Morning Pages: Overcome Emotional Issues and Writer’s Block

The Blank Page As the Symbol for Writer's Block, and More Generally Being Stuck in Life

The Blank Page As the Symbol for Writer’s Block, and More Generally Being Stuck in Life

This article is for people who are stuck in life, with a severe loss of self-confidence or for victims of trauma, which impact their ability to be creative and to realize what they want. The Morning Pages as a tool is a powerful method for processing deeply felt emotional issues and to slowly regenerate a feeling of confidence in one’s abilities.

The paradigmatic example is that of the stuck artist who can’t produce anything anymore, because they are totally wrapped up into a Gordian knot of emotional issues. This is often called the writer’s block or the syndrome of the white page, but it applies much more generally about any important situation where someone is stuck in life, getting nowhere, without a sense of direction.

For about 2 years going back 20 years ago, I applied the Morning Pages religiously, often getting up at 4 or 5 AM to write my 3 to 5 pages of stream-of-consciousness prose. By the time I quit, I had a dozen full 200-pages notebooks. In my late twenties, I had a lot of issues for which this stream-of-consciousness approach was helpful, like unresolved anger, feelings of desperation, and indeed being very stuck in life.

If you are stuck in a very dark corner of your life, this tool could well be for you.

What Are the Morning Pages?

It is a method developed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, with an accompanying workbook, and which she continued exposing in several other books, such as It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again. In very few words, The Morning Pages method consists in setting up an alarm at an early time each morning, and not yet out of the fog of sleep, to write quickly, without editing, everything that comes to mind, writing at least 3 pages, taking perhaps 20 to 45 minutes doing so. Then you go back to sleep or you get up as suits you.

It’s quite important that you do it just as you wake up, not wait until you’ve taken your coffee, or your shower, and even before you did your 5 Tibetan routine 😉 (Our much recommended morning exercise routine!)

The Artist’s Way is a wonderful book, that unfortunately contains a lot of spiritual stuff that is not my cup of tea, and hence I can only recommend it with some reserve. You don’t need to read it, you already have all the information to get started, and if you keep doing it for several weeks, or perhaps months, you’ll definitely experience solid progress, as I and many others have.

My key recommendation is that you set your alarm now for an early wake up tomorrow morning, 45 minutes ahead of your regular wake-up time, that you put an empty notebook and a pen by your bedside, and that you plan to do the Morning Pages exercise as soon as tomorrow morning, and the mornings after.

In our days of computers and notepads, it is not at all necessary for the exercise validity to actually do your writing on nice paper with a fancy fountain pen. If it works better for you, you may as well type it all on the electronic device of your choice, as long as you can type at least as fast as you write. If not, then please stick to the hand writing. If you’re using an electronic device, write for at least 20 or 30 minutes in order to write a sufficient amount of material each day.

However, if you were to experience a block with just getting started or with keeping going with the Morning Pages, that will sound like a sure sign that you need a deeper understanding of how the method works, and hence I believe you ought to read the book, for all its wonderful gems and wisdom, including great quotes of various thinkers and artists.

The Artist's Way: A course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self

The Artist’s Way: A course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self

What Are the Benefits?

This method has many fervent followers, especially among writers and creative people, but as I emphasized at the beginning of this article, it can very much help anyone with a sense of being stuck. Its reported benefits include:

  • Effective release and progress on very deep emotional issues, especially the kinds that are very difficult to address with conscious analysis, like rape, many forms of abuse, post-traumatic disorders, anger, etc.
  • It gives the practitioner a sense of recovery in their own abilities. Actually, each chapter of the book is about a specific sense of recovery: safety, identity, power, integrity, possibility, abundance, connection, strength, compassion, self-protection, autonomy and faith.
  • A clear sense of getting unstuck and moving forward with what you want and what is important to you.

An Example of Morning Pages

I opened one of my old notebooks at random and took a snapshot. On the left is the end of the previous morning, on the right is the beginning for that morning. Most of it is in English, but some is in French. Notice how packed the writing is. It’s very much a stream-of-consciousness: retelling the past day events, what I noticed then, planning the next day, expressing my worries, etc.

A Representative Example of Morning Pages from November 2002

A Representative Example of Morning Pages from November 2002

Why It Works?

As Julia Cameron puts it, the method doesn’t teach people to be creative, it lets them be creative, because we are all creative people to begin with, fundamentally.

She expresses the why and the how it works in terms of 10 principles, which I’ll summarize here in a couple of brief sentences: Creativity is the natural order of life, we all have it, and it’s safe to be creative. When we refuse to be creative, we run counter to our true natures. But when we let our creativity flow, we experience great changes and progress.

In summary, the Morning Pages work by inhibiting the censoring elements in ourselves, and liberating our creative energy.

The Artist Date

The Artist Date is a second tool besides the Morning Pages to help with building a sense of recovery. Essentially, it is just giving yourself alone some special quality time on a regular basis. She recommends 2 hours per week as a guideline.

If you’re living a busy life that lets you little time for yourself, then the exercise might be simply to just spend quiet time alone. On the other hand, if you’re already spending much time alone, you might need to find an activity that takes you further out of your habitual ways.

What activity would be the right one for you is highly personal and individual. You’re welcome to share your examples in the comments below!

Conclusion: the Morning Pages and the Artist Date

Here I wanted to tell you about a very effective method to dissipate deep emotional issues and get back on track with one’s life. It is a very simple method that consists in forcing yourself to write at least 3 pages without any censure or interruption every morning, as soon as you wake up. In addition, your are requested to schedule regular “Artist Dates” which help you rekindle your interests and passions.

