I received a question via email not long ago and wanted to share the response here in case it’s helpful for others.
Anon asks: do you do “morning pages”? Have you found any routine like this helpful?
This is such a great question, and I’m happy to dig in, as I think it applies to anyone chasing a creative pursuit, rather than just writers.
If you’re not familiar, “morning pages” were introduced by Julia Camera in her book, THE ARTIST’S WAY. Here’s what she says about them:
Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing,
done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*–
they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about
anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes
only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and
synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put
three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.
In other words, it’s basically a brain dump of all the random things in your head, that you let out via longhand writing. You’re meant to do it consistently, typically before you launch into a writing session, and the thought is that it will act as a ‘warm up’ of sorts. It loosens you up, and gets you into a state of mind where you’re accepting of your ideas and in the present moment. Plus, by writing longhand, you’re creating a direct connection between your thoughts and your body, which is credibly suggested to be incredibly useful for creativity in general.
Now, to answer the question: do I do morning pages?
The answer is nope. I don’t do morning pages. I have tried them, however, and I definitely think they would be a welcome addition to a creative’s day, if they’re the sort of creative who benefits from them. I just happen to not be one of them.
While I don’t do morning pages, I do have a creative routine that I adhere to with a ridiculous level of discipline.
The honest answer is, my “morning pages” is my morning workout.
Don’t close the tab yet! We’re about to get deep here.
Every day, before I even put my contacts in for the day, I put on my workout clothes. That’s the hardest part. Once that’s done, I’m already in the game. Then I do an hour of some exercise. It changes every day: it might be weight training, cardio, kickboxing, yoga – the exercise itself doesn’t matter so much as the act of keeping the habit.
Here’s the thing: it’s the habit that gives you the benefit.
Working out isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (especially for the first few months). But, I’ve learned that I’m not only way more productive and feel physically better throughout the day when I work out, but it’s also become a really precious time for me. I truly love it.
It’s a chance to be alone, face a challenge every day, and devote myself entirely to just one thing. If you try to multitask while you’re swinging around a 40 pound weight, you’re going to get hurt. So instead, you’re forced to stay present.
That presence helps me work out all the stiffness. You’d think that the physical impacts of exercise would be the most noticeable, and while it’s lovely to be fit, it’s really the mental aspects that keep me hooked.
I get to work out the stiffness of my body, sure. But I also loosen up my ideas. I twist my thinking, challenge what I think I know, and dump all of my energy into whatever I’m doing. It helps me find my growth mindset, because no matter how hard you train, there are always things that you’ll find difficult.
Getting into my body like this gets me out of my head. And while it sounds counterproductive for creativity, you’ll find that being too “in your head” can stifle creativity. Writer’s block is often the result of being in your head so much that you burn out those engines.
This is why I don’t see my morning workout as much different from someone’s morning pages: they are both a habit that signals to our brains that we’re setting the stage for the creative day we aim to have. That what we’re doing matters to us. They send the message to our subconscious that ‘now is the time to arrive at this moment’. And they both loosen you up, allowing you to just exist and, for lack of a better term, “leave it all on the page” (or mat). Both get the blood flowing to your brain, and allow your subconscious to release some of the ideas it’s had locked up from the day before.
And perhaps most importantly, these routines – whether they’re three pages written longhand, or an hour of kickboxing – teach us confidence. And that confidence is what truly changes you as a creative.
I don’t mean confidence that you know you’re doing everything right. You won’t get that kind of confidence from sticking to any creative routine that challenges you. You don’t want that kind of confidence anyway, since it sounds a lot like arrogance to me.
I’m talking about the kind of confidence that says “this is a seriously hard challenge I’m facing. I don’t know how it will turn out. But I do know that I will do everything I can, and take it one step at a time.
This is the beauty of morning pages, morning workouts, or any habit you partake in that sets the tone for your attitude, and therefore, your entire day.
Every day, I truly don’t know how I’m going to get through a workout. They’re seriously tough! But every day, I force myself to dig deep and manage to make my way through it, one rep or minute at a time.
This is exactly the same thing that needs to happen when you’re facing a creative challenge, like writing a book. You may look at the end product you’re aiming for and think ‘how in hell am I going to manage this?” I know the feeling well—I’m currently facing it with my next novel! As Liz Gilbert says, it can feel like swallowing the sun.
But over time, you show up for yourself, and eventually you can look behind you and see this bank of work that built. That’s where the power is: in the evidence. Morning pages are a way of creating evidence for yourself that you can do this thing you want to do. It’s evidence that you are worthy of the dreams you want to achieve. You can see the crumpled pages of your notebook growing systematically, building upon themselves every day. That evidence is what gives you the confidence: I don’t know everything, but I know I can get through this one thing, just like I have all those other times.
It’s not the act. It’s the habit. Or, as one of my trainers so aptly describes: we’re going to train the quit right out of you.
Julia Cameron’s morning pages are a way of priming your brain for writing. It’s a habit one can acquire, that signals to your brain and creative sensibilities that we are honoring this pursuit and showing up. It’s a chance to work out the stiffness in minds and bodies. Morning pages will train the quit out of you.
My morning workout does exactly the same thing.
So if you’re reading this, I hope two things are abundantly clear to you:
1) If your creative habits look entirely different from someone else’s, that’s okay. That’s more than okay – it’s great! Whatever you do that keeps you chasing your creative dreams in a healthy, mindful way is absolutely perfect. You do you.
and 2) If you’re struggling as a creative and looking for help, building a creative routine may help.
It doesn’t need to be Julia Cameron’s three pages of longhand. Maybe it’s a page of doodles. Maybe it’s a mindful walk with your dog, with the actual intention of noticing everything that’s around you. Maybe it’s kicking your own ass in the gym.
They’re all valid. They all work.
And the best part about a creative routine is, it works if you do.
Thanks so much for reading. If creative and curious tidbits are your thing, you can subscribe to my WRITER’S NOTEBOOK via tumblr, or my website’s RSS feed, which also hosts each post. And if you know a creative friend who might like these posts, please pass them on! The more the merrier around here. Lastly, if you really want to make my day, you can preorder my next book!