Why You Should Write Three Pages of Trash Every Morning
Every morning – roughly – I write three pages, stream of consciousness, by hand in a notebook. I sit down, write on three pages, stop. And I truly believe that this is one of the best things I do for myself and my mental well-being.
Whether you call it journaling, freewriting, brain dump or morning pages, it’s a powerful tool for clearing your head, getting your day started, and, dare I say, a freer creative life.
I first got to know the Morning Pages through The Artist’s Way , a very trashy and surprisingly useful self-help book. My best friend gave me a copy when I graduated from college, but it sat closed on my shelf for years until I read Megan O’Connell’s article “This Terrible Self-Help Book Really Makes Me a Better Artist.” I’ll let O’Connell lay out her case for The Artist’s Way (convincing despite its ambiguity), but here’s what she says about the morning pages:
I do this every morning the first thing I do to get me to the table. It’s mostly just nagging, budgeting, or planning what to do on that day. This is a diary! But a diary with a goal, as delusional as it may be, to artistically unlock itself.
I don’t think – and I don’t think either O’Connell – that thinking that freewriting can unlock you creatively is bullshit. In fact, I think that is exactly what a Free writing . And I think the morning pages can do even more. In my opinion, they have two main advantages:
1. You see what’s going on in your brain. This is a cousin of mindfulness meditation, but where at least traditional mindfulness meditation is about the practice of focusing – for example, on your breath, an object, or a mantra – while you notice your thoughts boil and let them go, the morning pages emphasize part of the remarks of your thoughts. Three pages is enough to get you through what you knew was on your mind, and there is still much to be done. Watching what’s going on can be surprisingly informative. And when you fix your fluttering thoughts, all these flutters begin to subside.
2. You practice writing down words without stopping to evaluate them. There is nothing more detrimental to a creative urge than worrying about whether the result will be good. Whether the creative act is an essay, a painting, or a PowerPoint presentation for your boss, it’s all the same: evaluation is the enemy of creativity. And freewriting makes you move forward, continue to create, without thinking about quality. Quality has nothing to do with the morning pages – no one is going to read it, maybe not even you in the future. Just keep writing. It will be surprisingly difficult to turn off your inner critic. But this is a vital and valuable practice.
Each of these benefits is huge in itself, but together they add up to something more, namely, weakening the mechanism for the propagation of ideas in your mind. When you’re in the habit of just letting your ideas flow … they flow more even when you’re not freewriting. And when you’re in the habit of not interrupting the flow of ideas with concerns about their quality, you are giving more of your ideas a chance. You will have more ideas.
You will also improve your handwriting. All those tiny wrist muscles! It actually hurts at first. But hey, this will give you something to write about.