# 3. Reclaiming myself, one page at a time
How I arrived at Morning Pages, and how you can too (if that's your wish)
Arriving at the page: my story
I've been facing a lot of resistance towards my work, lately. Before getting out of bed I find myself dreading the difficulties of the day, in anticipatory anguish that is reminiscent of days when I was creatively blocked and depressed. For me, this is a horrible state of mind: to feel like a prisoner of an invisible cage and not be able to move in any meaningful direction whatsoever. Except there's no cage. Not a visible one, anyway. What a mindfuck. I journaled a lot about it in the past months. My last newsletter was about it too.
I've been in that state of chronic immobility too often, and for long periods too. 2008, 2013, 2019 were years where, despite having some kind of awareness of what was going, I felt unable to move towards what was meaningful to me, a bit like when in sleep paralysis. In fact, most of the inner work I've done while healing from cancer was tackling a creative blockage with roots so strong they were like the tentacles of an adult octopus. Morning Pages have been instrumental in reclaiming the right to my own voice.
Before I jump into the nitty-gritty of this practice, let me tell you the story of how I got there. Growing up, everything I was about - art, creativity, originality, intuition, spontaneity - had been undervalued, more often than not downright discouraged. The many contradictory and negative messages I received about who I was in my essence left me limping. During infancy and adolescence, you take the "well-intentioned" messages of those around you at face value, so in a sense, everything is "about you." You have no term of comparison nor emotional distance from your community. Throughout my life, I learned not to share my creative endeavors with others because I knew they would find them unimportant, perhaps stupid, or pointless. This was clear from people's dismissive commentary ("that doesn't pay the bills",) when they gave unsolicited advice ("you could become an English teacher instead",) when they changed the subject, or worse, redirected the conversation back to themselves. Me not talking about my artistic pursuits had a lot to do with self-protection. Things like theatre, literature, and self-expression were precious to me. They were a lifeline. By forcing myself to shrink and match the standards of those around me a bit better I stifled the most authentic parts of myself.
It all started to change at age 27 when I moved to Amsterdam. Here, locals not only expressed enthusiasm for my background but incentivized me in pursuing a creative career. That's when, for the first time in my life, I dared to call myself an actress (I studied Theatre at Uni and have done acting in the past,) I dared to believe I didn't have to be a slave of some 9 - 5 job. But my life circumstances left such an imprint of insecurity and a sense of inadequacy so deep-rooted that even when I was creating (doing actress work or blogging,) I was also fighting with myself, and what's worse, consistently boycotting my progress by means of avoidance and procrastination.
Looking back I see that, even when my blog Amsterdive gained traction and I started to get published, I still held this unconscious belief that nothing I did mattered. Just like others hadn’t in the past, I didn't take myself seriously. This was extremely confusing because I was aware that the environment I grew up in hadn't been nurturing. I thought that, because I was aware of my strengths as a creator and a person, I couldn't possibly be insecure. So why all the inner struggle? Why those bouts of self-hatred? While I was ill, the process of undoing all this felt like a case of life and death. At my lowest point, I understood that I just couldn't afford to be complacent with spiritual self-neglect anymore: it was killing me. So I must thank my cancer for showing me the path to holistic recovery. And I must thank Julia Cameron, too, for giving me the words to understand my malaise. She was not the only author who guided me in this process, but she was a crucial one.
Feeling resistance towards work and procrastinating on it, - even when the work is meaningful to you, - are natural mechanisms to a certain extent (more on this topic in my previous newsletter). But deep down we know when our procrastination is something we can still "work with", and when it has become damaging. So, every once in a while, if a particular funk with my passion work lasts long, I get scared. If I remain too passive and let the fear simmer, it becomes grains of rice swelling in the pressure cooker, getting bigger by the minute. From my experience, what scares you can either work as fuel propelling you forward or it can freeze you, a bit like the deer on the road, transfixed by a car's headlights. One of the practices that helps me move from a state of fearful passivity to a state of agency in my life is the Morning Pages.
