I credit my morning pages with changing my outlook on life. I’m coming up to three years of a morning pages routine, with only a few missed days along the way. (If you want a quick explanation of the morning pages routine, read this article I wrote about it back in 2013.)
Recently, I came across one of the best descriptions of the morning pages routine from programmer Matthew Lang. He compares the morning pages routine to skimming stones:
Every year we visit Jennifer’s family just outside of Toronto. The holiday usually revolves around shopping for the girls and golf for the boys, but on those days where we want to spend the time together as a group we sometimes head down to the lake. It’s a great spot for a picnic and a walk, it lets the kids explore and of course there’s that love of skimming stones. You spend a couple of seconds looking for a good stone and you throw. There’s no concern about the quality of the throw, a few throws is all that’s needed to get better. Also you know that once it’s thrown that stone is gone forever. Well at least until it’s washed back up back onto the shore again.
Your morning pages should be like this. Just writing, seeing where it takes you and never worrying about that writing coming back. It’s an exercise to clear your mind and nothing more. Also it doesn’t matter about the content of your morning pages. It’s all for you. No-one else. Once it’s written it can disappear from the eye of the public forever. Just like your little stone skimming across the water and disappearing, your morning pages can hide forever.
I’ve been trying to define my morning pages routine for years, and in only two paragraphs Matthew Lang has explained it better than anything I’ve read on the subject.
What I’ve learned from three years of morning pages
My morning pages have jumpstarted my creative output and helped me stay focused on the most important parts of my life. I don’t gain direct insight from writing the pages; they are not designed to plan or brainstorm projects. Instead, I don’t set out to do anything with them. I write whatever comes to mind and I try not to stop. I’ve identified anxieties and personal struggles I didn’t know I had, and I’ve broken though the setbacks that have held me back. I have also learned how to praise and credit myself for the good things I do in those pages.
Morning pages are like mindfulness meditation in that the point is to clear the mind, not to clutter it with new things to think about or work on. I write down the things that bother me and that I know will hinder my progress, and I leave them on the page.
The idea of stone skimming matches up perfectly with the point of a morning pages routine. When you skim stones, you throw out the stone not to gain anything but rather to occupy your mind and body for a few seconds. It is about the experience. You know you’ll never see the stone again. You know that not every stone you throw out will skim the water’s surface in the same way. It’s a way to keep your mind off things for a moment and see something happen in nature.
If you write morning pages, train yourself to think like you would when skimming stones. Don’t set goals. Just write, and enjoy the process.