In 1999 I found out about freewriting from a writing professor whose name I don’t remember anymore. I’m not sure it matters. The thing that mattered more was a book called “Writing Down the Bones” and it was this weird, Zen-ist manifesto on writing, where the important thing wasn’t what you said, it was moving your hand across the pages, for time. I learned a lot about myself somehow in that class, even though a lot of the writing I did I don’t remember at all. I was at some stupid community college and I thought I already knew everything after coming out of a private school. Like a lot of things that work, it got me past the rough spot I was in and then I stopped doing it.
It’s not even clear what prompted me to start writing pages again. Maybe I read some article and thought, “Yeah, I should start that up again.” But now I’ve been going for two and a half years, and my life has changed from it. The pages I write have changed too, but I don’t know why or what’s next. But since the first part of my Action Experiments experiment is setting a baseline, I want to talk about something that’s part of my baseline.
The fastest introduction to the morning pages is from Julia Cameron who invented the specific technique that I use:
Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.
So this is the morning. I wake up, weigh in, measure my waist, pour coffee – I make it first if I was lazy the night before – I feed the dogs and let them out if my wife hasn’t done it. I write three pages, longhand. I write ten ideas. I write down three things I’m grateful for. Then the last part flexes depending on what I’ve been reading and what I want to do. For a time I wrote down affirmations based on Scott Adams’ assertions that affirmations worked well for him. They haven’t worked well for me, so those got dropped from the journal. What has stayed solidly as part of my practice is the daily pages, the 10 ideas, and the gratitude. Other things I’ve dropped over time:
- Things I’m excited for
- Things I did that day
- Good things that Happened that day
- What would make today a success (2 things)
- To Do lists
- Records of if I did the SAVERS from the Miracle Morning (Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, “Scribing”, Reading, Exercise)
- How could the day have gone better?
- Various other self-help ideas and weirdness.
I’ve finally settled into three longhand pages, plus a fourth for various other crap. This makes my 200 page composition notebooks come out perfectly with 50 entries in each one, so I go through 7-8 per year. My shelf is filling up with them. Maybe it’s time for me to read them again, reconnect with my former self and rediscover what I was thinking about. Because I think there is something there. When I travel I always make sure to have my notebook with me. And no matter what is happening, I’m writing in it first thing, with rare, rare exception.
So why bother? It’s time consuming: for me it takes between half an hour and 45 minutes every morning. That’s a lot of time for a lot of people. But what has happened for me is like going to therapy every day for 30 minutes or an hour. I have even had negotiations with my wife about when and how she can interrupt me during the morning. David Allen makes a joke about “distributed cognition” he says, “You mean, writing things down?” Somehow by getting these thoughts out of your head and onto paper it frees your mind up to think about other things, things that you wouldn’t have realized without the practice.