I’ve been doing Morning Pages on/off since 2011.
That’s six years of writing 3 x A4 pages of brain chatter daily, every morning, before I start my day. You can picture it right now... I'm all snuggled up in front of the fireplace with my notebook and pen, in my cashmere dressing gown, sipping a latte, thinking up ground breaking artwork that would rival a Pollock.
Wrong! Very, very wrong.
What are Morning Pages anyway?
Morning pages are basically a daily journal entry/brain dump that you write every morning. The goal is to clear and focus your mind of head chatter before starting your day. It’s supposed to help you feel lighter, focus you, help with clarifying problems and reconnect with yourself. Some would describe it as a form of meditation. Some would describe it as a form of torture. I was that person.
I was introduced to Morning Pages via The Artist's Way and as they’re part of the courses structure I diligently did as I was told and every morning for 12 weeks I would wake up, do my morning pages… then basically cry (more on that in a sec). Then I’d pick myself up and forget about them until the next day.
Me and morning pages were a messy affair.
I dreaded Morning Pages. Often just angry whining rants full of fear, complaints, predictions about how so-n-so hates me, or ‘that won’t work’ or excuses like ‘how can I when…’ or ‘I just can’t’. They were horrid to experience. Horrid because it made me confront every dark thought that clung to me and I couldn’t avoid it. Not only that, but as an added kick in the teeth, I never seemed to experience that moment of enlightenment that everyone else seemed to get with Morning Pages. All my Morning Pages did was depress me. Lower my mood. And then I’d spend the whole day fighting back trying to get some joy back. Yup I got the infamous 'click point' at midway where my brain started kicking into gear and problem solving but I never wrote about art. I wrote about how I hated my house and the kids were winding me up and how nobody respects me.
If this sounds like you then I want to share with you my story: The evolution of Morning Pages and how I finally, after 6 years, found a way through all the darkness and started to settle down and use Morning Pages as a tool to set important CREATIVE goals, figure out what I want to do each day and actually have a positive impact on my life.
So, what can Morning Pages do…
If it wasn’t for Morning Pages I wouldn’t be sat here at the computer, at 7am, mid school run furiously typing this blog post out. When inspiration strikes (frequently whilst writing Morning Pages), you feel responsible to act. Even immediately. It's powerful.
Even though they take around 30-45 minutes of your day (and when you’re pushed for time that can seem like a stupid waste of time- don’t worry, I thought so too, for a LONG time), what they actually start to do is streamline your day. So rather then waking up and thinking 'AGGGHHHH I have a trillion things to do today all at the same time and I’ll probably be on fire or infected with the bubonic plague whilst I’m doing it and then someone will phone me asking where there money is or why I’ve forgotten to meet them… instead of that, your morning pages take care of it. You write down all those fears, and doomsday predictions, and slowly you start to write down answers, you find solutions, you find options and a FOCUS to your day. Your trillion problems file down to ONE thing: I need to write a list and delegate some of these task. Or I need to ask for help today. Or I need to quit some responsibilities, I’m taking on too much. Or, actually most of these jobs can wait till another time, I just need to focus on [whatever that is].
Morning Pages help you get to work.
They de-stress you. They prime you. They point out repeated issues ‘I’m really angry about the way that person is talking to me right now’. They nag you with what’s important, NOT what’s been demanded of you.
But why did I have problems with Morning Pages for such a long time?
As with all things of value it took TIME for me to unfurl and grow into Morning Pages. For a lot of that time I just wasn’t ready yet.
Some people take days to figure them out, others only need weeks. Some people go through periods of getting it and then returning to the dark pages. Others, like me, will struggle for years.
Why? I think it’s because I was stuck in my head. I was so busy looking for answers I wasn’t listening to the response. So when I asked ‘I feel so lonely and bored’, and the Morning Pages replied ‘are you really lonely or are you just not present?’ I didn’t like that answer. I wanted a quick fix. I wanted my excuses. I liked my excuses. They kept me safe because I didn’t have to take any action. I could just whine and be a victim. I didn’t want to look up and around me and go actually… I like being on my own but I do need to VALUE the time I do have with people better and y’know... do something to change this situation.
6 years later and I’m only just starting to listen to my pages… but they work. 6 years but finally, I get it.
