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The Artist’s Way: Morning Pages

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Diana calls them the Dang Pages. Some folks use stronger language. But of all the things that might twist my socks about The Artist’s Way, the Morning Pages come easy.

Oh, sure. Julia Cameron tells you to get up a half hour early. I don’t; I’m already up. She says to write three full pages, longhand. But sometimes I’m done after two. I know some use smaller paper. And I’ve even heard of those who do Morning Pages in the afternoon.

I don’t know your routine. I get up at 5:30 and spend time with the Psalter. Then I sit at my desk to do the pages. When I’m done, I read, write and check in on social media. Once there’s enough activity in the house that I can make the espresso scream without waking anyone, I brew four shots and start my workday. It’s a decent routine and since I already talk to myself plenty, the Morning Pages fit right in.

A few weeks ago, in the dark of morning after an extended Artist’s Date in the Black Hills National Forest, I wrote this in my notebook (as best as I can make out):

As I started into the heart of the forest, my heart started beating faster. I could feel the anticipation in my body and I squirmed in my seat. I felt trapped in the car, wanted to be out running past the metal guardrails. But I drove further in. As I rounded a bend, the full panorama came into view and I gasped. I’ve seen it before, a handful of times, but seeing it again now. Oh. I gasped and put my hand over my mouth. What did I think I was going to do?

I cried. I cried at the sight of trees and mountains and a mix of colors no one could have put together … I stood at the overlook and alternated between such wonder that it was hard to breathe and checking the ground to make sure one of the chipmunks didn’t run up my pant leg. That was all that mattered in that moment. I don’t do excitement well. I flatline. Carefully controlled, even keel, deliberate. Peaks and valleys are obstructive. But then something comes along that makes me gasp, makes me to step out of my climate controlled personal space and gasp. Oh. Oh! Now I’m so tired. And ornery…

I immediately forgot what I’d written. (The pages get me pre-coffee, remember.) I didn’t even remember writing it when, about a week later, I had a conversation with a friend about why I find “okay” and “not unhappy” acceptable emotional ranges.

Years ago I was directed to read a book called Feelings, devoting a chapter to each of what felt to me like a hundred shifty emotions in order to give me words to replace “okay.” It didn’t take. Even with an enhanced vocabulary, I settled into the comfortable security of carefully managed levels. Maybe I don’t feel happy all the time, but then neither do I have to feel sad.

When I opened up Chapter 4 this weekend, I discovered that Cameron had been reading my Morning Pages and eavesdropping on my conversations. I read the first page, closed the book and walked away. I came back later and did the work of these chapters, but this still hangs in the air around me:

What do we mean by “I feel okay?” The morning pages force us to get specific. Does “I feel okay” mean I feel resigned, accepting, comfortable, detached, numb, tolerant, pleased, or satisfied? What does it mean?

Okay is a blanket word for most of us. It covers all sorts of squirmy feelings; and it frequently signals a loss. We officially feel okay, but do we?

At the root of a successful recovery is the commitment to puncture our denial, to stop saying, “It’s okay” when in fact it’s something else. The morning pages press us to answer what else. (p. 89)

The morning pages press us to answer what else, she says. Now, maybe you can tell me: is there something to these morning pages?

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We’re exploring Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way together. Are you doing the morning pages?How are they working for you? Do you do them by the book, or adapt them to work with your style? Or are you still resisting them? Perhaps you’d share in the comments about your experience with Morning Pages, an Artist’s Date or any of the tasks you tried.

For next week, we’ll consider parts 6 and 7, Recovering a Sense of Abundance and Recovering a Sense of Connection. Give yourself the freedom to do one or both chapters.

If you post about the book at your blog, please place your link in the comments so we can join you there, and feel free to use our Book Club button on your page.

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Photo by Kai Chan Vong, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by LW Lindquist.

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Your Comments

29 Comments so far

  1. Well I’m sorry, but if Julia doesn’t acknowledge the emotional range between “okay” and “not unhappy” as legitimate, she’s clearly not spent enough time within the Scandinavian subculture.

