Morning pages may not be the artist’s way

I’ve been writing morning pages for several years, using Julia Cameron’s guidelines in The Artist’s Way: write first thing in the morning; three A4 pages (though I use an A5 notebook, and three pages of that is enough for me); and whatever comes out of your head goes on to the page. Then I went to a journalling session with poet John Siddique at the Wise Words festival in Canterbury. This was a chance to get together with other writers in a coffee shop. John led the session with a short talk, then we all wrote in our journals for half an hour or so.

John’s talk turned my thinking about morning pages right around. He had followed Julia Cameron’s advice and had pages of negativity, covering the same ground over and over again. I too have notebooks mostly full of negative and angry stuff as a result of tipping anything in my head onto the page. I look back on these notebooks and wonder who this angry person is. I can do nothing with this material. It does not bring me on creatively.

John went on to talk about how he had been journalling around the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. How he journals about the roles in his life, and how well he is fulfilling them. Some of my roles are mother, wife, friend, sister, grandmother, stepmother, writer, editor etc.

John’s talk changed my thinking and my life. I got hold of the book, read it, and began using my journal in this way. No more negativity or covering old hurts again and again. I spoke to my counsellor about it, and she wondered whether the early morning negativity is to do with the bad thoughts that can invade if you are awake for long periods in the night. I have long-term sleep problems, and regularly battle with this problem. Maybe by writing first thing, these night demons are still around.

I felt angry with Julia Cameron for pushing her way as the best way. As well as the ‘write anything at all’ commandment, there are the write by hand and for three A4 pages commandments. I don’t think my writer friend with severe cerebral palsy would be able to follow this advice, as she can only write using a keyboard. Those of us with fatigue can perhaps write a page, or half a page on bad days.

I have been using my journal in the way suggested by John Siddique for four months now, and there has been a big change in my mental health. This may be coincidental, but I don’t think so.

I recommend The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s mainly offered as a business book, but has a lot of significance for everyone. It has changed the way I interact with people too.

I have added a lot more non-fiction to my reading, and find many of these books spark my creativity in a way that reading other people’s poetry and fiction may not. For example Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. You can watch her TED talk on the power of vulnerability here.

Maybe it’s the recovering Catholic in me – I don’t do dogma. Julia Cameron’s way is not this artist’s way. 



  • By Jenny Alexander, January 28, 2014 @ 8:56 am

    Interesting! I recommend MPs along with a menu of other suggestions for daily practice in my workshops, but always say they don’t really do it for me although many of my writing friends swear by them. I record my dreams in the morning – so still regular writing in the space between sleep and the concerns of the day, but very balanced in terms of positive and negative experience.

  • By Alison Clayton-Smith, January 28, 2014 @ 9:03 am

    Hi Maria
    I think the key thing is to find our own way. Each person who tells us there is one way (including Covey) is coming from their own experience and context. I like the Buddhist view that we should question everything through examining our own experience. If something doesn’t work, change it. No one person has ‘the truth’.

    A non-writing revelation for me was to do with flossing my teeth! I believed the rule that they had to be flossed at night. For years my flossing was v erratic & I would get the pep talk every time I went to the dentist. Then one day I thought, why not try the morning, when I’m less tired. Lo and behold I floss virtually every single day & the hygienist has a lot less to do. This may not be as good as flossing every night but it is far better than failing to floss every night 🙂

  • By Karen, January 29, 2014 @ 7:28 pm

    Your comments are really interesting and very thought provoking. I go to/have been on many ‘writing for wellbeing’ courses (residential/day workshops)in the UK (and loved them all,)and participate/d in courses/online live journal groups with organisations in America, I’ve read lots of books on the subject and when all is said and done I think we have to pick the advice that suits us as individuals. I don’t believe that there is one system which suits everyone. We all have different personalities and temperaments, different wake/sleep cycles and different needs as individuals.
    I’ve worked through a lot of ‘stuff’ in my journal and when the going got tough I found myself a ‘Journal Therapist’ and she’s been really helpful but one thing I had to learn to do and was advised to do was slow down/pace myself and stop and smell the roses.
    I make sure I write about lots of positive stuff too (write a few lines or a haiku about tiny blessings often) and make time to be ‘playful.’ Find joy in your life. I have many caring responsibilities as well as several health problems of my own,so being ‘playful,’ is very important to me. One of the things that can be done playfully is art, you don’t have to be a painter, just pull out pages from old magazines and make art collage. Or go one better and keep an ‘art journal.’ Lots of examples on You Tube.

  • By Jenny Alexander, August 10, 2015 @ 11:48 am

    Hi Maria – I can’t find a contact form on your site or I’d have used that – I blogged a response to this piece back along and have referenced this article again in my latest post What you say here definitely got me thinking and was part of the process for me in developing a writing app based around 20 minutes writing a day but focusing it. I’d value your thoughts!

  • By Kathleen, February 5, 2018 @ 7:37 pm

    Thank you so much for saying this. I began The Artist’s Way after a friend recommended it, and thought it was awful. There’s merit to some of the individual ideas (e.g., anger and fear are good indicators of where blocks are, or where you could work), but morning pages in particular were awful. They sucked away any positivity or motivation that I had, and never told me anything that I didn’t already know. In the end, they were just an excuse to re-visit old resentments.

    I had a much better experience with Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit (which I read at least once a year). I’m excited to try the 7 Habits with a journal. The idea of journaling the different roles you play in your life appeals to me a lot.

    Another one that I found really helpful was The Art of Possibility by Benjamin and Rosamond Stone Zander. Ben has a TED talk about classical music that is 100% worth watching, even if it’s not your thing.

Other Links to this Post

  1. Not just for January: creative resolutions, commitments, manifestos and planning tools | Maria C. McCarthy — January 8, 2015 @ 8:34 am

  2. The Artist’s Way – week one – Cheerful Omelette — September 4, 2018 @ 11:21 am

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