Monday, 10 September 2012

Morning Pages

For the past few weeks I've been using a technique that's been quite revealing. It's called Morning Pages and is a technique suggested by artist and creative writer, Julie Cameron.

In it, she suggests that when you wake up, you pick up your pen and notepad and write three pages. What you write is down to you. It can be writing-related, it can have nothing to do with your writing ... but you just have to write three pages in your notebook.

The idea is that, if nothing else, it clears your mind of all the clutter that has accumulated overnight. You might, for instance, wake up thinking about all of the things you've got to get done today. Well, if you've written them down in your morning pages then you've cleared them out of your mind, thus emptying it of any worry. Your creative writing time is now more likely to be creative.

Hopefully, though, some useful thoughts will come to you whilst you're writing. And this is what I've found has happened to me. Yes, I've written some pretty awful drivel, but dotted throughout these words are the occasional useful thoughts that have helped me develop several ideas, or seen a new idea show itself. Over the period of a week, I found names for two characters I want to put in a short story, and I know what the opening scene is - without really 'thinking' about it. I've also identified a couple of article ideas from this stream of consciousness too.

Like any technique, this is something that I've adapted to suit me. There's one suggestion that you should only write on one side of the page in your notebook. Then, when you come to read back what you've written, you have the opposite blank page to jot down any thoughts. I tried this, but I found there were some pages where I was making lots of notes, and others where I hardly made any notes at all (because what was on the other side was complete drivel!). So, instead, I write my three pages consecutively and then summarise the points on the fourth page, which works better for me.

Writing your stream of consciousness, first thing in the morning, feels strange at first. But give it a try. You can write anything ... but write something. Here's an example of the first few lines of one of my morning pages:

Okay ... so what am I going to write about this morning then? This pen's naff. Is it runni ... ah! That's better. New pen, and one with ink, that'll make things easier when I actually think of something to write! It's a good job I have pens lying all around the place everywhere. That's probably because I'm a stationery fan - aren't all writers? Why are writers such stationery addicts? Why do we go all of a quiver over some Post-It Notes and a couple of biros? What is it about an empty notebook that fills us with excitement ....

And so it went on. As you can see, I wasn't exactly writing Booker Prize-winning prose, but that's not the point of the exercise. The aim is to clear your brain of thoughts, some of which might prove useful. Looking back over the past few weeks whilst I've been doing this exercise, I've got something out of every set of morning pages. It might only be a character's name, although sometimes there's been a couple of article ideas. But, there's always been a useful nugget in there, somewhere.

So, why not give it a go for a week? Do it for a month and you might create a new habit! And of nothing else, at least when you get up, you can do so knowing you've actually done some writing already today!

Good luck!


  1. So have you written an article on why writers are stationery addicts? I'd love to know the answer to that one. Why do we all need drawers filled with pretty notebooks and enough pens and pencils, even coloured ones, to build a garden shed?
    Look forward to your answers when I read the article.

  2. Ah good so it is not just me then - have you seen 'paper blanks' far too nice to actually write in!

  3. My name is Maxi, and I'm a stationery addict...I'd love to know the answer too. I'm definitely going to try this technique. Goodness knows I have some notebooks to use! I think it was great that you showed us what you'd written (or part of) one of the days. That was ideal as it showed exactly that it is jut stream of consciousness, and that it doesn't have to be Pulitzer prize stuff, just whatever's in your head.

  4. Probably worth reading Dorothea Brande's book, Becoming a Writer. She wrote about morning pages back in the 1930s - although she called it 'early morning writing'. This exercise has been copied by many other creative writing teachers, but Dorothea advocates starting with morning pages and then going onto 'writing by prearrangement' and, many weeks or months later, you should read through your random writings to discover your preferences and your strengths/weaknesses as a writer.
    Dorothea's book is the original and it is a classic!

    1. Yes, I have Dorothea's book and I've compared the two (Julia Cameron's is aimed at all artists, not just creative writers). I like the way that Dorothea suggests continuing writing whilst it's flowing - and if that means for several hours, then great! However, most people can't manage several hours, which is why I think the three pages technique can be a useful option, for those who have full time jobs and families to look after too. Basically, anything that gets you writing has to be a good thing!