Morning Pages As Metaphor

First of May. Wet and rainy. This morning was cold. I woke early listening to the rain, trying to resist the call of my bladder. I lost that battle. Downstairs I pet the cat, told her she had to wait for food, disappointing her once again. I took pen and phone to the basement though lately I wonder why I bring the phone. I'm not listening to music as I write, preferring forty-five minutes of quiet. My life feels too noisy. I need some solitude.

I wrote the date and page number on each of the three pages and wrote that it was cold. Writing flowed from there, but distracting thoughts kept intruding. I thought of one thing I had to do today, then another, then another until it was as though I were trying to write one line of thought while screaming and having a seizure.

Rather than give up, I switched to writing the panic and anxiety. Then I wrote this one word: breathe. I stopped the pen, closed my eyes, breathed in deeply, held it, and exhaled. I went back to writing.

At some point I thought of how many lines I fill every morning. Three pages of thirty-one lines each. Ninety-three blank lines. I can write only one line at a time and when there are ninety-two to go, it can feel daunting. But if I write about it soon there are only eighty-three lines to go, then sixty-one, thirty, and half a dozen.

Morning Pages take me forty-five minutes most days. Once in a while I get distracted and they take an hour. Then there are times I wake late and have to rush through in half an hour. Whatever the case, it's one line at a time, one word after another, one page, two pages, and then three pages. There's no other way other than to give up. I've come so far that I don't want to break the streak. I keep going.

There are lessons about writing to be gleaned from doing Morning Pages, but the more important things have to do with living. I don't know all those lessons. I'm still learning. But these few come to mind: Do one thing, breathe, and do another. Fill one line at a time and understand that ninety-three lines only seems like a lot. Turn each page over and move to the next one. Don't stop until they are all finished. Remember to keep the hand, arm, neck, and body loose. Stop to pet the cat when she visits. Listen to the sound of the pen on the page.

One more thing thing I'm learning: it's going to be okay.

I finished my pages. I breathed that in. Then I moved on to the next thing. Tomorrow I'll fill three more pages. This is all there is to it. This is a life.

Morning Pages Are Analog

"Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning." — Julia Cameron

Seven words into her description of Morning Pages, Julia Cameron says that they are done longhand. Pen and paper. There are many reasons, but the most important is the most primal: writing with pen on paper is as close to natural as writing can be. Writing by hand is simple, close to the bone (literally), and the way we first learned to write. (That last may have changed in recent years I'm sorry to say.) Morning Pages are on the desk, receiving ink from a pen held in the hand which is moved by the mind. The action is immediate, permanent, personal, tactile, private, individual, and traditional. Remember that tradition doesn't mean that something is just old but is so tried and true that it is passed down through the ages. I've been through at least ten different word processing programs and at least double that many file formats (some of which are no longer readable by any machine I can access), but the paper and pen I use could have come from my childhood or my father's childhood or his father's and so on down the line.

Morning Pages are analog and that facilitates connecting with the stream of words that flow within us but which is too often blocked by embarrassment, worry, or inconvenience. The fewer things mediating between thinking and writing, the better. If I have to boot my computer, if I need access to electricity and the internet, if I'm unsure the machine is saving my files, then I have that too much between myself and writing. If instead, I have a stack of blank pages waiting near my desk and a pen on hand, I'm ready to write Morning Pages.

There is plenty to say about what pen to use. Mine is a Lamy 2000 fountain pen with a medium nib that I fill with Noodler's blue ink. That wasn't the pen I used my first day of Morning Pages, but I got there eventually. Choose a good, fast pen that feels great in your hand. Don't spend money on one. You have a pen already. Use that and go from there.

As for paper, again, start with what you have. I write on used paper. I print lines onto the back of used sheets and it works well for me. I suggest that you choose paper that allows for 750-1,000 words of writing over three pages. That feels like just enough.

Simple tools. That's all you need. Keep electricity and the network out of it. Do this personally, privately, maybe even secretly and keep the process completely analog. Get back to basics and you stand a better chance of getting back to yourself and into your own words.

