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Morning Pages: the beginning

I have a daily practice of three longhand pages done first thing on awakening, hence, “Morning Pages.” The pages clear my head and prioritize my day. I think of them as a form of meditation. There is no wrong way to do the pages. You simply keep your hand moving across the page, not pausing to take what I call “mental cigarette breaks.” It is as though you are sending the universe a telegram: “this is what I like, this is what I don’t like...” Implicit in this, “please help me.” If the pages are meditation, they are also a potent form of prayer.

When I began writing morning pages, I needed prayer. I had washed up in the tiny mountain town of Taos, New Mexico, having gone there to sort out my brilliant career. I had written a movie for John Voigt, and its reception had gone from “brilliant” to radio silence. Discouraged, I had rented a little adobe house at the end of a little dirt road. It was lonely there, and I took up the practice of morning pages to keep myself company. Every day, before my daughter woke up, I would rise and go to the long pine table that faced a large window that held a view of Taos Mountain. Faithfully, I would record the mountain’s mood: foggy, clear scattered clouds near the summit...

“What should I do about my movie?” I would daily ask the pages.

The answer would come back, “Do nothing about your movie. Just write.”
And so I would write, about nothing in particular, just daily meanderings. Three
daily pages gave me a sense of purpose. It was a manageable amount. The first page and a half were easy. The second page and a half, harder, contained paydirt: hunches, intuition, insights.

One morning, after I finished my pages, I was startled to have a character stroll into view. The character was a woman named Johnny, a plain-air painter who executed a magnificent painting at the end of my pen. Johnny wasn’t a movie character. She was — and this startled me— the lead character for a novel. The opening scene rushed through my hand. My mind played catch up. “You don’t have to write movies, you can write books.” The onslaught of freedom was heady. I was no longer trapped as a screenwriter. I was liberated, set free. I owed my freedom to the morning pages. They had opened an unsuspected door. I was grateful to them, and so I kept my daily practice of pages in tact, writing my three pages before turning my hand to Johnny and her adventures.

Somewhat arbitrarily, I wrote three pages of novel daily. The pages mounted up with insulting speed. Ninety pages in a month, twice that in two months, three months was a novella’s worth, four months verged on a novel.

I wrote from summer into fall. Johnny painted the changing foliage. When winter came, she set down her paintbrush. She had fallen in love. Happy, she began painting still lives: a basket of apples, a pair of pears. If Johnny was happy, her newly found lover served as a muse. I myself was lonely. No lover hovered close at hand. I found myself missing my New York life, chock full of people and opportunities. One grey morning when the mountain was blocked from view, I wrote “The End.” Later that same day, I packed my car for the long drive back to Greenwich Village. I took my newly minted novel with me.