    And seeing a killer whale jump out of the water has been known to make me cry. Just sayin.

    Fear of chipmunks running up your pant leg? Yes, I can see how that might shift your focus from the wonder.

    Just stopping by to say I’m enjoying the conversation Carry on.

  2. Nancy, I hadn’t even thought about the Scandanavian Defense. I’m going to start using that one. (Although, I must admit, while I married into a straight-up Ole and Lena clan, I’m probably too mixed to get by with it myself. :) And yes, chipmunks. A crazy bunch of them. And since I was far enough beyond the guardrail I wasn’t supposed to step over (what good are long legs if you’re not going to use them?), I worried they might make me jump off a cliff. Last thing: the whale that made you cry. Was it jumping out of water at you? :)

    I’m glad to see you here, friend. :)

  3. Diane Sinclair says:

    I did morning pages for years. I love to go back and read what was going on back then. I haven’t done them for a while now, but often write in my journals at random times. Am loving Rumors of Water.

  4. Scandinavian, or Engineer.

    One of my standard answers to “How are you?” when I’m in a deep emotional trough is, “Not too bad” (with a smile, of course). That way, I’m still being honest.

    I love this sentence:
    ” Even with an enhanced vocabulary, I settled into the comfortable security of carefully managed levels. “

  5. i can’t drink coffee now, so i’m pre-coffee all day… maybe that’s why i don’t know what i’m doing most of time. i wonder if it would help to write down all the stuff that i don’t know that i’m doing. then i would know how i am. maybe it all really comes down to the coffee. i wonder if kissing a stranger would be a good substitute for a girl who can’t handle caffeine. or maybe swinging a cat by the tail.

  6. Glynn says:

    Confession: I’m not doing Morning Pages. Well, not exactly. For the last two years, I’ve been carrying around a journal (Moleskin, freebie giveaways at trade shows, anything that works) and writing all kinds of stuff in it, at all hours of the day (and night). I have some 4 a.m. pages, some midnight pages, some 8:30 pages, I even occasionally copy and tape something into it. I’ve probably drafted dozens of blog poems, and more than dozens of poems, in these journals. And it reinfirces my understnading that I write differently in long hand than I do at a keyboard.

    My post for this week’s reading: http://faithfictionfriends.blogspot.com/2012/06/fiction-grounded-in-reality.html

  7. Morning Lament the Artist’s Way

    I remember morning
    the easy time I spend with

    my heart, a routine check
    -in, emotional guardrails

    up. But that dang Julia,
    a half-hour early to the desk

    again, says, of all things, get
    specific. Feel okay? she

    presses, carefully, and I scream
    about why an Artist’s Date

    with trees and squirmy feelings
    makes it hard to breathe.

    Force it, she cried, start
    writing with enhanced

    but managed vocabulary;
    get comfortable later.

    I start; in longhand, fit in
    “resigned” and “detached”

    then flatline, already numb
    to what I’d written.

    Get me strong espresso
    and I can talk myself out

    for sure, even with Julia.
    I can make the commitment

    work. After four shots, I have
    no words for what I mean

    when I mean something else.
    Can Julia, in her controlled

    personal space, tell my why
    I felt smaller and trapped

    on social media? Julia walked
    away, hand over mouth.

    Not like me, she forgot when
    she closed the book a blanket

    and a friend in the dark to check
    in on me are enough.

  8. Now I know why I’m so freakin’ tired all the time–I am nothing but peaks and valleys.

  9. Diane, I can’t read most of mine when I go back (which I avoid anyway :). A lot of squiggly lines on the page that meant something, once, around 5:30am and before the dawn of caffeine. That excerpt above was one of the few things I could make out, which worked out well for me. :)

    I hear you, Monica. On days when I’m feeling pretty jacked up, I might just tell you I’m “good.” To convey the high emotional level, you know. :)

    Nancy, you make me laugh. You’ll have to let us all know how that turns out. ;-)

    Glynn, I’m finally learning to keep a notebook with me. I’ve tried to do it straight into Evernote in my phone, but it’s just not the same as chickenscratches.

