On day one of my newly retired state, I woke up and started writing! Or more, precisely, I started writing “Morning Pages.” Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, popularized this practice for creatives wanting to get their mojo flowing. It’s a simple concept. Get up (not necessarily out of bed) and open a notebook and write anything & everything that comes to mind for three pages. Then stop.
Why three pages? From my own experience, it seems that you need at least a page just to wake up your brain. My first page is usually a recap of the previous day and what’s up today. But after that, then what? Ahhh, that’s the magic. At about 1 1/2 pages, I have to confront myself. I’ve run out of things to blithely write to fill the space…I need to actually come up with some content. Often that content is lists: What am I afraid of (lots); what’s on my bucket list; What’s on my long deferred to do list; why am I happy, unhappy, grateful, pissed off, etc. Sometimes, I even get some clarity about my life!
The point of morning pages isn’t to be brilliant, or start a novel or make up a story. It’s hard to fill three pages day in and day out. But I’ve now been hard at it for 13 days straight. It’s not yet a habit. I was hoping that it would become an easy, automatic activity at 21 days when I thought all habits were hard wired for good. Wrong!! I just read that that’s an old wives (or more accurately old scientist’s tale). The truth, from more thoughtful studies of human behavior is that it takes 66 days to make something habitual. That’s devastating news to me and probably to you, too. But that’s the truth and I’m not blogging just to spin lies. According to blogger James Clear, old Maxwell Smart (actually Maxwell Maltz) wasn’t so smart. He came up with the 21 days based on his client’s recovery from plastic surgery. A 2009 study published in a more reputable scientific journal said new habits take 66 days on average!! (Wikipedia: Lally et al.(2010) found the average time for participants to reach the asymptote of automaticity was 66 days with a range of 18–254 days.)
So, my morning writing practice is still clearly at risk in these early weeks but hopefully it becomes a deeply held habit at 66 days rather than a daunting 254!!
Why am I bothering with Morning Pages since it’s not actually turning into anything useful or publishable? Well, that’s not really the point. I wanted something tangible that delineated my working life from my new “discovery” life. I am not rushing out the door to catch a train or dodge traffic. I am lying in my cozy bed, listening to my inner voice and capturing what’s audible. My writing is illegible so I’ll never be able to reread it after any time passes. Codebreakers couldn’t decipher my pen scratchings. But, day by day, I am getting a better understanding of what’s ticking inside me. I never listened to that voice before because I’ve been too busy, too hyper, too enmeshed in the world to know or listen. Maybe writing these pages is my version of meditation because you’ll never catch me sitting crosslegged on a stool contemplating my breathing. This is as close to stillness as my add/adhd will ever let me get. My husband could (and often is) still sleeping beside me as I scribble my way through my pages.
If you are interested in learning more about morning pages, I’ll list a few resources at the bottom of this post. But here are my handy, dandy tips after 13 days of this practice:
- use a gel or other soft pen. Your hand won’t cramp as easily as with a stiff ballpoint. Handwriting is essential. It’s more primal and mind/body connecting
- don’t worry about penmanship. You are half asleep. If you cross the lines on the page, no one is going to slap you on the hand with a ruler
- use an inexpensive spiral or other notebook. You don’t want to worry about wasting precious paper in a beautiful handsewen journal.
- use a full size (8 1/2 x11) page. Three little pages in an adorable little moleskine notebook does not cut it.
- don’t beat yourself up if nothing comes. Write down recipes, nursery rhymes, stupid things you read/hear in daily life (we live in a particularly rich era for this!)
- stop when you are done and get on with your life.
- label each page with the date, day of the week and page number so you can keep track. I put in my start/stop times, too. It takes me around 25 minutes more or less to fill my pages but I really do scribble and have no problem going ALL CAPS and wild punctuation (!!!!) to fill the space
- do it first thing. Before you check your phone, the news or the kids. Your brain is still soft and soggy from sleep…it’s the perfect petri dish condition in which your creative flora will flourish
Morning Pages resources:
https://tim.blog/2015/01/15/morning-pages/ Tim Ferris, the uber productivity guru, gives a great no b.s. look into his morning practice which takes only five minutes!
https://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelwmiller/what-are-morning-pages-and-why-should-you-do-them-an?utm_term=.ea9NgROVo#.bw9V9l3GR Practical, funny advice
https://jamesclear.com/new-habit About habits
“Morning pages will teach you that your mood doesn’t really matter. Some of the best creative work gets done on the days when you feel like everything you’re doing is just plain junk,” she writes. “The morning pages will teach you to stop judging yourself and just let yourself write. So what if you’re tired, crabby, distracted, stressed? Your artist is a child and it needs to be fed. Morning pages feed your artist child. So write your morning pages.” Julia Cameron