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Ode to Morning Pages

two pages of handwritten text overlaid

It’s a simple practice. Write three pages, first thing every morning, longhand. Extolled far and wide, Julia Cameron’s initial assignment in The Artists Way is nearly cliché now. I am a great skeptic, and I could only approach this practice as an experiment after a mighty effort to suspend my disbelief. Yet here I am to tell you that it changed my life. The story’s been told many times, and it’s a true story!

Last spring in an interview about my journey from college to owning my own shop, I was asked if I had any advice for people just getting out of school. Advice about how to get to where I’m at, which is apparently, “living the dream.” Ha! Well if the dream is working 24/7, I have arrived. How did I get here? I did the work to imagine it. The thing is, to live a dream you have to have one. You have to care enough and be curious enough to ask yourself over and over again what it is you want. The morning pages are an incredibly powerful tool for me in this regard.

Yesterday marked five years that I’ve been writing them. Every morning, I “spill out of bed and onto the page.” There’s a sum total of three rules: write three pages longhand, first thing in the morning, and no one gets to see them ever. Every day, you just write whatever it is that comes to mind. Sometimes I’m distracted, sometimes I’m sick, sometimes I’m downright depressed, sometimes I’m so excited about my work for the day that I write in big loopy letters as fast as I can. My morning pages are full of complaints, worries, questions, fears, bad ideas, judgmental feelings, grocery lists, wonderings, and half-hatched plans. They are mundane for the most part though often, somewhere between half way down the second page and a third of the way into page three, there is a flash of brilliance. Like the brights getting flicked on momentarily during a long dark drive on a winding road with dim headlights and persistent nausea.

The real brilliance of the morning pages is that they are there for me. Every morning, there is a blank page that welcomes everything about me, any thought or feeling I have, all without judgement. If that’s not unconditional love, I don’t know what is. I realize my notebooks are inanimate objects but there in those pages, I have found a sense of security that’s only matched for me in the wildest backcountry. Everything is absolutely okay, and no matter what, they’re there again tomorrow. I am so incredibly grateful for this practice.

The pages are a touchstone, a daily connection to my subconscious, a reliable space to check in with myself before the day happens. Who am I, what do I want, where am I, where do I want to be, I should probably clean out the fridge. The dailyness is soothing. I don’t have to figure everything out, I don’t have to know anything. I just have to spill out of bed and on to the page every morning, for three pages.

When I first started this practice I was stuck, pinned in on all corners, stressed to the max and terrified of admitting my unhappiness. I was taking care of anyone and anything before myself because it was easier than admitting I was an artist. Bitterness reared its ugly head as crisis after crisis rolled through my life courtesy of so many loved ones. Of course a million other things have transpired since then, but if there’s one thing I can attribute my current happiness, prosperity, and general sense of well-being in the world to, it is the morning pages.

I never imagined I’d be one of those people writing morning pages my whole life but here I am, it’s just part of my day, every day, can’t imagine not writing them. It’s often my favorite part of the day. A shot of espresso, a view out the window, my notebook and a crappy pen. Oh the morning!