  10. That’s it, Maureen. This time, I’ve decided I have to keep all these somewhere. Just when I think I have my favorite line, I read the next one and have to start all over again.

    After four shots, I have
    no words for what I mean

    when I mean something else.
    Can Julia, in her controlled

    personal space, tell my why
    I felt smaller and trapped

    on social media?

    :) all the way from here.

    Megan, I don’t know. Level ground seems to wear me out too. :)

  11. Such fun to stop in each week and read your words here, Lyla. Your and Megan’s exchange made me think of these words from Anne of Green Gables or Anne of Avonlea (I can’t remember which…):

    Anne: I can’t help rising up on the wings of anticipation. It almost makes up for the subsequent thud.

    Marilla: I’d rather keep both my feet on the ground and live without flying or thud.

  12. Sheila Dailie says:

    Haven’t read the chapters or done morning pages for the past 10 days as we prepared for our daughter’s wedding. But oh, I’ve been living the “want to stay between Ok and not unhappy”. After 34 years of “hands-on” motherhood, all my chicks have flown out of the nest. At times, my heart sags down so low that it is hard to walk without feeling the weight.

    At times like this I’d like to be Marilla, but I think Anne has a point that the flying nearly makes up for the landing thump….maybe!

  13. Donna says:

    For me the weird thing about morning pages is I feel a very strange familiarity with the chapter immediately following writing the pages… I guess it’s a weird sort of syncrhonicity… I write til my hands fall asleep (the computer was too much a pain and drain first thing in the morning)… write write write. THEN I pick up the Artist’s Way and almost, without faill, read Julia’s personal response to ME… to my pages just written. I can’t figure that out, but not really trying too hard. It’s just interesting, and feels like a “thumbs up” from God… a message that says “hello again, I’ve been waiting for you, glad you’re here”.
    Is anyone else experiencing this sort of thing? It keeps happening. I blogged on it earlier in the week http://unmixingcolors.typepad.com/along_the_way/2012/06/who-am-i-to-refuse-the-gift.html.

    And Kimberlee… the quote you used reminded me of a 7 year old boy I knew many many years ago… he once told me that he thought falling out of a window might be kind of fun actually… well, until you hit the ground! I think of that often…. a lot of insight in those words!

  14. That dang Julia. She needs to stay out of our notebooks.

    The peek at your morning pages, though. And you gasping. And seeing what you’d seen before–but this time with wonder. Made my eyes well.

    I’m not blocked this week, but I’ve had trouble getting thoughts to come out my fingers. And I know that one of my biggest roadblocks is the physical clutter that surrounds me–and I can’t tear myself away long enough to make a big enough dent. I wonder when she’ll cover that.

    Anyway, here’s my post finally. Kinda. Sorta.

    http://sandraheskaking.com/2012/06/spiritual-seizures-surrender-starvation-and-possibility/

  15. The thud is about right, Kimberlee. I seem to have a substantial aversion to the thud. :-) That exchange is about perfect for me.

    That’s the question, Sheila. Can the flying sensation make up for its opposite, which is sure to come? This is my internal debate. Sometimes external. ;)

    Donna, that’s wild. And at the same time, completely expected. As I said, this is the easiest part of Cameron’s process for me handle, because I know it works and her claim prove true. Glad you’re finding that to be the case.

    I think they’ve stunned me every time, Sandy, but this time I was alone in the car, and just reacted spontaneously and honestly, and had all the time in the world. So, gasping was included. :) Now, if Donna’s experience plays out for you, perhaps writing about the clutter in your morning pages might prompt Julia to include it in the subsequent chapter. (Actually, didn’t she already? Wasn’t there something about giving some things away? :)

  16. Yep. Briefly. Task 8, chapter 4. I have a bag full. And there was that encouragement on page 83 that “one of the clearest signals that something healthy is afoot is the impulse to weed out, sort through, and discard.” It seems to be taking me forever, though. And I definitely don’t want to add to or create new distractions. :)

  17. Donna says:

    Lyla, that’s clever! lol! and Sandra, my first thought reading your last comment is a question… what if you are not creating distractions, but clearing them? And then again how big a dent is a big enough dent? Maybe its a process? A meditation.

