In the early stages recovery from my second burnout, I came across a book called The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. She created a 12-week program aimed at helping people get their creative energy unstuck and use their own voice.
I confess I didn’t follow through the entire program - at least not yet. But there’s one specific exercise, the most fundamental one. It has affected me profoundly, and I want to share it with you: the Morning Pages.
One of the many reasons why we burnout is because often we’re not encouraged to express ourselves. We stop exploring our creativity. We let judgment (from within and without) cut our wings. We silence the voice inside of all us that has incredible things to say.
If you've experienced that, or if you’re going through it now, I strongly recommend you to learn more about this tool. With all simplicity, the Morning Pages gave me the outlet I needed to start writing again after years of neglect. It became one of the most important habits I keep to prevent from ever burning out again.
By being willing to be a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time, a very good one. Julia Cameron
The concept of the Morning Pages is simple: every morning, you sit down and write, freely, three pages.
Simple as that.
It doesn't matter where you write (laptop, phone, notebook, loose paper). It doesn't matter if any of what you write makes sense. It doesn't matter if you don't finish your sentences if you are spelling it all wrong. If you have no idea of what to write about. The exercise is designed to make you show up and transfer whatever is in your mind to paper, to the physical world.
There are two non-negotiable rules: (1) you must write something, anything; (2) you must leave any judgment out of it.
To follow it thoroughly, though, one must write every single day and don't stop writing until reaching at least three pages. With these last two, let's put it this way, I've been more flexible...
How I am managing to (kind of) show up to the task so far
I started writing the exercise over a year ago, in November 2017. Each Morning Pages time that I sit and write, I save a new doc with the date. I number it as well so I can track for how many days I’ve been following it through, and I celebrate milestones.
This morning, I reached the 100th day of sitting down to write the Morning Pages.
If you are not terrible in math or in calendars, you'll notice there was a lot more then 100 days between November 11th, 2017 and January 04th, 2019. To be precise, 420 days. This means I wrote only about 23% of the days (once every four days, on average).
I broke the rule of writing every day, and I broke it quite often. And yet, here I am, on the 100th day.
(I may publish soon a piece about the pressure into keeping perfect streaks of daily habits. It's better to work on being resilient enough to pick them back up when we lose track, which will happen. It is easy to abandon a habit altogether just because you can't stick to it daily, but you really don't have to be perfect. Trust me, I get that.)
Back to the pages.
At some point of the road, I also stopped trying so hard to fill the three pages. This measure was getting on my way to writing.
A couple of months ago, I shifted my measure for time instead of the number of pages. My goal now is to write Morning Pages for 10 minutes a day (which ends up being longer, of course).
This increased my writing frequency in almost 3x. Before the shift, I was writing once every 10 days, on average. Since then, I've been writing once every three days - also average.
A lot of other factors have also influenced this, of course. But shifting to a simpler expectation made me have fewer excuses not to do it.
The therapeutic value of the Morning Pages
There are many, many benefits in doing this exercise. I'd recommend anyone to give it a try for a week or two - even if you don't write for a living. Even if you are not at all related to the creative industry.
The Morning Pages are a great tool to help you know yourself better and to reflect on what might be worrying you. Because they're not meant to be shared, you get the feeling you can write about anything. The power of feeling free to write down whatever is in your mind, even what you may be ashamed of (especially that) is incredible.
It helps you see the things that are furiously rushing around your brain in a different way. It is almost like meditating, insofar the principle is not too far from it. Let in whatever comes to mind, observe it (in this case, write it down) and don't judge it. There's no good or bad way, right or wrong way of doing it.
Most of the days I sit and write for long enough, I end up with new insights and reflections I'd never come up with if I kept it all inside. On a mental health level, it is extremely valuable to be able to acknowledge our fears, frustrations, and anxiety, and to observe our sources of trauma and joy.
The feeling of letting all out through the writing, in a way that is entirely private to you and free from judgment, is amazing.
Get your creativity flowing
Then there's the creative side to it, and I do believe things are way more interconnected than we tend to believe they are. You might feel blocked if you are not actively exploring the therapeutic aspect of your craft, whatever it is.
