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Improve Academic Life with Morning Pages Daily Journalling

If you’re looking to improve your academic life, journalling might provide a pathway forward.

I’ve practised a journalling technique called Morning Pages every day for several years.

Below, I share how the practice can help get ruminating thoughts and frustrations out of your head, be used as a problem-solving and idea-generation technique, and improve overall focus.

What follows is my lived experience. I’m sharing it in case it’s useful to others. If you find it useful, please share. To skip ahead, use the Table of Contents drop-down menu below. Or continue reading

Writing for productivity

Using a daily writing practice rapidly rose in popularity when author and artist Julia Cameron entrepreneurially packaged up her daily journalling method and labelled it Morning Pages.

She published the method in a book titled The Artist’s Way which sold several million copies.

Originally designed for enhancing artistic creativity, the book became a hit with A-list celebrities and personal productivity gurus.

Fans of the technique include Oprah (no introduction needed), Ali Abdaal (a productivity YouTuber with 3.5+ million subscribers), and the author Oliver Bourkeman. Variations of the method can be found across the internet (see, for example, this post by Austin Kleon).

So what is Morning Pages? How do you do it? And what benefit can it bring?

What is Morning Pages?

Morning Pages is a way to kick-start your day in a more mindful and intentional manner.

It involves creating three pages of freeform, stream-of-consciousness, and longhand writing, based on whatever comes to mind, without reserve or editing, every morning.

The purpose of writing Morning Pages is not to create polished prose – it’s a chance to free your thoughts, without worrying about judgment or editing.

The goal isn’t perfection; it’s just getting your thoughts down on paper.

What you’ll need

To practice morning pages, you’ll need some supplies: a cheap notebook and a pen are more than adequate.

Over many years of doing Morning Pages, I’ve tried out lots of notebooks. The one that works the best for me is the J.Burrows, hardcover, 240 pages, 80gsm cream paper, lined notebook.

I write Morning Pages using a TWSBI ECO fountain pen and PILOT Iroshizuku ink in Japanese Beautyberry (Purple). It’s a little over the top, but because Morning Pages is such an important part of my daily routine, and I’m a stationary addict, I like writing with pens that bring me joy.

How to start

Just start writing. Write anything. And continue until you’ve filled three pages.

If you’re following Cameron’s method, it is advised that you write your Morning Pages as soon as you wake up.

Before I begin, I usually make coffee, check my socials etc.

Do what works for you 🙂

What to write about

At the top of the first page, I always start by writing the day and date.

Then, write the first thing that comes to mind.

Some people may find it helpful to journal about their goals for the day, their thoughts on a recent conversation, or what they’re grateful for.

If you’re stuck for ideas, here are some suggestions:

  • Goals
  • Thoughts
  • Experiences
  • Memories
  • Dreams
  • Desires
  • Gratitude
  • Reflections on the past
  • Ideas for the future

You can write about whatever is going on in your mind 🙂

I find it useful to start with something that’s been ruminating in my head. Anything that’s been weighing me down of late. My goal is to get that toxic thought out of my head and onto the page so I can play with it, reframe it, and explore a way forward.

When writing, I don’t generally stop and pause, I just keep writing. This means that the topic I’m writing about is interspersed with narration of how I’m processing my thoughts. This is an example from a recent Morning Pages session:

“Latest innovation rubbish. What could be different? Not in charge. Don’t need to be. Think, think. Write it out. What are some options for exploring a solution? I know… Start by listing the things that might work, then…”

As you can see, often, what I write is complete nonsense.

This piece of articulate genius is taken from yesterday’s Morning Pages entry:

“What is the model. 12 times. Gold nails. Perhaps a trademark lol. What does the handle look like?”

I’ve no idea what I was thinking when I wrote that, or what it means, and I ask you not to judge me too harshly 🙂

As outlined below, it doesn’t matter what you start writing. Just start writing.

By the time I get to page two or three, I’ve usually exhausted my brain to the point that I start working through meaningful solutions to problems, or I’ll get to a place where I’ve freed up enough mental space for ideas to emerge for improving my life, or fun project ideas will make their way onto the page.

The writing process helps me to uncover thoughts that are buried under other thoughts.

It’s not uncommon for me to write two pages of complete dribble, and then end a page or two later with a fully articulated plan for my future.

Most of the things I’ve accomplished in academia started out as ideas that emerged from journalling.

Once you’ve finished writing your three pages, you’re ready for the day ahead!

Journal to create ideas

Whenever I need to come up with ideas or creative solutions, I turn to Morning Pages.

The practice helps me think more deeply and clearly. Through writing, I get to challenge my current mindset by exploring different directions and possibilities that I may have otherwise not thought of before.

During these writing sessions, I’m able to take a step back from the detail-oriented thinking of problem-solving and explore new ideas from a bigger-picture perspective.

My honest reflection helps me tap into what’s been unconsciously bothering me, giving me the opportunity to establish clarity about how I want to move forward with my ideas.

Do I have to write 3 pages?

Morning Pages doesn’t require writing 3 pages exactly.