Be open to all the ways in which you might do your best work. THat may begin on the computer. I started there too. Eventually, the necessity of going analog impressed itself upon me and I moved into that because it showed me things I couldn't learn on a computer. Find your way and accept that it will change over time. My way is analog and that's what I suggest to you. Now go make your own choices.

Morning Pages: How To Begin

Morning Pages, an idea introduced to me by Buster Benson's, are my daily writing habit. Maybe they might become yours.

First, decide to write. Today. Not tomorrow. Now gather your materials.

You need three blank pages. I prefer loose pages to a notebook for reasons I'll make clear later. You need a pen, not a pencil. Pen does other things for you. Again, I'll explain all that later, but for now, get your pen, get your pages. (And if you absolutely must use a pencil, go ahead.) Put yourself in a place of solitude for an hour, maybe more. I write in my basement nook of an office. If you must have coffee or tea, prepare it. Put on music if you like.

I found my method, tools, and space over time, but started with pen, paper, a table and a chair. I began first thing in the morning and didn't move on until I had finished three pages. I concentrated only on filling those pages.

What you write almost doesn't matter. Just write three pages with the words only you can create. (While infinite monkeys at infinite typewriters will eventually write Hamlet, we're short a few monkeys and so have to do the writing ourselves.)

Begin with whatever thought crosses your mind. "I'm tired" or "It's 5:03 in the morning" or "In the dream..." and go from there. Don't plan topics in advance at first. Don't do assignments. Write for yourself. Do not show your pages to anyone.

Sit or stand at your desk. Write today's date and a page number on each of the three blank pages. Begin on the first line of page one and keep going. Don't erase. Don't make it pretty. Don't worry. Just write until the last line of page three. You don't have to get to the end of the last line, but you have to reach that last line with at least one word. When you do, you're done for the morning.

This is how it begins.

Tomorrow, you'll do it all again.

Morning Pages: This Again?

This is part of a series of posts in which I talk about Morning Pages. I've been thinking about putting together a talk or maybe even a book and am going to test-drive these here for the next couple days.

"I've written this all before." That's the thought I had writing my Morning Pages today. If someone was bored enough, they could go back through the thousands of my Morning Pages and find multiple occasions of what I wrote this morning. My immediate reaction is that this is bad and embarrassing. Repetition can’t be good. What will people think?

Then I remember: no one will ever know. Well, except you reading this, but that’s okay.

Morning Pages have an audience of only one. I don’t have to worry about being redundant (or sloppy, or foolish, or even stupid) because they are just for me. Having that thought, “I’ve written this before,” is a good reminder that I may want to be thinking about something else or stretch the thought to something larger, but it’s not an indication that I need to hang my head or panic.

Repeating myself is one of the best ways I learn. I make things real to myself by repeating the words in my mind and on the page. That repetition accustoms me to the idea such that then bringing it out into the world is made easy. Repeating myself reduces my fear and anxiety.

There are many regular themes in my Morning Pages. These are ideas to which I return often because they still interest me and I know that I have not learned all I can about them. I go back, sift through my thinking again, and more often than not find some nugget worth saving. More than likely I’ll return to the topic again and again. It’s also likely that I’ll worry that I’m just rehashing old ideas.

It’s okay. They’re not for publication.

That said, this whole thing started midway down page two of my April 26, 2019 Morning Pages. I began writing then with the intent to create something. That intention and the idea were enough to start me moving toward this. Still, I knew that whatever I wrote in that last page and a half of Morning Pages would never see the light of anyone else’s day. That gave me the permission and understanding to be able to write one of Anne Lamott’s shitty first drafts.

Morning Pages aren’t usually even first drafts. They are thinking — writing by hand on paper with a pen might be the most elevated thinking possible. Morning Pages are the physical manifestation of thought. Thinking within the confines of your head, your ideas are wholly your own until you transform them and give them voice. My Morning Pages remain my own, but this transformed thought is ready to go out into the world.

I’m still thinking about how I was repeating myself this morning as I wrote and this comes to me as explanation: Do I repeat myself? Very well then, I repeat myself. I am large, I contain redundancies. And besides, no one is going to see them so I might as well repeat myself and learn something.