My #1 tip for creative unblocking is a tool I have taught— and used— for three decades: Morning Pages. Morning pages are three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness morning writing, for your eyes only, done as quickly upon waking as possible. These pages do not have to be “good writing.” There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages.
Some of the most common questions I’m asked about Morning Pages are:
Do Morning Pages really have to be done in the morning?
Yes. Doing pages in the morning allows us to plan and adjust the trajectory of a day that is about to happen. Doing pages in the evening— which is something more like journaling— allows us only to reflect on a day that we’re powerless to change.
Can I make coffee before starting Morning Pages?
Yes. I like to say that I teach adults— and I would never get in between someone and their caffeine. However, I recommend getting to the page as quickly as possible— the pages are most beneficial this way. So don’t spend 45 minutes brewing the perfect cup. I personally brew coffee the night before and drink it over ice in the morning.
Do the pages really have to be longhand?
Yes. Typing Morning Pages may give us more speed— but will give us less depth. Writing by hand connects us more intimately to our thoughts, and paradoxically is more efficient in terms of getting in touch with ourselves and opening the path to our most authentic selves and the day at hand.
What size paper do I use?
I have found that 3 single sides— so, three pages, not six— of 8.5x11 or A4 sized paper is the ideal amount. Smaller paper will cramp your thoughts. More than three pages risks going too deep into self-absorption.
Lessons I’ve learned from three decades of Morning Pages
Persistence pays off. Doing the pages day in and day out, even when they seem dull, boring or difficult, eventually leads to breakthroughs. Because they can be about anything, pages are like taking a whisk broom the to corners of our consciousness.
You don’t need to be in the mood to write. Any mood is a good mood to write from. Very often, pages that begin in crankiness end in jubilation. The pages themselves are mood altering, moving us from the negative to the positive.
Our nasty inner critic can be ignored or evaded, and it is not a good reason to avoid the pages. Make no mistake: our critic will weigh in with negative opinions. We learn to say, simply, “Thank you for sharing” and keep right on writing.
Positive ideas emerge seemingly at random. A simple phrase, seemingly of whimsy, may be the portal to a new piece of work. “Wouldn’t it be fun to try—“ we write, and at first we think, “Oh, I couldn’t do that. But we realize, at the pages repeated urging, that we are in fact able to try a new direction.
The pages are a tough love friend. They will nag repeatedly until we take action on an issue. Let us say we have an alcohol problem. The pages will say, “You were drunk last night.” Then they will say, “You were drunk again last night.” Then they will say, “Maybe you’ve got a little drinking problem.” Finally they will ask, “What do you plan to do about it?”
Pages completed give us a feeling of self esteem. On days when we feel unable to accomplish anything positive, we can nonetheless say to ourselves, “At least I did my pages.” These pages count on the positive side of our inner ledger.
No matter how scattered our pages may feel to us, they are still moving us forward. Unlike journal writing, where we set a topic and stick to it, pages skitter from topic to topic. It is as though we have ADD. Over time, the mere mentioning of a topic corners us into tackling it. Pages force us to move ahead, often in a direction that we at first dismiss as inconsequential, only later to see its importance.
There’s no such thing as something too petty to be mentioned in the pages. While our critic may tell us that we are nitpicking, experience shows us that there is no such thing as too trivial a topic to bear mention. We site something small, only to have it later be revealed as something large.
Pages train us to take risks— first of all, the risk of doing the pages themselves. Over time, the pages teach us to resist our resistance. What initially seems impossible becomes, at the pages’ urging, possible.
Pages always expand our creativity over time, making us far larger than we initially perceive. All of us have a creative ceiling— an imagined limit which we dare not transgress. Pages teach us that our creative ceilings are frequently false. We discover ourselves to be far larger and more expansive than our pre-pages negativity would allow.