People ask me: how do you do it? Fill all those pages up every day? And when I tell them, they are shocked. And no, trust me, this is not clickbait. It takes me about 15 minutes every morning to write three morning pages. The trick? Get up a little earlier, get a routine, and don’t stop.
Let me explain that some more.
Finding the time in the morning can be challenging. I get it. But you really only need ten minutes to start, and if that’s too much and you really can’t find those ten minutes, take five minutes while you wait for the kettle to boil. Place your notebook in the kitchen and scribble your pages when you’re waiting for that first cup of tea or coffee.
Find your routine
Next, routine. I know I’ve struggled with this personally. And when I finally had a routine going, I had to switch it up again because of the arrival of our puppy Lara. It took me a while to find a routine that works for me. I’ve gone from journaling straight out of bed to journaling after the shower, journaling while making breakfast, journaling after breakfast to where I am now: getting up, taking a shower, walking for half an hour with Lara, and then journaling before making breakfast, sometimes after if I’m starving.
I’m a perfectionist, and I cling to order and predictability. It helps me thrive and feel like I have to make fewer decisions at the moment, but I’ve had to let go that every morning had to be the same. As long as I stick to journaling and writing my morning pages before I start work, it’s good. That helped me get the writing in when I can, and it makes it feel more organic, less forced, and I get more out of it.
Keep your hand moving
And lastly, it is crucial to keep your hand moving. It’s amazing how much writing you can get done once you don’t stop. When I just got back into doing my morning pages, I was terrible at this. I would stop and look up every few sentences. I would get up to check my phone, make tea or do other things while I was trying to write. And I can tell you, two pages quickly take up 40 minutes that way, and the effect of the writing goes away instantly when you don’t allow yourself to sink into it.
So keep your hand moving. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you’re going. Just keep your hand moving. Don’t stop. Don’t think, and don’t give yourself space to let your monkey mind take over. Keep moving, keep writing.
And, if three pages feel like too much, start with one, get comfortable adding something else, something new to your morning routine and build it from there. Do it 21 days in a row, then add a page, and before you know it, you too will write your morning pages every day, and people will ask you how you do it.
There you are; you decided to journal. Maybe you bought your first notebook because it called out to you in the store. Or perhaps you grabbed some paper you already had on hand. It doesn’t matter what you use. You can journal on everything and anything, even on scrap paper. The most important thing is that you decided to start. And that’s the first step.
But then, the second step is actually starting to journal. How do you do that? The simplest answer is: butt in chair, pen in hand and just write. I know, easier said than done, right? But journalling in its simplest form is just that. Just sit and write. Don’t think about what you’re going to write, and just let the pen take you places.
However, if you’re super new to journaling, there are a few things you can do to make it easier to get started. So here are a few tips to get you going.
Set a time and a timer
For me, it helped me to have a dedicated time to journal. So every morning, right after breakfast (or showering), I go to my desk, and I write for a set time. I’ve been doing it for so long now that it’s become part of my routine. I finish breakfast, and then my brain knows: it’s time to write. That makes starting to write a lot easier, and it’s become a habit.
Next, it helps not to think about anything else than writing. I have a set number of pages I write every morning, but I know many people who put a timer. Set a timer for 15 minutes and just write, don’t do anything else in those 15 minutes. It helps to keep you focused on what you’re doing.
Keep your pen moving
The most important thing you can do when writing is to keep your pen moving. Don’t stop to think about what you’re going to write next. Keep your pen onto the paper and keep writing.
This doesn’t mean that you have to race through the page. That means that you just write whatever pops into your head and don’t give yourself time to think about it. You will disable your inner critic, your inner perfectionist, and allow yourself to access deeper layers that will provide you with insights you might not have gotten when you try just to think your way through something.
Play some music
I love to journal in silence, so I can fully sink into my subconscious. However, sometimes there are moments when my inner voice just keeps screaming at me about all the things I still have to do: email that client, do the laundry, and don’t forget to buy bananas. Sometimes the most random things will come up when I’m writing. It’s like my brain is trying to distract me and keep me from going to that uncomfortable place that it does not want to go to.
In those cases, it helps to play some music. Some meditation music or binaural beats are great for this. They will help your mind relax and silence the inner voices, giving them no space to shout at you. If that helps to get you going and to keep writing, by all means, use it. What’s essential is that journalling is a relaxing experience that helps and supports you. So make it as comfortable as possible. Maybe you’d like to light a candle – go for it.
