A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of leading my first-ever journaling workshop.

The workshop was delivered through the HR department at my university. I have been doing essential oils education workshops for this series for a few years now, and I’m comfortable doing those. They’re familiar, and I think I’m pretty good at them.

After one such essential oils workshop someone contacted the HR organizer and asked whether I might offer a workshop on journaling. They obviously had read one of my previous posts on journaling and knew that I had an interest in this. It had never occurred to me before that other people might be interested in learning about this too.

Of course I said, “Yes!” and then proceeded to figure it out. I think it went really well. Some of the attendees have reported that they have done their pages every day since the workshop and have been experiencing some great epiphanies and breakthroughs already.

It’s funny, when we do something regularly in our own lives we forget that we might be the exception. I started doing Morning Pages so long ago (20 years!) that it’s just part of my morning routine now and I can’t function without them. It was really fun to introduce another group to the idea too, and to see how they’re already experiencing the benefits.

This post is as much for my regular audience as for my new journaling buddies, some of whom are reading this post. There is magic in the third page, you just need to get there.

What are Morning Pages?

Morning Pages are a type of journaling created by the wonderful Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. I think this should be required reading of all creative people. I first discovered it after the completion of my Doctorate and before I found my tenure-track job in academia. The Artist’s Way really helped me set new, grand goals and find a path to attaining them.

Morning Pages are a daily requirement in the Artist’s Way process. The idea is this: write three pages of pen-on-paper free-flow thoughts without stopping. There are no boundaries on the type of content, anything goes.

There are some guidelines to make the most of this process. The rest of this post will list and describe the best ways to set yourself up for success in your own Morning Pages process.

Tip #1: Get on the page as quickly as possible

This is probably the best piece of advice, and maybe one of the hardest strategies to implement.

If you have the capacity to roll out of bed and get your pen onto the page right away, that really is the best way to do it. If you’re not a morning person though, this can be really tough.

I’m definitely not a morning person, but I love doing my Morning Pages. It is the one thing that I really miss in my day if I skip it. It sets up my day for success, it helps anchor my intentions, and it helps me work through gnarly problems or emotional tangles.

Let’s get real. I’m not doing anything in the morning until there is coffee in my cup. So I set up my morning routine to include time to make the coffee. No coffee, no pages. If this is going to be a sustainable habit there needs to be realistic measures in place. Coffee is definitely one of them.

Tip #1.2: Automate your morning

The purpose of tip #1.2 is to help you get onto the page as quickly as possible. If you’re not a morning person this is really key.

Start with noticing when you had intended to do your pages but it didn’t work out. Where did you get stuck? Figure out as many possible stumbling blocks as you can in advance, and pre-plan solutions for them.

For example, will you need to clear a place to write? Do you need to have your supplies within easy reach? Set those things up in advance. Do you hate being cold in the morning? Plant a sweater in a strategic location.

I really crave that flow state of mind that happens when all the Morning Pages pieces are well in place. Getting onto the page as quickly as possible is one of those strategies that really sets up the runway to the magical third page. Use these ideas to help you get there in the first place.

Getting there as early as possible helps keep you ahead of your inner censor. More on that coming up.

Tip #2: Keep the pen moving

There are a couple of points to this one. Let’s jump right in:

Tip #2.1: Get a great pen

First, you need to have a pen that glides easily and that you enjoy using. I do not recommend attempting three pages of long-hand writing using one of those cheapo ballpoint pens you have lurking in your junk drawer. No way I’m getting out of bed for anything less than a pen that inspires me to pick it up and use it.

When If first started my Morning Pages habit I used gel pens that I got from the dollar store. They worked well and I enjoyed using them. I even used sparkly coloured ones for a while. But three pages a day is a lot of writing and I was blowing through a gel pen every few days. I could hear the trees cry a little every time I threw one away.

After about a year I got myself a beautiful fountain pen that I still use today, almost 20 years later. There is considerably less waste, the ink stretches a lot farther, and I just love picking up that pen and using it.

