One practice that I’ve been developing over the last few years, and which has really helped in 2020, has been journalling in its myriad forms. There are different techniques and tools that help, and in this series I’ll cover them off as best as I can. To that end, let me begin with a great foundation for creatives of every kind: Morning Pages.
What Are Morning Pages?
Morning Pages are a technique first described by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. The idea behind them is that when we first wake our subconscious mind is still very close to the surface, as yet unburdened by the cold rationality of the day ahead.
Mornings are prime time for the creative mind.
Whenever ‘first thing’ is for you, before you pick up your phone, or do anything at all, pick up your notebook and write. Stream of consciousness, without holding anything back; she recommends three pages with no goal in mind other than to declutter the mind. Useful things may drop out, useful segments for stories, ideas for how to attack the day, snippets and fragments of dreams. But without censorship, with no intended audience but yourself.
What Do I Need?
A notebook and a pen.
That’s it. You can get fancy, and spend oodles of money, but journalling has a very low barrier for entry if you don’t get carried away. Writers do sometimes get hung up on the tools they use, and obsess about the perfect combination of writing implement and notebook, but don’t let that be a distraction.
As for me? Well, obviously I have a preference.
I like writing with a fountain pen, and my favourite is the Kaweco Sport, a pocket-sized German writing delight. The basic version is so reasonably priced that I have a few of them, so I always have one about my person.
In terms of notebooks, the paper needs to be able to take fountain pen ink, and it takes a battering in my bags, so I need a hard-bound book. Furthermore, I use the notebook for a lot of things: my work notebook, morning pages, bullet journalling, etc., so I use a slightly larger B5 size with a dot grid. The best example of all that I’ve found was one from Paperchase, with its glorious 235 pages.
However, your needs are your needs, use whatever works for you. And I’ll be you already have a few notebooks floating around, waiting for the perfect project!
How to Make Morning Pages Work
- Try to write every morning – creativity is a muscle, you need to keep exercising it.
- Hold nothing back, and don’t other-think what you’re writing. This isn’t for posterity.
- Avoid distraction – Ideally ignore any and all electronic devices until you’re done.
- Three pages is a guideline – I use a B5 notebook, so I’m happy if I do anything over one page.
- Never show your pages to anybody – The moment you start thinking you might, you’ll start self-censoring.
- Don’t self-edit – These thoughts are ephemeral. Nobody is going to judge you for your spelling or slang.
- To re-emphasise: Try to keep your schedule regular, every morning if possible.
Morning Pages For Mindfulness
If you’re principally doing this for mental health reasons, first of all: Bravo! Looking after your mental health is incredibly important and this technique is helpful in that goal. If it’s your main emphasis of doing the morning pages, there’s an additional caveat:
- Never show your pages to anybody – This includes you!
It may sound counter-intuitive, but I guarantee that your harshest critic is going to be you. So don’t give yourself a chance. Write, write like the wind. Write all the thoughts out of your head, untangle the threads that tie you in knots. Don’t analyse the path you’ve taken, this technique works best if you just unburden yourself without any fear at all. And never read it back. Just move on.
This is the technique I actually struggle with the most, but it’s strong advice:
Write Without Fear
Morning Pages For Creativity
Morning pages are a great tool for mindfulness, but if you never look back on what you’ve written it’s not a lot of use for creative purposes. Therefore there’s some extra work to do to use morning pages for creative work. That’s not to say that there’s not still a mental health benefit to it, but you’ll have to quell your inner critic.
Much like dreams can sometimes can be steered, so can stream of consciousness writing, and that’s what you’re aiming to do. This is still wild and fearless writing, you’d just trying to focus it on one or more creative projects, to allow your subconsciousness to form connections and generate ideas you might not otherwise have made.
This does mean you’ll be looking back over your past writings to separate wheat from chaff. However, try restrain your inner self-critic, and if there’s nothing immediately useful in what you’ve written, son’t worry about it. The thoughts you’ve written might not be useful yet, and writing the pages has been of use in and of itself.
Hopefully this guide has been of some use. You don’t need to read The Artist’s Way, but it might be of some help. This is the first article in a series of Journalling for Creatives, and the techniques and methods can all be mixed, matched and re-mixed with each other. Next up: Bullet Journalling.