My experience with Morning Pages evolved like this:
I tried in vain to do them ‘perfectly’ even though there is no right or wrong way to do morning pages. If you look into their purpose the reasons why you avoid doing morning pages are often more important to explore then the insights you have whilst you write them, but none-the-less, even though I knew that, I still wanted to be a perfect student and believed that if I did them exactly as I was told I would immediately have profound insights into my creativity and life and everything would be wonderful. WRONG. The fact is you have to do Morning Pages as a beginner, slip-up a ton of times, get really angry and stroppy about it if you must, feel all the feelings you get, and then pass through the ‘fuck-it’ stage. The ‘fuck-it’ stage is a real, valid, art thing (I’m serious), where you just learn that doing the work is more important then what you think the work is. It’s an important skill to learn. Trust me. At this stage I could definitely see the benefit of writing my pages. I could see the amount of stuff rattling around furiously in my head and I was pleased I could write something even when my head was empty. But I couldn’t see any art coming from it. What I didn’t realise was that I was setting the scene. I was confronting all the crap that made art making difficult for me. I was addressing my feelings about myself as a person, my insecurities, my environment, my lifestyle choices… all those things that got in the way of me allowing myself to enjoy making art. Note what I said there, ENJOY. Not 'Make'... I could still make art. I could still make OK art. But it was a battle to ENJOY it. A battle of epic proportions. Yet without me realising the morning pages were surreptitiously winning that war for me by forcing me to look at outside factors that effected me daily as a creative
Realising that I was an autonomous being and that I had some power over how and when I did my morning pages, I got experimental.
I got curious.
I started exploring the different ways and places and times I could write morning pages and noted the different effects they created. I noted that a certain level of concentration was required for them to feel comfortable but you could do them, albeit with difficulty, with children screaming at you. And there lies the magic of Morning Pages. The difficulty, the struggle it made me experience was a very clear message! They were saying Lianne, trying to do two things at once is making you angry and that’s a sign. Focus on one thing at a time. Did I listen? Of course not. I just spent several years resenting everyone instead because excuses why I can’t do something are so much easier to focus on than taking scary steps towards improvement and art-making. It’s scary saying ‘I want 5 minutes to myself' when you think you’re children will hate you forever for it. It’s scary admitting you’re afraid of applying for that job. It's scary going to that class alone. It’s scary sitting with feelings of rejection.
So we make excuses.
We blame other people. We blame our situation. We let go of our power and hope someone else will fix it for us. But… things just stay the same when we do that and I learnt that the hard way. I hope my mistakes help you become the artist you want to be, sooner, and with less drama. I was so close to ‘getting’ Morning Pages at this stage too, but I had focused on the wrong thing. Rather then valuing what I was writing and the answers I could find within my own writing, I was trying to skip the hard part of morning pages- the discomfort and icky feelings they can stir up.
I KNEW that it was excellent progress that I was leading myself and deciding what things worked best for me, but rather then work with it and embrace whatever came up at this stage in my evolution, I was trying to manipulate it and force it to work for my art rather then listen to it. It nearly worked, but I’d go in cycles. One month I’d be super over productive and have all these ideas and goals and then fail at everything because the same issues and unresolved problems would come up. I'd get burnt out and over commit and just feel dreadful. Oh look, I have this amazing idea for an Instagram challenge but look at the state of the kitchen. Oh look I want to enter that competition but this idiot has started a fight with me and I won't drop it.
At this point in my evolution, I gave up, a lot. I was so tired of getting a taste of what could be but not getting all my cake. It sucked. But I wasn't far off!
Clarity as last. Morning Pages do become a little bit like a friend. You have all this gossip you want to tell it. ‘You never guess what just happened’, 'I had this AMAZING day at the beach', and you actively want to go write your morning pages so you can find out what you’re doing today. It's true!
I plan and organise myself with bullet journals which are great, and I highly recommend, but now I only plan my week after I’ve done my morning pages. Other wise there’s no point. I could say 'today I’m going to schedule ten blog posts' and then my morning pages make me realise actually I want to read that book on Granny Squares and the whole plan goes to pot. Regardless of my what my bullet journals say, I go read the book. Do I care that I’ve not done my post schedule? Nope. I feel great. I read about Granny Squares and then had a cool idea for 3 new blog posts whilst I was doing it instead. I make better choices because of my Morning Pages. I trust my Morning Pages to figure out my day better then I ever could. I mean, just think. If I'd done what I'd planned to do I would have spent all day planning my schedule, felt exhausted as a result, stressed out, probably hungry. Depressed that I couldn’t read my book. Sulk. Delete all the posts anyway. Not have ANYTHING to show for myself.