There are so many great pen options available now. If you’re able, head over to your local stationery shop and try out a few different pens. I promise, spending a few extra dollars on a great pen will pay off dividends in third-page epiphanies.

Tip #2.1: All content is good content

Your inner censor has no business poking its nose into your Morning Pages. This is one of the reasons Tip #1 is so powerful. When you get onto the page early you have a better chance of getting ahead of that critic in your head that gets in the way of your flow state of mind.

Sometimes you don’t realize the critic is showing up. One of the insidious ways it does show up is when you start telling yourself you should write this, or shouldn’t write that.

My grandmother was a fiesty firecracker. She used to catch herself when she said “should” and would say, “Ah! Shitty Should!” Let’s all be more like my Nan and keep the Shitty Shoulds out of our Morning Pages. Notice it and name it.

Let’s say you start out intending to write on a suggested journal prompt, and you quickly veer off into an extended rant about an annoying colleague. Maybe you’ll find yourself saying, “I should be writing on that prompt,” or “I shouldn’t speak badly about a colleague.” Screw that! Your thoughts went there for a reason!

Just keep that pen moving. If you find yourself staring out the window (my big distraction), just put your pen down and write squiggles, or my favourite, “KPM” = “Keep Pen Moving”. Just write something. It won’t take long before the words get flowing again.

Tip #3: Don’t re-read your morning pages!

I’m completely serious about this. If you can get past this one you’ll find considerably more freedom in your writing. More writing freedom = more idea flow = potential third-page magic.

This will be hard for you at first, and you’ll probably indulge yourself and re-read some of your earlier pages. I did that a couple of times and that’s all it took. It felt gross. So much stuff gets churned up on the pages if you follow Tips 1 & 2 that you won’t want to revisit all that again.

The Pages are not intended to be a record of your thoughts or activities. They are intended to be a processing ground for your dreams, aspirations, emotions, and challenges.

As soon as you really, truly realize that no one will read them you will notice a big difference in your flow.

Tip #3.1: Underline anything you want to keep

You may, as I do, come up with strategies to guide you through a project, or discover important points you want to reference later. You might be tempted to think, “Oh, I’ll remember.”

If you’re really in that flow state of mind when you’re writing then you won’t remember. That’s the thing about Flow. If your critic is silenced and you’re just doing it for the enjoyment of the moment, you won’t remember details. Then you’ll be forced to go back through your entry. See Tip #3.

Also, there is a more time-efficient way to keep track of those great strategies. Just underline or circle them, or write yourself a note in the margin. Then when you’re done transfer those ideas to your task manager or to-do list and you’ve got it for future reference. Then you can really use the information for its intended purpose and you don’t have to carry it all around in your brain.

Tip #3.2: Shred ’em

You heard me. This is so liberating, and supports the whole point of Tip #3 in the first place. If you know you’ll be shredding them, the for sure no one will stumble upon them after you’re gone and judge your poor, departed soul for the things you were going through at the time.

For the tiniest moment, when I was working through my Morning Pages at the start of the pandemic I thought, “Should I keep these as a record of what things were like during this crazy time?” Then I quickly thought, “Naw, that’s silly.” There’s enough stuff online to keep sociologists happy for centuries to come. No one will care about one person’s deep thoughts during this time.

And besides, so much of the content in my Morning Pages isn’t about daily life anyway. It’s a processing of my thoughts and feelings and aspirations and desires. No one else cares about that stuff.

Shred them, and then you’ll really take yourself seriously about not going back to them. It also absolves you of the pressure to use “the perfect notebook.” Just some 8.5 x 11 paper and a binder does the trick for me, and when the binder’s full I shred those suckers. Bye bye.

Try it and report back!

If you’re never tried this style of journaling I would love for you to try it! Give it a go for seven full days and email me or comment below with your progress! I would love to know how it’s working for you!