Three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning.
Every morning, after waking up, the first thing I do is go to the workstation in my home office, open my notebook computer, and open my text editor to write Morning Pages for 25 minutes. I use Byword to write and FlexTime to track the time. I manage to write about 600+ words on most days; some days I write more, and other days I write less. Either way, I get up and write.
What do I write? I write about anything and everything that crosses my mind. I write about things I’ve been thinking of, things that have my attention, things that are unresolved in my mind, things I’m going to do today or this week, or what have you. I try to get it all out of my head without editing or censoring in any way. It’s essentially a brain dump of sorts. There really is no “wrong way” to write Morning Pages.
So why do I do this every morning? It helps clear my mind and get the ideas flowing for the rest of the day. It helps me transition to my work day better. For me, writing these words is akin to the warm-up exercise I learned in design research when working in teams.
Because design research is inherently collaborative in nature, most of the work is team-based. And because the design work is team-based, warm-up is an essential part of team meetings, where a meeting starts with a brief warm-up question that one of the team members comes up with. Then, each of us would take turns in answering that question. It wasn’t so much about the question itself (which could be something as simple as “How was your day?”), but more about the ritual of doing it.
The warm-up was essentially a trigger for us to acknowledge that we were in transition. It was about giving ourselves the permission to let go of what we had on our minds before we convened (leaving any emotional baggage or what have you) and got into the real design work as a group.
The warm-up essentially acted as a bridge between the “outer world” (our scattered “monkey brains”) and the “inner world” (the “real work”). It was vital to our team-based work process.
These days, when I miss a day of not writing these “pages” due to travel or for whatever reason, I feel something’s gone amiss. Writing this has now become an essential part of my morning routine. In fact, it is the cornerstone habit in my daily life that informs all other activities.
So why do this? By writing Morning Pages every day, I give myself permission to write whatever I want, however I want, without editing in any way. It essentially acts as a canvas for me to be truly creative, and it happens to be when I do some of my best creative thinking. It helps me think about things and reflect on them in an organic way. It helps me process my thoughts, helps me clarify my thinking, and turns abstract notions in my mind to concrete words.
The Canadian designer, Bruce Mau wrote:
Process is more important than outcome. When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.
Writing Morning Pages is a process for me that drives the outcome. I just focus on the process of showing up every day to write without an agenda. And then, whatever comes out of it is the outcome.
It helps me be more divergent and exploratory — not just with what something is, but what something can be. It’s a great way for me to think aloud without having to worry about my half-baked ideas, random thoughts, and anything in my head that I often filter out before ever voicing or writing about it. Writing about things that have my attention also gives me the mental space to focus on what’s essential so I can be truly proactive.
Like the warm-up exercise in design research I wrote about earlier, writing Morning Pages puts me in control of my day so I don’t keep thinking about those things for the rest of my day. Instead, I leave them as-is before getting into the real work.
Writing this gives my creative muscles a mental workout. Like any other muscle, they’ll atrophy if they go unused on a consistent basis.
Writing these words first thing in the morning also puts me in a producer mindset. By choosing to begin my day by producing something—anything—instead of consuming (email, Twitter, etc.), I’m being proactive rather than reactive. Not only that, the consumption becomes more meaningful later in my day because I’m consuming from a different mindset — one of being a producer.
I believe that writing this is an essential (important and non-urgent) activity in my daily life and, one if I continue to do everyday, will continue to have a positive impact in the long term.
So how do you write Morning Pages? Julia Cameron, the writer who came up with the practice of writing Morning Pages advises that you write three pages (about 750 words) in longhand each morning. I’ve adapted it in that I write for 25 minutes in my notebook computer, and I suggest you do the same, because this way it’s easy to search what you’ve written at a later time. Why 25 minutes? Well, for a variety of reasons that I wrote about in 25 minutes, but for now, think of 25 minutes as enough time to get started with anything and produce something meaningful. By giving yourself a time constraint of 25 minutes, you are defining a start and end point to this mental exercise, which makes it quite manageable. You might choose to write 750 words or increase the time constraint. I’ve found that 25 minutes works well for me.
Writing Morning Pages is purely a “right-brained”/creative endeavor. While writing these words, the focus is more on the act of writing, and not so much the quality of it (as in, how good it is). All judgement is deferred. You’re not editing your writing. You’re writing only for yourself. What’s also important is to not over think this exercise, write as many words as you can in those 25 minutes, and do it without stopping.
At the end of each writing session, there will inevitably be a few potentially meaningful ideas or actions that I’ll capture in my electronic inbox and decide what to do with later. This ensures that nothing “slips through the cracks”. I wrote about this process in Trusted System.
Writing Morning Pages is a great example of Explore, Evaluate, Execute process in action.
The next time you wake up, give yourself 25 minutes to write before doing anything. Remember that the only way to make it sustainable is to make it a part of your morning routine, because then you don’t have to think about it — you just do it. Also, keep in mind that you’ll see the benefits of writing this over a period of time, so think long-term, and do short-term.