My Experience Writing Morning Pages As a Parent With Young Children
I wake early. In the late spring at our northern latitude, the sun rises early, too, so plenty of light seeps through the blinds of the bedroom window. Only one kid is awake with me (the baby, happily wiggling). I scribble blue ink letters in a notebook.
Julia Cameron's Morning Pages
I stumbled across the exercise while browsing Twitter, a little over a month ago. A friend was asking if any of her creative acquaintances wanted to join her in doing Morning Pages. Morning Pages? The ensuing discussion hinted at a life-changing exercise for enhancing creativity, becalming an artist's hectic life, bringing joy and inspiration at the dawn of each day.
Well. With advertising like that, how could I say no?
Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning.
That's it. Three longhand pages of whatever comes to mind—ideally on three standard 8.5x11 sheets. Julia Cameron recommends the standard letter size because she has found that smaller pages constrain the mind and lead to smaller thoughts. Whether that's true is debatable; in looking up the recommended page size, I just wanted a sense of exactly how much writing was expected each morning and what size notebook I should scavenge from our stash in the office.
Writing three pages takes about an half an hour, give or take. Longer if your hand gets tired, your thoughts slow, or you are interrupted. More on interruptions below.
Profound in theory, but in practice?
I did my Morning Pages for a month straight, without fail. However, I did not find the daily writing exercise to be nearly as profound as others have made it out to be. But then again, I have journaled before, I don't have big procrastination or creativity woes, and I write with regularity—all issues the exercise purportedly helps address.
Morning Pages was a useful exercise for reinforcing the idea of writing as a practice, not only writing as practice—the way meditation is a practice or prayer is a practice. Writing, for me, is an important habit that I am cultivating long-term. Like with anything important, if you want to improve, you have to practice. And you have to treat your practice as a practice.
The difference with Morning Pages is that you're writing stream of consciousness. You're not refining the way you write. Instead, you're refining that you write. You're refining ideas. You're refining the habit of writing.
How to do Morning Pages as a parent with young children
Starting out, I was concerned about finding the time to write in the morning. Julia Cameron's instructions are to write first thing, right after you wake. Perhaps you even write while still in bed, with the notebook you conveniently keep on your nightstand. Or perhaps you get up and write while sipping a cup of coffee or tea, before you do anything else with your day. The practice is intended as a meditation of sorts, a way of organizing your mind and day, a way of reconnecting with yourself.
The practice is straightforward to fit in if your morning's timeline is entirely under your own control. But I have three young children—and they often take turns waking up before me. Finding time with young children is inevitably more difficult than if you are childless or if your children are older and can prepare and feed themselves at their own breakfasts.
So I started Morning Pages knowing I would be interrupted, and wondering whether the practice would be as effective with interruptions. I found that on around one day in three I could complete my pages before everyone was awake. Many days I got a page and a half in before it was time to start our other morning routines. I often finished writing during breakfast, or a little later in the morning, once everyone had progressed from breakfast to playing. There were a few days, too, in which the morning was hectic enough that I didn't finish my pages until the afternoon.
I felt like the interruptions definitely interrupted the flow of thoughts, and probably was less effective exercise as a result. I did think that finishing the pages at some point during the day was more important (and probably more effective) than dropping the pages altogether. And the days when I finished them before everyone was awake were the best.
What did I write about?
The instructions say to write stream of consciousness: whatever comes to mind. I wrote about all kinds of things. The most useful were the pages I spent planning other writing projects: thinking through my intentions for other projects, reflecting on books I've been reading this month, and considering writing as craft.
All in all, it was a worthwhile exercise. I'm not going to continue going forward—it takes too much time in my already busy days and the tradeoff isn't worth it. For example, I noticed a distinct decrease in the time I spent on other projects, since I frequently had to take time (that I had been using for other projects) to finish writing after breakfast. I may write on and off, but I'm not going to enforce a three-pages-a-day schedule.