Which makes better sense?
And the Morning Pages are surprisingly responsible too. It's not about being impulsive and forgetting all your responsibilities. What told me to organise my studio? What told me to hire an assistant? What told me to let my children join an extra dance club? What told me to tidy the garden up before winter? What told me to book a date night with my husband. Yup. Morning Pages.
As an artist by art making has become so much more intuitive too. I don’t make with a plan in mind. I make because I’m curious. Because I’m having fun. Because I want to try and test and experiment and play… I FEEL more creative and more in tune with what I'm good at, interested in and as a result more likely to succeed at. We succeed when we're happy. When we're invested in what we're doing. When failure is irrelevant because we're having fun.
So how did I get there?
It’s not the easy answer you’re hoping for I’m afraid…
By sitting with the icky feelings.
I’m sorry. But yup. It took me about 2 years to get through every icky feeling that came up (because they repeatedly nag you until you’re at peace with them) but after a while I occasionally got that magical moment with my morning pages when they started to talk to me about art making. Just little glimmers at first:
I am so tired of answering to them, who do they think they are? It’s NONE of their business! All I want is to just make the art I want to make. Like that portrait I want to draw...
And then in time…
I had this amazing idea for a painting. Needs lots of lace and I think I want to use ink and frame it in black. I want to collaborate with so-n-so on it because I think they’d be so good at that…
It’s like I needed to wade through all this murky swamp water to get to the dry land.
I needed to let my brain fix my problems with where I lived, my family, what it means to be a women, a mother, my relationships, my childhood, my guilt, shame, fear, jealousies, suspicions, anger, bad habits, obsessions and paranoia’s, phobia’s, nightmares, excuses… even my illnesses had to be written about first before I could see the light.
THAT had to be my art for a while.
I had to go through the darkness first. I couldn’t fake it. I couldn’t force myself. I had to sit there and spend a LONG time processing all this toxic energy through my morning pages before I learnt that in a way, by expressing it, by writing it, feeling it, making it, letting it go- even though it wasn’t pretty or the art I wanted to make and wasn’t what I wanted to get from my morning pages… it was necessary to get to the place I wanted to be.
I learnt that art is an expression of yourself whether you want it to be or not. The morning pages give us the chance to evolve into something else over time. What surprised me is how surprisingly efficient they are, and how their solutions to my most painful problems can be powerfully healing, positive and KIND, not just to me, but to others as well. I think… dare I say it… I have finally connected with my higher self through my Morning Pages?
Okay, but now what?
I believe that my morning pages will be a continuation of this process. An ebb and flow of expression and creativity. A rhythm of inward reflection and outward expression and creativity. The fun parts come through when the hard parts have been acknowledged and cleared. Art is born from pain. That doesn’t mean my Art itself looks depressing or dark or toxic but it's born from it, in the sense that you’ve got to plant seeds in mud to get a flower. That's as poetic as I get okay?
I’ve learnt how art making is intrinsically linked to your core, and vice versa. Art making is incredibly healing. Even in the early stages when I would struggle with my morning pages one of the best cures would be to go make something and ‘show those pages’ that life wasn’t all doom and gloom. What I didn’t realise was that I was actually showing MYSELF the powers of creativity that my Morning Pages were trying to tell me all along.
What if I don't want to do Morning Pages?
You can still make art! You can still be an artist! The Earth will still revolve.
Morning Pages are simply nothing more then a tool, a tool I finally found useful. If you don’t use them, cool, fine. That’s your self will. Embrace that. What I’m trying to advise is that if you’re struggling with Morning Pages, if you’re 3 years down the line and still hate them, still see no value to them, still feel like they do nothing but upset you… here is a ray of hope and my perspective on them.
You know exercise?
And how you can work out and you’re in agony and then WOW a second wind hits you? Morning Pages are like that. You need to work at it, and before it gets good, it get’s tough. Keep doing them. Keep going.
Keep embracing every single part of yourself, including the crazy, dark, sad thoughts, the pain, the ugly bits, the uncreative bits, the boring, repetitive bits. You don't need to make art on it, but move through it and let yourself make art on the other side of it.
You’re nearly there!