Make Your Paper Notebooks Useful: Morning Pages

I’ve been a practitioner of Julia Cameron’s morning pages for many years. (See reference notes below for her resources on this practice.)

I’m in one of the helping professions. My life involves a lot of emotional labor, in some confounding situations. It often takes me a while to figure out how to respond to things. Also, in my personal life, I want to be present in a good way for family and friends.

The practice of writing morning pages is, for me, both therapy and meditation. It helps me sort my thoughts and feelings before I start the day.

Morning pages give me the following:

  • they take the thoughts whirling around in my head and place them on the page: I always feel more clear-headed afterwards

  • sometimes they help me plan my day — tasks, reminders, and thoughts about how best to time something might bubble up (e.g. “what if I combined this errand, with that appointment?”)

  • sometimes they help me sort through emotionally tangled problems: what’s mine to deal with, what’s others’ to deal with, etc

  • sometimes they help me sort through my own difficult emotions

  • sometimes I get useful insights, suggestions and intuitions into things (e.g. I’m agitated and want to DO SOMETHING about something; and the morning pages say, “Wait.” Or, “Call this person.” They have been correct so often over the years, that I just do what comes up in the pages.)

Sometimes it feels like I am writing things on the pages, and sometimes it feels like the pages are writing things back to me — I just assume that’s the intuitive / spiritual side of my mind at work, and this is one way for me to access it.

I know artists who feel this way about their art, and I know many people who find that doing something physical helps them to tap into that inner wisdom.

For me, it is morning pages that do that.

Some people sort out their thoughts by going for a good run.

And some of us go for a good write.

How To Write Morning Pages

They are called “morning pages” because you write them first thing in the morning, preferably as soon as you roll out of bed.

If you can’t manage that, if you have cats to feed and cows to milk, you write them BEFORE you look at your phone, or turn on the radio or TV.

Write down your own thoughts first, before you fill your mind with others’ thoughts and reactions.

Write three pages, in an 8½ by 11” notebook (roughly A4), by hand, without stopping.

Keep the pen moving. This is a data dump. You want to get your first thoughts out of your head and onto the page. (Note that Cameron discourages writing down your dreams here, as this might take up all your pages.)

After three pages, stop. Because you’re writing FAST, this actually doesn’t take that long.

That’s it!

How I Do My Morning Pages

Havron’s First Law of Personal Information Management: Use tools you love to use.

This is also true for analog Personal Emotional Management. Use paper and pens you enjoy using.

For me, that means fountain pens and fountain pen-friendly paper.

Set the table. I make sure I have these things ready before I do my morning pages:

  • three fountain pens: if one runs out of ink or skips too much, I just grab another one. The writing session only stops for coffee refills.
  • the morning pages notebook (either A4 or 8½ x 11 inch, depending on what I get)
  • coffee coffee coffee coffee cooooffeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
  • my capture notebook

chair and ottoman next to a bookshelf, with one shelf cleared for writing materials and a cup of coffee

It is key to write these three pages without stopping. To keep my pen moving, if I stall, I write stuff like this:

  • “What else is on my mind?”
  • “What do I need to know, understand, or do for now?”
  • “lalalalalalala”

Keep the pen moving.

Make Your Morning Pages Useful

When actionable things come up in my pages — writing ideas, tasks I remembered, thoughts about a project — I enter those into my capture notebook at the end of the session.

You could also keep a couple of index cards handy for this.

Privacy and Security Matters

Morning pages are meant to be completely uncensored — this is where you process the raw stuff.

If you’re not writing down your real, unfiltered thoughts and feelings, it won’t be as helpful.

This means for your own sense of psychological safety, and for the sake of others who do not need to read your fleeting emotions about them, find a way to keep these notebooks for your eyes only.

Mine lives in a journal cover that snaps shut, which is then zipped into a tote bag. (If anyone were to unzip my journal tote bag, take out my morning pages notebook, and unsnap the journal cover, I wouldn’t be responsible for their feelings if they read something that irritates them.)

I also shred my morning pages once I finish a notebook.

They have served their purpose. I moved the actionable stuff to my capture notebook; and I had a safe place to sort out personal thoughts and feelings.

I’m emotionally dressed, my mental lunch is packed, and I’m ready to greet the day.

And their work is done.


REFERENCES

Here is a video Julia Cameron made about morning pages, and here is a short e-book she wrote about it.

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