I have been writing morning pages every morning for three years now. Morning pages were probably not Julia Cameron's idea, but she's the one who named them "morning pages," and so she's the one who gets all the credit.
Cameron's Morning Pages (note the capital letters -- she insists on them) as spelled out in her book The Artist's Way involve lots of rules and regulations. You're not allowed to go back and re-read Morning Pages, for example. They must be written longhand. They need to be three full pages, and you just have to GO GO GO, even if you don't know what to write; you have to write THROUGH that, and just WRITE, no matter WHAT is in your brain. You are supposed to write them first thing in the morning, before you even have coffee. The link above will point you to a video of Cameron explaining all this. I hate to be judgmental, but take one look at that woman and you will know immediately that you have to take everything she says with a grain of salt. She's the kind of woman who might buy a whooping crane if they were for sale, and who definitely has like thirty pairs of clogs and twice that number of see-through shawls.
But I'm not putting any of this down, because morning pages (the version I do have lowercase letters, mind you) totally changed my life, and I swear by them. Only for me, the solitary rule is that morning pages have to be written at some point in the morning. It's basically just morning journaling. End of story. Cameron can take credit, but honestly I feel like Ernest Hemingway did essentially the exact same thing:
I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.
I have amassed twenty notebooks of every ilk. (Writing morning pages has driven me to grow very fond of good notebooks, especially ones with skinny lines and thin paper. A good notebook can drive you out of bed in the morning. I tried for two months to write in a dirty composition notebook leftover from being a teacher, and I found it akin to trying to have sex with an unintelligent, generic-looking person with a beer gut and no sense of humor: it got the job done, but there was absolutely no pleasure in it.) They sit gathering dust on the bottom shelf of my bookcase, and sometimes I look at them and marvel and think, "If only I had concentrated that effort into writing a novel. Then I'd have written a novel."
But actually, having a collection of one's very early morning thoughts for a number of years is extremely helpful when you're in a very bad mood and life seems more unjust than usual. It turns out that even though This Moment feels like The Worst Moment of your life, actually Every Moment feels like that. We just forget.
When I go back and read excerpts from morning pages past, I slowly realize that I am living the same day, over and over again (just like Bill Murray!). Here's what's (always) going on with me:
- I don't like my body, and I believe I am going to change that about myself by finally getting in shape and eating better. Then I will feel great in a bikini and all the boys and girls will swoon at me.
- Something is going wrong with A BOY. I wish the boy would like me less, or I wish the boy would like me more, or I wish the boy was just a LITTLE bit different. THIS IS THE BIGGEST DEAL IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD AND IT IS REEEEEALLLY BOTHERING ME. Nothing -- I mean nothing -- can happen until I resolve things with this boy.
- There are like 500 things I want to accomplish before I die, and I have really done none of them. Own a goat? I am no closer to owning a goat. Publish a book? Please. Climb a mountain? See Item 1! I am perpetually out of shape!
That's all there is, for three years of entries. I keep thinking these things are going to change, but they don't. Every entry says basically these three things, in any assortment of orders, on repeat. Here are just a few excerpts, chosen at random:
August 12, 2011: My tummy looks puffy when I look in the mirror. I will just have to do some more exercise. WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE.
September 7, 2012: I have dropped all my routines and I'm wallowing and THIS NEEDS TO STOP. I got caught up about [a boy] again and that's stupid; there's nothing profound or great about it, it's just DUMB.
December 5, 2012: Yesterday was not a terrible day for food; I ate three chocolates in Carrie's office and a big bowl of salad with a lot of dressing and everything. I went to yoga and record night. I thought about [a boy] yesterday. What happens is that I need time on my own and then I take it, and no one seems to notice, so I just feel rejected and reach out and get stuck in gummy relationships.
December 18, 2012: Last night after running (for a long time) I just started sobbing. Wailing, lost it, my body, breath, just fell apart entirely. I think this is the end of the [boy][boy][boy] chapter of my life, and I'm done with all that and ready for something new.
July 27, 2013: OK old habits, you won! You won for a VERY long time, but now I've defeated you and YOU'RE DONE. Obviously you just need to get out of the house. I wish I could stay in the house. BUT I CAN'T STAY IN THE HOUSE.
August 2, 2013: Whatever. [A boy] knows he rejected me, and WHATEVER. I am pretty sure he will not get into grad school. I hate him. I don't hate him. YES I DO I HATE HIM. Yesterday I cried a lot. I do let [the boy] make me feel bad. I need to spend less time with [the boy.] I feel good when I am making things. Am I ready for school? I felt giddy while I was drunk for a moment last night. I told [another boy] I'd go canoeing with him. What am I doing? What do I like? I have been so sad about [a student who died] but not sure how to express it to myself or to others. Should I see the Dirty Projectors tomorrow? I am tired. I am a little broken down. That's OK. That's where I am right now. I am not sure I believe in myself today. So I can be quiet and listen. I can be gentle with my heart and my time. We shall see what is left. Let's stay open. There is a lot to celebrate in each passing moment.
See, I always come out on that side -- the side where I realize that everything is going to be OK. I write it at the end of basically every entry in my morning pages journal: "It's OK;" or "It's going to be OK;" or "I know that this will pass;" or (my personal favorite) "Onward." It's very big of me, really; I should probably be a therapist or something.
The thing I don't admit to myself is that I am always going to be the same person. I will never evolve into this better Self who has everything under control. There is always going to be [a boy], and he is always going to bother me. I am never going to have exercised enough.
But those feelings, as miserable and soul-eating as they are, do pass. They do. They go away and they turn into other feelings.
Sometimes I think I am at the bottom-most edge of deep space, and there is no lower rung to descend to. In truth, I'm moody, and I'm never satisfied, and nothing is ever perfect. That's just the human person I am.
Looking back at [the boys] and the stressful lists of things to do that I thought would never get done, of course I laugh. It only takes a week or so to forget an infatuation, and eventually the things get done or they don't. But then, when I look at today's entry (it's about [a boy], and about how I am crying, like, ALL THE TIME, and also about how I haven't exercised enough), there's a part of me that can preemptively also laugh. This is really what is so great about keeping morning pages -- the secret perk that no one tells you about. Knowing how it all turns out allows you to take life a little less seriously.
That's not to say a person shouldn't honor what she is feeling in any given moment. It's just to say that most of the stuff we think is VERY SERIOUS is actually a little bit silly. A lot silly. Booflisnitch! I don't know. That was just a silly word. I am going to write it in my journal.