It’s flexible.

You can write however many pages you like – depending on what you need to get out of your head that day.

How Much time does it take?

I usually spend 30-60 minutes each day writing Morning Pages. Sometimes less, sometimes longer.

If you don’t have a lot of time, consider micro-journalling (e.g. 1-2 minutes of note-taking). I learnt about this technique from struthless, a YouTuber who used it to great effect when he was on a quest to curb his social media addiction.

Can I do Morning Pages in the evening?

Sure! There’s no hard rule for when you write them.

Is it OK to type Morning Pages?

Yes, it is absolutely okay to type out your morning pages instead of writing them by hand.

As explained by the productivity YouTuber Ali Abdaal, he started writing his Morning Pages by hand but got frustrated that his handwriting couldn’t keep up with his thoughts, so he switched to typing his Morning Pages.

I rather like that the handwriting process slows down my thinking. Thanks to my father’s insistence that I learn to touch type as a child (for which I will be forever grateful, but didn’t appreciate having to do it at the time), I type pretty fast.

Because I touch type, my typing speed doesn’t necessarily give me time to reflect on the direction my writing (i.e. thinking) is going.

When I did try typing Morning Pages, I found myself editing what I’d written, which was counterproductive to the divergent and emergent nature of the process.

I also like the physicality of the notebook and fountain pen.

How do Morning Pages help?

It’s been said that morning pages provide ‘mental housekeeping’ because the practice helps to reduce stress and anxiety by creating an inner dialogue between ourselves – allowing us to better understand our strengths, weaknesses, boundaries, hopes and desires.

Free-flowing journaling can promote clarity through emotional release and introspection.

It can be easier to wallow about feelings on paper than to talk about them out loud. Through the process of writing, you get the thoughts out of your head so you don’t have to carry the weight of them around with you.

Additionally, morning pages can give us the opportunity to reflect on our progress and make sure we are staying true to our goals.

All of these elements come together to create an overall atmosphere of clarity that can help keep us stay focused throughout the day.

Benefits of Morning Pages

The benefits of Morning Pages can be numerous. The method is reported to help you to:

  • declutter your mind
  • improve focus and productivity
  • release tangled emotions
  • increase creativity
  • nurture positive habits

Morning Pages can also serve as a powerful outlet for venting frustrations and may help prevent negative feelings from becoming limiting beliefs.

It’s also much better for your career to empty your frustrations onto the page rather than taking them into the workplace 😆

Are morning pages private?

Yes, Morning Pages are private. There is no expectation that anyone else will read or even see what you write in the morning. The practice of writing down your thoughts and feelings can be an intimate one, so it’s important to keep them to yourself unless you feel comfortable sharing them with someone else.

Because I don’t trust that any keystroke – or anything digital for that matter – is secure, I prefer to write my Morning Pages by hand in a notebook, far from the reach of the internet. While this might sound a tad paranoid, the words I write are a rambling mess, and they can turn into thoughts I don’t necessarily endorse; I would be mortified if anyone ever read them and attributed them to my core beliefs.

I rarely let a notebook linger in my life for too long once it’s been filled. Every so often I get an attack of Minimalism and purge my apartment of ‘stuff’. As such, most of my notebooks rarely pass the ‘does this spark joy’ test, and end up being securely destroyed. While this might sound odd, I find it therapeutic to purge the past and focus on the future. Each to their own 🙂

In conclusion, the Morning Pages method can be a great way to start your day. It has helped me stay organised and motivated, been the source of many ideas, and I hope it can do the same for you.

👉 Get your copy of The Artists Way and learn more about Morning Pages

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Additional Resources

FAQ

What is the Morning Pages Technique?

The Morning Pages Technique is an exercise in self-reflection and journaling. It involves writing down your thoughts, feelings, experiences, ideas, and anything else that comes to mind for three pages each morning. This practice can help you clear your head and get focused on the day ahead.

Do I need to write Morning Pages every day?

It is recommended that you practice Morning Pages daily, but it’s ultimately up to you how often you do them. Try setting a goal for yourself and see how it works for your lifestyle.

Are there any other benefits to writing Morning Pages?

Yes! In addition to the clarity of mind and improved productivity that can come from Morning Pages, it can also help you identify patterns in your thinking or behaviour. You may even discover new ideas that you would have never thought of otherwise.

Can I use Morning Pages to track my progress towards goals?

Absolutely! Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you stay on track with your goals and make better decisions. You can use Morning Pages as a tool for reflection and growth, allowing you to handle difficult decisions with greater ease. It’s an invaluable outlet for self-improvement.

Do Morning Pages have to be handwritten?

You can use whatever medium works best for you. Handwriting your Morning Pages may help you focus better or increase the feeling of intimacy when writing, but typing them on a computer or using an app like Evernote can also be effective. It’s all about what works for you!

Can I do Evening Pages instead of Morning Pages?

You can certainly do Evening Pages, but it may not have the same effect as Morning Pages in terms of calming your mind at the start of the day. It is generally recommended that you practice Morning Pages for the most beneficial outcome.

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