  18. Sandy, a bag at a time. I think Donna has it there — it’s a process. You clear the distractions not in single fell swoop, but a little today, a little another day.

  19. So, I’m late. And I’m behind. And I’m beginning to agree with Donna up there – I write the dang pages (3 times this week – making progress!) and then I read the chapter, and wowza – someone’s been sitting inside my head. Very, very weird. So I wrote this letter to my 8 year old self and that’s the extent of my post, except for some whining at the beginning. http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com/2012/06/letter-to-my-8-year-old-self-tsp-book.html

  20. Donna says:

    A funny thing happened in my stubbornly refusing NOT to read… I learned something anyway. Something about the moments we trade: http://unmixingcolors.typepad.com/along_the_way/ And I’m still feeling rebellious and so have traded morning pages for that new post and for right now that’s just dandy! Now I’m going for another cuppa cuppa and then to check on Diana’s letter to Little Diana… always a pleasure, even what she calls whining is nourishment some how.

  21. Donna says:

    P.S. I’m pretty sure my first sentence doesn’t say what I mean but I hope you’ll know anyway… as in… that whole reading deprivation thing… NOT DOING IT.

  22. L. L. Barkat says:

    To answer your question, Lyla, yes.

    I believe there is something to the morning pages. I also believe there is something to not reading for a week.

    It’s about switching mental gears. It’s about meeting ourselves in new ways. Or finding we wish we had a different “me” to meet.

    It can be difficult, I suppose, but it also has an edge of excitement. What are the possibilities, after all?

    I smile to think that Tweetspeak is, in its own way, an example of such possibility. It was The Artist’s Way that opened me to a much bolder sense of life vision. And here we are. Tweetspeak came into existence, and we are here in the happy room, sharing a few drinks and a lot of laughs and love.

  23. Donna says:

    So here’s a funny turn of events, although Julia predicted it but I thought ‘yeah right” (which was THEN and this is NOW and I am starting to see some magic) … bc when we were asked to write a list of things we wanted to do she predicted, if memory serves, that we might just find ourselves doing them, yes? So many of my answers in many exercises were related to wanting to sing… wanting music… wanting to sing WITH someone again. And darned if I didn’t sort of set up a mini jam at my house this July 2… and don’t look now but I suspect there will be more people joining in by the time it happens. I started out doing this with the hope of feeding my son’s aching musical soul – but then I realize that it is MY musical soul that is aching… and I really really REALLY am looking forward to this! He can be a stinker and bug out and pretend it doesn’t matter but not me… I am going to sing my HEAD Off whether he joins in or not – but I hope he does. I really hope he does… I think his lyme is just about gone, and the bartonella too, but his artist is still bleeding from the losses. But you know what…? I can’t make him stop licking his wounds as much as I think it’s this pity party has gone on long enough. I just want to SING!

  24. Jumping in a whole week late, but glad to be here anyway! Here’s my contribution — a poem and an article in explanation:

    http://breathedeeply.org/2012/06/19/do-i-dare/

    http://breathedeeply.org/2012/06/22/money-makes-me-claustrophobic/

    Hoping to join in this week’s discussion while it’s still this week. :)

  25. Donna says:

    Okay I HAVE to say this just to show that something is going on with pages and it’s creepy with a dash of comforting, or comforting with a dash of creepy I can’t tell which. BUT my pages and the exercises from the chapters have jiggled something free from inside – that I used to want (still want) to be a singer/songwriter – and I actually wrote down the name of a children’s musician I hadn’t even THOUGHT of in years… in my private journal… real paper… no internet… no cookies… no IP address connections…. I wrote down that I had been influenced by RAFFI (I used to say I wanted to be the female RAFFI). That was yesterday. Today, out of the blue, Raffi ends up on my twitter feed. Raffi. The singer. I kid you not. What on earth (or beyond earth) is going on? Of course I followed him!!


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