at 14.”
Exactly. Well, now it’s not only okay, but it’s also required.
Don’t worry, as I did, that the MP must be “real” writing. Cameron assures us otherwise, not that “real writing” should be discouraged. If you’re already doing the MP, you’ve probably discovered that occasionally, without preparation or warning, a little gem pops through. Or a great idea for a story or novel surges up, to your excitement. You’ve experienced that mysterious creative state beyond conscious effort that results only from consistent application of pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
Such times are sure to be cherished. But, as we all know, they’re regrettably few. And one way to induce more of them is by doing the Morning Pages.
Handwriting is more intimate, visceral, and heart-connected than keyboard clacking. And second, we should fill our pages in the morning.
Why Should You Do the Morning Pages?
She coaxes us to the task with several excellent reasons:
In their deceptively simple way, the MP combat “the Censor,” that ubiquitous inner shrew that never shuts up (p. 12). Even if, by other people’s standards, we have an all-A life, or a list of works longer than James Patterson’s, the Censor endlessly informs us that we never do enough or do it well enough.
In bold rebellion to the Censor, the Morning Pages feed our “inner child” (p. 12), that twinkly part of us long imprisoned by parents, religion, school, society, and adulthood. Whether we know it or not, our child is giggling to break out.
When we do the MP faithfully, they get us beyond the Censor’s reach to the other side “of our fear, of our negativity, of our moods.” This is the place where “we find our own quiet center” and our own triumphant voice (p. 12).
With Cameron’s reasons, I’ve discovered a few others:
- The Morning Pages, despite their most often dubious quality, undeniably count as writing.
- Never mind that the rest of the day whizzes by with jobs, kids, partners, laundry, dental appointments, and all the other relentless to-dos. You’ve written something besides a list of groceries or strange car noises.
- You feel like a serious, committed writer doing the MP. They tell you, Yes, I am keeping this daily promise to myself.
- You’ve put your writing first. If you must fault yourself for how you write, you can at least stop the self-flogging for not writing at all.
- The MP give you an ongoing, physical record of progress. You can label your pages by the year or quarter and prop them on a bookshelf or file them in a cabinet. You can take heart and encouragement watching the shelf or cabinet filled with the fruits of your self-discipline.
Practicing What She Preaches
Whatever your method, know that the MP work. Cameron herself is ample evidence, a drinker of her own writing potion and veteran of over a decade (!) of the MP, with an impressive, ever-growing list of writing and other creative accomplishments.
The testimonies to Cameron’s methods by grateful unblocked creatives span all the arts, with many “made-it” names you’d instantly recognize. It’s sobering to realize that book success, fame, position, wealth, talk shows, even your mother’s approval, don’t automatically immunize you from the blocking affliction. Cameron tells of a successful writer-producer who religiously rose at 5:00 a.m. every day to do the MP and credits them “with inspiration for her recent screenplays and clarity in planning her network specials” (p. 9).
My testimony is somewhat less dramatic. But unless the universal pen and tree supply dry up, I will not quit.
When to Do the Morning Pages?
However, as you already may suspect from the title of this piece, I’ve taken creative liberty with one of Cameron’s fundamental conditions. (Dare I admit this?) My mornings don’t start with the Morning Pages.
After the first burst of perfect rule-following, the early entries—as if by themselves—stopped. An unreformable non-morning person, at first light I’m utterly incapable of bounding eagerly out of bed, sweet-lipped and bright-eyed. It’s a feat to get up at all, much less tackle anything like writing.
I work independently in my office residence, and I’ve learned that I must sneak into the day. After dressing, I ease in by going out to the terrace with several essentials: coffee, daily meditative book, junk mail, and the ubiquitous clipboard and pen. I sit, sip, stare, sigh, survey the sky, smell the air, and, blurry eyes slowly focusing, take in the relatively newborn day.
Find a Schedule that Works for You
After a few jolts of caffeine, I begin to think about the day’s demands and scribble them in a rough schedule. Then I check out primetime TV, read a magazine feature (always looking for markets), and turn to the day’s meditation for spiritual refueling.
This routine has been a habit for years, and I look forward to it. When I added the Morning Pages, it was almost lunchtime before I got to the morning’s work. So my MP grew later and later. At first, I did them after lunch about 2, then between projects around 5:30. Finally, they hit the evening and stuck.
In the beginning, I felt like an irrevocable sinner. But soon, I found that switching to the evening didn’t condemn me to metaphorless purgatory.
When I write at night, the MP are the cathartic receptacle of the day’s pettinesses and redundant gripes against those closest and most annoying. The Pages are the open-armed accepters of ceaseless rationales and self-justifications. They’re the patient receivers of too-frequent cries of “Nothing to say!” And occasionally, they’re the recorders of small, significant victories (“Did 15 minutes on this piece today!”). Sometimes I even did the MP earlier.
As the Morning Pages continued to work for me, regardless of the time I chose, I’ve developed many ways to keep them working, whatever the time.
Like evolutionary adaptations for survival, these methods ensure that the Pages stay alive, in my heart, mind, and write brain.
Keep the MP Going
Here are my non-morning methods:
Plunk paper and pens everywhere—the main writing area, kitchen, bedside night table, bathroom near the magazines, briefcase, tote, and car seat. The MP can be done anywhere and at any time.
- Use waiting time anywhere to do them, even if you don’t finish them in a single stint. (Don’t tell Julia.)
- Finish the day’s MP whenever you next can, as long as it’s before midnight.
- Do them slowly or quickly. At first you may need 45 minutes or more, but eventually, according to Cameron, most writers settle into 10 to 15 minutes. This period leaves room for a little thinking and eventually some honesty.
- Do them neatly or messily, and don’t worry about whether you’ll be able to read them later.
- If you feel utterly blank, just keep writing, “I have nothing to write.” Very soon you will.
- Keep doing the MP.
What if you miss a day, or night, entirely? It feels awful, worse than stealing from your partner’s pocket.
When I miss an entry, I sometimes don’t realize it for an hour or even a day. But the instant I remember, I stop everything and pinpoint the exact moment this supposedly steadfast habit flew from my mind like a hawk from captivity.
Then I have the first task—forgive myself. And the second: take corrective steps. Set the clock, plaster signs all over the house, beg for help from my significant other. Most crucial of all, I jump back on the horse and kick the pen into a gallop, whatever the hour.
Morning Pages Work Anytime
The MP work in the morning, afternoon, night, or any other time of day. Despite all my rationalizations and naughty rebellions, I’m writing proof that they do what they’re meant to.
They got me back to thinking and living like a writer. They helped resurrect my lifelong goal from the mountainous ashes of decades-long distractions. And two years after starting the MP, on an uneventful work morning, I got a call from the regional Sunday magazine editor. He wanted to publish an essay!
So, do the Morning Pages whenever you choose—brunch, high tea, or vampire dawn. Commit to them, hold fast, and keep scribbling.
You’ll gradually notice you’re less afraid, you’re growing ideas, picking up unfinished work, and even feeling spurts of hope. And, best of all miracles, you’ve given yourself the delicious practice of regular writing.
Bio: Dr. Noelle Sterne
Author, editor, writing coach, writing and meditation workshop leader, and spiritual counselor, Noelle has published over 400 writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, short stories, and occasional poems.
Website: Trust Your Life Now
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