The Journaling Exercise that Boosted My Creativity

Have you tried journaling right when you wake up? This is what the Morning Pages routine taught this author.

After spending three years on a consuming project, I woke up one day to find that I was creatively stuck. What was next? 

I had relied on ritual and routine to write my book, Oklahoma’s Atticus. When I was grinding away at a defined project like a manuscript, I was able to summon the discipline needed to wake up every morning at 5:30 to put words on the page. But after it published, I looked around and wondered, Now what?

I didn’t have a good answer. Thankfully, one landed in my lap: Morning Pages.

Developed by author Julia Cameron, Morning Pages are called the “bedrock of creative recovery.” You basically write a few pages (Cameron says three) of anything you want the second you wake up. You bust down the dam of your subconscious and let the words flood the page. 

I decided to give it a shot for two weeks. That’s all I’d need to decide if it was for me. I woke up, pulled out my notebook, and wrote. That’s it. My tools were a #2 pencil and a green, spiral-bound notebook. No fancy, leather-bound diary for me — you can’t beat 120 blank pages for $0.35.

At first, Morning Pages sounded self-indulgent to me — a “get creative quick” scheme for people without discipline. I was wrong. 

What I discovered about my writing, and myself, was surprising.

I’ve journaled since I was 16, but restricted my entries to big events: funerals, vacations, setbacks, successes. Inevitably, I self-edit: Is that really what I want to say? My kids may read this someday. Or if I’m feeling optimistic: My future biographers may read this.

Not with Morning Pages. I surprised myself when I wrote exactly what I was feeling and thinking at that moment. My spirit had woken up and had a lot to say, but my logical brain was still asleep (which was good — he talks too much anyway).

Sometimes, I detailed the prior day’s events like a journalist; other mornings I turned my experiences into fiction like a novelist. My subconscious did the writing — I was just along for the ride. No in-the-moment self-editing. I told the truth. 

Two pages later, I felt just as refreshed as if I’d finished a fresh pot of coffee. My mind was clearer and my day went smoother. I’d just had a one-on-one with myself and the only other “person” in the room: God.

Journaling is known to be an effective therapeutic tool, especially when it comes to processing stressful events. Morning Pages aren’t meant to be therapeutic, per se, though that can certainly be an ancillary benefit.

Morning Pages are meant to push through “creative roadblocks,” they help us step past the tripwires our logical left brain sets for our “life of the party” right brain. The logic is simple: If you’re stuck in a creative rut, the only way out is through. Don’t wait for inspiration; just keep producing.

Writing Morning Pages is a practice that benefits any kind of creative endeavor. Though it uses writing as a method, it clears the mind for artists of all types. The point is to just get all the thoughts rattling around in your head on the page where you can organize, dismiss, or explore them. Sometimes people write grocery lists; sometimes they write deeply held fears; sometimes they write “morning pages morning pages morning pages” over and over. Just open up the faucet of your brain and let it flow onto the page. By the end of the exercise, you’re stepping into the day with clarity. 

As the famously methodical writer J.R.R. Tolkien (by way of Gandalf) once penned: “Not all those who wander are lost.” Creativity is the same way. You have to meander and even stray off course from time to time. You’ll be surprised by what you discover about the world and yourself.

Two weeks passed, but Morning Pages remained. They are now part of my daily ritual, and I recommend them to everyone, even if you don’t think you have a creative bone in your body.

So do yourself and your work a favor: stop hitting the snooze button (you can always sleep in on Saturday) and commit to 1-3 pages a day. Don’t worry about what your kids or biographers will think. Just write.

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