Having said that, one of the biggest barriers to our creativity is the fear of judgment. If you want to write something, it can be excruciating if you worry too much about the end result. If you obsess about how it will look like or how people may react to it, you won’t create anything at all.
If you rely on your creativity at any level, you may face what Steven Pressfield calls "resistance". I mean, you definitely do. 100%.
There are these forces that try to keep us from showing up and creating stuff. Mind you, most of them relate to self-doubt. Once you acknowledge this, and once you learn that everyone goes through the same thing, you can find ways to overcome it.
The Morning Pages brings the freedom of writing whatever you want, the way you want. And the comfort of knowing only you have access to it is unless you choose otherwise. It's the perfect kick on your self-doubt's butt.
Fear of judgment stifles our ability to embrace uncertainty and as part of that process delivers a serious blow to our willingness to create anything that hasn't already been done and validated. Jonathan Fields
In these pages, I write lose sentences, poems and even short stories - things I'd never expect to be willing to do.
Many days, what I write in the Morning Pages is worth only as a private outlet (which is already super valuable). Other days, though, I end up writing good stuff, that I polish and publish. Many blog and social media posts, such as this one, started in the domain of the Morning Pages. Some pages of my upcoming book (currently on an early stage of writing) also come from there.
A couple of weeks ago, I revisited almost all the pages I've written so far, looking for things I could somewhere. I ended up finding more than expected and also having a couple of laughs. I can write some deep nonsense when my judgment isn't hovering over me - and that’s incredible.
Brain Scan: some examples of what comes up in my Morning Pages
Let me share with you some random thoughts that came up in my first 100 days of Morning Pages. Welcome to the inside of my brain (it may look weird), no filter or grammar correction:
"Everytime I sit here to write these pages, I inevitably reconnect with something that is either well defined in the surface but needs strengthening, or I gather something precious from deep within."
"The thing they don’t teach you about burnout is that life will go on with its own f**ck ups and it will always fall harder on you."
"Just Sit Down And F***g Write Something No one will read this Necessarily But you need to be doin this"
"That0s it, We-re not the genius who had an idea We were visited by the idea And we might let it in or not That-s our only merit To keep the door open Too keep our eyes and ears open Sit down Don-t look at what you are writing Just shut up and write Or draw Or paint I don-t know what-s your gig But I can assure you It-s a hell of a trip If you just let it come." "I’m getting more and more definition on what’s to come Although I still know it’s all mystery And I know my role is to channel whatever comes and resonates to my story and values" (a week before having the idea for The Better Achiever)
"We all remember so many first times. They are a powerful way of staying humble and hungry. A way of telling ourselves that our experience alive is diverse and unexpected and infinite. "
"I still don't feel so good." (and that was all I wrote this day)
"Just because we give names to things it doesn't mean they're that, period. It means we named them that. The period between a sunrise and a sunset was named by men (and I mean really men), a day. The period between a sunset and a sunrise is named a night.
But the earth doesn’t stop going round, nor does the moon. There's no hard cut. And that's something we fail to acknowledge sometimes
What we conceive as a day is a spectrum of sunshine. It starts with the sun on the east, then on the west. But the day is nothing but our trajectory of taking another round of the million rounds we already took - by we, I mean the Earth. It is a cycle with a spectrum in it."
"Do you really think your plant knows today is Monday? Do animals have weekends?"
Although I can't say for sure how many pages I've written in total, I could bet it is over 300. I mean, there are days I don't write the three pages, but I often end up writing five, six, 12... As a reminder of real life here, I’ve had days when I wrote less than half a page, okay? And yet I came back the day (or week) after.
Are you in?
I can’t recommend this exercise enough.
I am thankful for Julia Cameron having shared such a simple and yet powerful tool. The Morning Pages were a portal back to my writing and to myself. Through them, I wrote my way out of my burnout and into a more creative, humble, joyful and authentic life.
We'll create with abandon, make bolder choices, lean into uncertainty, and take risks far more readily if we know that whatever comes out of that effort will never be revealed to others. Jonathan Fields
Let me know if you tried this yourself. Go write!