I very much hope you will get started with this process as early as tomorrow morning. Whether you are or not, please let me know about your experience with it below, or any other question you may have.

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18 Responses to Morning Pages: Overcome Emotional Issues and Writer’s Block

  1. Todd Matthews says:

    I would definitely want to try this exercise, though it would have to be on a laptop; if I were to go back someday and re-read the information, I doubt I’d be able to make out a word of it. Thankfully, I am a fast typer. I think most of us should try the Morning Pages method, and as a creator myself, it would help me a lot, but many of us are dealing with deep emotional issues so for them, it would also be a great way to start off their day. 

  2. Aabidah Ahmed says:

    I’ve had writer’s block a few times. I recently had writer’s block when I was busy working on a book of mine, I had everything going smoothly, with the words and all, but then I suddenly did not know how to continue writing my story. I was stuck with the writters block!

    The more I tried to continue my book, the more I messed the whole story line up. I had nothing to keep me going.

    I love your article and I am sure to take your advice on how to overcome my writer’s block when trying to continue my book. It’s the actual story I am telling in my book thats the problem, so I think I’ll change my whole story altogether.

    Thank you and all the best.

    • Phil says:

      Hi Aabidah,

      Glad to read that you’re a writer. Hopefully this technique will be helpful to you. Please let us know!

  3. Barbara says:

    What an interesting article .Thank you so much for sharing such a useful information.  I am a blogger myself and sometime things seem to flow while others there is a real mental block and nothing seems to come to my mind  to unable me to write. I hadn’t heard of the book.before and I often struggle to get up early early morning but I will definitely try your advice and hopefully creation will start to flow again 

  4. Carmen says:

    It’s a good tip. 3 years ago I had stroke. When I got out of the hospital I woke up that I did not know how to write. I had to learn again to write. I kept the notebook I wrote. In the early days, nothing was understood. Then I progressed. But the fact that I was writing every day helped me and recover and drive away the black thoughts. Now I write perfectly and I feel perfect.

    best regards

    Carmen

  5. Christie says:

    Nearly 3 yrs. ago, I retired due to medical reasons.  It seems that my whole life changed – I believe for the better, but I still find myself sometimes trying to process that entire situation.

    For a while there, I would find myself waking up in the wee hours of the morning and would grab any piece of paper, an envelope, a business card, anything I could write on and I would start writing.  My thoughts were clear and powerful.  I felt as if I had found the answers to all my questions.

    I had this newfound energy to just write.  I would scribble here and write there without any organized method to preserve my little notes and writings; in the end, I lost or misplaced my little notes and writings and have no idea what happened to them.

    Lately, I find myself reading late into the night and waking up later and later. E.g., when I woke up today, it was 9:04 a.m., (embarrassing), but I actually simply wanted to just go back to sleep and I’m getting comfortable with the idea of not having to get up so early in the morning and sleeping in late.

    But, my mind thank God is still running at full speed. 

    Your suggestions to set the alarm for tomorrow morning with notebook and pen ready to write and to just write first thing in the morning is exactly what I’m going to do…I’m going to write my prayers to God.  I’m going to put it in writing!  Two or three years later, I want to come back, go through my notebook and take notice of how the Lord answered all my prayers!!!

    Thanks for your post, I enjoyed the reading and will look into Julia Cameron’s tools for more on the Morning Pages!

    • Phil says:

      Hello Christie,

      Thank you very much for sharing your experience with writing. I think you would very much enjoy reading Julia Cameron’s books!

  6. Nightwulf29 says:

    A very interesting method to writing that I had never heard of. Just a few questions about this. Has there been any psychological research that relates to this process? Maybe a subconscious trait that allows for writers to produce such an amount of prose while still in the “fog of sleep.” Also is this method taught in schools by chance? I could see this method implemented on a collegiate level in an English course or would be an interesting exercise. Great post!

    • Phil says:

      That’s two excellent questions, thank you! I could not find any reports of rigorous research having been conducting on this method. Also, I don’t think this method is taught in schools. However, it is a widely known method, well-trusted of writers. 

  7. MissusB says:

    At first, I really thought that it won’t be effective since the given time would make you half asleep and half awake but as I read your explanation, I was deeply interested. The part where we can pout out our true emotions without being hindered by our conciousness is something that I want to try. This practice can help me to know more of myself – aspirations, inhibitions, insecurities, strength, etc. that I might be keeping to myself or don’t really know existed. 

    Morning pages for me is like early reflections in a creative way. I’m not even sure if I’m a writer myself to have a writer’s block but this daily exercise is a way to uncover whatever creativity I have in me. Thank you for sharing and explaining how it is done. I may have known about this if not for this post. 

  8. John says:

    Thank you so much  for this post. I have had a few issues with writers block and I still have them once in a while though whenever I do, I take a walk and let myself absorb some serenity but it doesn’t work everytime for me so I was looking for a better option. This is a very good technique that I should try out myself. Waking up in the morning has always been my thing right from time so it wouldn’t be an issue. I would to it electronically though. Thank you for explaining morning pages to me.

  9. Stanley says:

    This is very interesting. I was never an author until I started blogging. I get writer’s block all the time so I am not sure if it has anything to do with emotional issues. I do agree that our sub-conscious mind does filter or condition us to think a certain way, therefore morning pages would be a download of what is in our mind, hopefully by passing the sub-conscious. Now that you have made know to me, maybe it is time to Try morning pages. The artist date maybe more doable as it is not at 5am in the morning.

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