Morning Pages: HOW
I've been consistently doing Morning Pages for almost a year and a half now. I wake up, feed the cats, make coffee and sit down to write three pages longhand on my journal. I started this practice right in the middle of my chemotherapy, in January 2020. For me, there's no mystery nor mysticism to the morning pages, even if I often use words like "creativity," "spiritual," "healing." Morning Pages are a very concrete and practical tool. You sit, you write whatever comes to your mind until you finish the third page. You commit to doing this every day for 12 weeks, or whatever time period. That's it. The contents don't matter. The style in which you write doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you make grammar mistakes or not. It doesn't matter how virtuous your writing is. It doesn't matter if it "makes sense" or not. The only thing that matters is the act of doing them. That's it.
Morning Pages are the core exercise of The Artist's Way, a 1992 seminal book on creativity written by Julia Cameron. This is how Cameron describes them: Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages – they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page...and then do three more pages tomorrow.
Writing has been, throughout my whole life, the thing that came the most natural to me. Whenever I write I feel fulfilled, more at ease with the world, more aligned. Writing has, also, typically been the skill that I'm the most easily praised for. This is, perhaps, the reason why integrating Morning Pages into my routine was so seamless, and why I stuck with it. But, despite all of this, writing pages can be hard too. It can feel pointless, it can make you feel stupid, frustrated, or that you have absolutely nothing to say. And it will feel like that until it doesn't. Sticking to the page and witnessing things changing and us changing with them: that's why we do morning pages.
If this resonates with you, and you want to give it a go, great. First of all, get yourself a notebook you like. Don't overlook this one. No one feels motivated to write on the complimentary notebook they got from the insurance company. Next, pick a time and place. This one is essential too, even if you're the type of person who always wakes up at the same time with no alarm clock. There's a difference between making a decision and stating a vague intention. When the morning comes, do it. You can do it on your bed, on your desk, on your commute, it doesn't matter. As long as you do it. Every time you start questioning why on earth would you be doing it, how stupid it is, feeling like you have nothing to say, refocus on the act of moving your hand through the page. You can label all those thoughts as "inner chatter." Each time another thought comes you can label it mentally: "inner chatter," and continue what you were doing. Or you can use the inner-chatter and write it all down. The point is that you write, it doesn't matter what, remember? Do it for, at least, one-two months in a row, and see what happens. Trying the pages out for one week is better than never trying it, sure, but you already did that in the past. How many other things did you give up on halfway? The point here is to do things differently and be open to what happens. Commit to a period of Morning Pages, and abandon the practice, if it doesn't serve you. But while you do it, DO IT. Don't show the pages to anyone. Don't re-read the pages. Doing that has the potential to block you again. This is not about writing correctly, or virtuously. Don't try to micromanage the process. This is that one moment where you let go of control, thus: are you writing a bunch of nonsense? Awesome! Again: there's no right or wrong way of doing the pages. Doing them is in itself right because only the doing matters. In this sense, the practice is a bit like meditation.
This being said: for some people, singing might come more naturally than writing. Or playing an instrument. Drawing. Moving their body through yoga or dance. Working with clay or knitting. Doing collage. Writing poetry. Photography or video. Playing around with clothes. Cooking. So if writing doesn't strike your fancy at all, my suggestion is: find the thing that works for you and do it every single day first thing in the morning, for half an hour. Find the thing that comes the most natural to you, that you could, perhaps, spend hours doing as a child. Something that makes you lose a sense of time. If that thing is writing, great. Do the morning pages. If you're more into some other thing, apply to it the principles we use for the Pages. And let me know how it goes.
Morning Pages is the practice that is enabling me to work through resistance and procrastination (I life-long challenge.) It tookan immense time of morning journaling for me to really grasp the dynamics at play when I avoid what I love. But because of Pages I’m not postponing writing my book anymore. I don’t miss copywriting deadlines, either, because I’m distracted with some other project. Because of Pages I learn about things I always found difficult, and I keep at it because they improve my life in a tangible way (finances and budgeting are some very good examples.) Through sticking to the Page I build emotional resilience. In the Pages I find my answers, sooner or later. If you're into Pages, know that I'm doing a live on Instagram (@amsterdive) with one of my Artist's Way colleagues this coming Sunday afternoon. Join us. We'd love to have you there chatting with us.