Practise makes perfect
Don’t feel like you’re getting into it? Don’t worry; keep at it. Journalling is a habit; the more you do it, the better it gets and the easier it will go. On the rare moments where I take a break from it due to life happening, it always takes me a while to get back into it. And that’s ok. Be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to get into the flow.
Keep writing. Stick to it. You’ve got this.
I posted a time-lapse on Instagram the other day of me doing my morning pages. And I immediately got a reply from someone: “You write SO much every morning?! What do you write about? I’m glad if I can write a to-do list for me and the kids.” But with that thinking you’re missing the point of morning pages, of journalling the way I do. It’s not about writing something productive.
Yes. That’s right.
Morning pages is not about writing something productive.
Most of the morning pages I write are absolute crap. They either piss and moan about some aspect of my life that sucks (I’m too busy, too tired, I don’t want to work today, I want to go back to bed, or simply: I just don’t want to do these morning pages), or they are about all the things I still have to do, or some emotion I am feeling. I never know what I’ll write about before I start. I just put pen to paper and go.
So why do it? Why do morning pages when what comes out is total crap that’s fit for the garbage?
Warming up and get the rubbish words out
Well, think of it like this: if you are a runner who does marathons professionally. Would you do a marathon without warming up? Of course not, then your muscles are cold and you either injure yourself or set a crap time. Or worse: do both.
So I see morning pages as my warm-up for the day. Sometimes I get so stuck in my thoughts that my creative thinking is blocked and pushed down. It is hidden under the rubble of ‘I am not good enough’ and all types of ‘this sucks’. So I do morning pages. To get it out. To unclog the drain so the good words can come out.
Neil Gaiman said it better:
Assume that you have a million words inside you that are absolute rubbish and you need to get them out before you get to the good ones.
So show up to your morning pages, get some of the rubbish out to get to the good ones.
But that’s not the only thing that makes morning pages magic. For me, I’ve always been a thinker on paper. I think more clearly when I write things out than I do when I think in my head, or even talk things through with a friend.
So if my thoughts decided to come up with something like ‘I am missing out on this experience because my leg is injured and I can’t fully participate’, I get to think about it on paper. Not directed thinking, I just go where my pen takes me. I don’t think. I let it flow.
So in the above example, I kept writing about how much I didn’t like I couldn’t participate. And then suddenly on the paper, it said:
“Hang on a minute. You show up to everything. You’re doing all the sessions, doing all the work. The only thing you can’t do is jump up and down and dance. And even that you’re doing sitting on your bum in a chair. So ARE participating and you ARE showing up.”
So with those 10-20 minutes in the morning, I am able to stop a negative thinking pattern that would have held me hostage. And turned it around.
And sure, not every morning is magic. Sometimes you write pages and you go: Meh.
But the key here is: I show up. YOU showed up. So whatever your day turns out to be after that. You did this one thing that you said you are going to do every day. So you started your day by showing up for yourself. And that is always the right way to start your day.
A few years ago, I burned my journals. Not all of them, but a few. My journals are my most precious possessions. And I love how they show me what I was like growing and changing. They were with me in good times, dark times, and times where I had to keep them close because ideas were ever-present in my head.
But still, I burned my journals. During the times when darkness was so close to the surface, my journal was a safe place to let it all out. It was a place where I got to work through things that I needed to let go of. A place where I could be myself, express myself while it was too hard to say it out loud, or let the people I love know that I was struggling.
I read through all of my journals, starting when I was seven and started with ‘dear diary. I even tried to name my diary, just like Anne Frank. While I was reading, I noticed a pattern. Dark thoughts, where I said horrible things about people I loved. Where I even wondered if I might be suicidal. I never was, except that one time in high school.
And then I thought about why I kept the journals. Yes, they were my safe place, a place to keep a record of my life, for expressing myself. But they were also my legacy. Something to leave behind for my children, or maybe if I would become a famous writer one day. Were these the kind of things I wanted to leave behind?
I decided the journals served their purpose. They did what they needed to do. They helped me get through parts of my life. They were a lifeline, a way to keep sane and get certain things out. But they were not things that needed to be in my life any longer or pass on to the next generation.
So one night, my dad and I got a large metal bowl out into the garden of my parent’s house. We lit a fire, and I watched how the words I’ve written so angrily went up on flames. How the pages soaked with tears were set free. The ink went up in all sorts of coloured flames, and they licked and devoured the pages of the journals.
And as I entered the house after our hour-long bonfire, I felt free. Like I let go of something that I held on to for way too long.