Beyond the morning pages

I journal. There are all kinds of journals out there: travel, food, spiritual, gardening, dream, gratitude, and more. My knitting/crafting blog probably fits the definition of a journal; my accounts on LibraryThing and Goodreads are my versions of reading journals. But what I think of as my journal is the book I write in daily, usually first thing in the morning. No specific topic or anything, just a recording of whatever thoughts happen to be going through my head while the pen is in my hand. It took me the longest time to realize that I’d slipped back into the habit of morning pages. I’d done morning pages years ago after reading The Artist’s Way, but I’d let the practice go after a while and hadn’t expected to pick it up again. Still, something in the back of my mind remembered it, and when I got back into the habit of journaling regularly, morning pages it was.

Morning pages are supposed to stimulate your creativity. I’m not sure whether they’re doing that for me generally—I knitted a lot both when I was and wasn’t journaling—but I think they’ve been nudging me to get more creative with my journaling. Years before I read The Artist’s Way, I read The New Diary. It showed me that journals could be much more than a log of the events of your day. Between it and The Journal Wheel Guide Book, I learned that your journal entries could also be more than just paragraphs of first-person prose. You could dialogue with something or someone in your life.  Or make lists: things you want to do, your favorite books, the five things that scare you the most. Pour your heart out to people in letters that will never be mailed. Write about yourself in third person to get some perspective on your issues.

fountain pen and journal
photo credit: JoelMontes via photopin cc

I also want to try some of those other kinds of journals. Okay, not a travel journal—those work much better if you actually travel. But perhaps committing to keep a dream journal would motivate me to go to bed early and try to get enough sleep so that I could remember my dreams in the first place (because wanting to get enough sleep for its own sake obviously isn’t working). And spiritual journaling sounds intriguing as all get-out. I read books like Life’s Companion and Journal Keeping, and think that maybe this is a spiritual practice that I’d actually keep up. I mean, I journal now, so I’m already in the habit; it would be more a matter of journaling differently.

But what will happen to the morning pages if I try these other approaches? I only have so much writing time and energy, and I think that’s what’s kept me from putting energy into these other kinds of journaling up until now. If I write morning pages, there goes the journaling energy for the day. If I write out a dialogue, I’m betting no brain dumping will get done that day. Do other kinds of journaling stimulate your creativity or are they better for other things like maintaining your emotional balance or spiritual development? I’m worried that if I throw myself into non-morning pages journaling, I will cut off the creativity that’s leading me to try those other forms in the first place. But even the most productive freewriting feels limiting when it’s the only thing you do, and that’s hardly creative. Won’t know unless I try, I guess.


Books I mentioned

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron (1992)

Journal Keeping: Exploring a Great Spiritual Practice by Carl J. Koch (2003)

The Journal Wheel Guide Book: Set the Wheel in Motion for Positive Changes in Your Life by Deborah Bouziden (2001)

Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Practice by Christina Baldwin (1990, 2007)

The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity by Tristine Rainer (1978, 2004)

2 thoughts on “Beyond the morning pages

  1. I’d expect that everyone’s experiences with Morning Pages (and some other Artist’s Way activities) are unique, but I’ll offer mine.

    I stumbled across the book many years ago, not too long after it came out. When I found myself in a period of blocked creativity, thought I’d give it a try. Did the Morning Pages consistently for some months. I was quite astounded that they seemed to work. I found myself drawing and writing again (I think this was actually before I took up knitting, I was probably still making quilts).

    During that period, doing the Morning Pages and then doing my “real” works did not conflict in terms of time or energy. The mornings are a low energy time for me, and I’m having to get ready for work most days. I’ve never been able to do productive creative work at that hour. Even Morning Pages were a struggle, causing me to just sometimes write random words until a coherent thought would form. And I had to be careful lest I overrun the time I needed to leave for work. I can blame this period for another degradation of my handwriting, as I tried to write fast in the bit of time I had. Then in the evenings after work, when my energy levels are better, I’d work on my actual projects. Then the problem was tearing myself away to go to bed on time because all my life the late evening has been my most creatively energetic period. Not real harmonious with a day job!

    I also took to heart a few of Cameron’s other steps. Perhaps the one I practice most, still, is (I think it was called) Refilling The Well. This is how I remember it at this late date. I recall a couple of variations of this activity. One was to go and immerse yourself in the raw materials of your art. Maybe you work in textiles — go browse a fabric or yarn store for an hour, just to soak up inspiration. Obviously, this approach works better for some arts than others. The other is to do Something Else for a while. Visit a new place. Do some activity completely unconnected with your art (heck, even mundane things like cleaning house or maintaining your car could fit here). Read stuff completely unconnected with your art. All these new influences then ferment in your subconscious and come out as new inspiration, occasionally on the spot, but often at random unexpected times later.

    For a long time now, I haven’t done Morning Pages. Given my current morning schedule, which I have very good reasons for appreciating and sticking to, I have *no time* on work mornings to be writing anything. I’d have to get up even earlier, and have to go to bed even earlier and take more time out of my natural Creative Energy Period in order to do the MPs. Then it would turn into the conflict of time and energy that you describe, and so I’m unwilling to push my schedule further.


    1. Yeah, I can see that morning pages might not be the best thing in your schedule. Isn’t it annoying how these pesky jobs get in the way of all our lovely creativity? (Filed under “Problems, first world”.) Journaling didn’t fit into my schedule for years because I’d picked up from everyone else that you’re “supposed” to get up as late as you can in the morning and then hurry through only the bare minimum of things you must do before going to work. I’m guessing that works best for night people, but it took me the longest time to realize that I could get up earlier and do things I enjoyed in the time that I had the most energy. (Sometimes when I tell someone that I journal or knit or read before going to work, I get this absolutely stunned look that screams Why? You could be sleeping! But that’s the thing: no, I can’t. Even if I’m sleep-deprived, sleeping during my high energy hours is nearly impossible. Which I’m reminded of every weekend when I try to sleep in.)

      I don’t remember Refilling the Well specifically, but it sounds like what I’ve heard about from several sources: distract your conscious mind with something else—anything else—and let the back of your mind toss up inspiration or solve your problem or whatever. That same back of the mind area is probably where the morning pages (or night pages, for some people) come from, and I’m guessing that it’s easiest to access for journalers at those “transition” times of the day: you’re conscious enough to write, but there’s mental space for the unconscious (subconscious?) to peek through and be heard. I’ve tried journaling at other times of the day, and it’s just not the same experience. Unless I have something definitive to write about, like recording something major that just happened to me, it’s probably more use as a penmanship exercise than as journaling. It feels dry, two-dimensional, and it’s a struggle to do.


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