Every day, I do something I call morning pages. I do them first thing in the morning. In fact, I drink cold coffee from the night before so that I’m not delayed by making my coffee. I write three pages, longhand, about anything and everything—from the tiny to the huge. When I miss a day of pages, I feel completely disoriented.
Writing like this is a sort of cleaning process. It’s as if you have a tiny little whisk broom and you take it into all the corners of your consciousness. So it might be, I forgot to call my sister yesterday; I didn’t buy kitty litter; the car has a funny knock in it; I didn’t like the way James talked to me in the meeting yesterday… and so they go, all across your consciousness. I’ve been doing morning pages for 30 years, and I find it’s a way of putting myself directly in contact with what I would call a higher power.
I often start off writing grumpy—then I move past grumpy into a smoother flow. The pages start off difficult when I think to myself, Oh my God, I don’t have anything to say for three full pages. Yet when I dive in and try to find something to say, the flow of writing loosens up and I can feel a sense of clarity, originality, and authenticity.
I have what I call writing stations: different places in my house that put me in a different mood. I usually [do my morning pages] in the living room, where I have a large plate-glass window looking out at the mountain. Later in the day [when I work on other writing projects], I might move to my study, which is a room that is enclosed—I sometimes call it the cockpit—which is good for concentration. In the summer, I write out in the garden. Each place has a different mood, and I take my emotional temperature and say, What room am I in the mood for now?
Everybody has an inner critic. Mine is called Nigel, and Nigel is a British, gay interior decorator. There’s no pleasing Nigel. I’ll write something and Nigel will say, Oh that’s so boring; no one will be interested! But I’ve learned to say, Thank you for sharing that, Nigel—and keep right on moving. I think self-doubt goes with the territory of being a writer. I find I can move past it by making my critic into a little cartoon character. The minute I have humor again, I’m able to move past my self-doubt.
I used to write trying to be brilliant, and I was really writing out of my ego. Then I started doing morning pages, and I’d put a little sign up by my desk that said, OK, God, you take care of the quality, I’ll take care of the quantity. As I move deeper into my practice, I’ve recognized that there are hunches, intuitions, and ideas that come to me through writing that don’t come to me in any other way.
Explore your creativity in a weekend immersion with Julia Cameron from July 13–15, at 1440 Multiversity in the California redwoods near Santa Cruz. Learn more at 1440.org/faculty/julia-cameron.