{just call me “Angel of the Morning (Pages).” Or, not.

Sorry for the muzak reference. Bad Seventies Things have taken over my head today. (I guess I should a.) look up what the real song is, b.) who sings it, c.) and thus get it stuck in my head for life? No. Just remembering my mother’s flirtation with Easy Listening when I was a kid is bad enough, thanks.)

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I recently passed along a piece from the blog Write For Your Life to my writing group. The piece on “morning pages” was based on the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and according to this piece, morning pages are “three pages of stream of consciousness writing that you do every morning. The intention is to clear your mind of all the annoying claptrap that buzzes around, getting in the way of your creativity.”


So, I asked my writing group — three of whom are published writers, one a journalist, one an award-winning short story writer — what they thought of that. I asked if they used morning pages, or something like that, to clear away their cobwebs before they set in to writing.

The response? A wincing, “every single day?!”, a disbelieving, “why would I do that?!,” a rather polite “sounds like an interesting idea,” and my favorite response, hysterical laughter.

Um, yeah.

I have to say I love it when my writing group is in sync with me.

We bounced the idea around of freewriting and what it does for us, but none of us could face the idea of doing three pages of writing like that, every single regimented day. The idea – even for the promised goal of improving ourselves – felt confining and a lot like the crappy busywork we got assigned in the fourth grade when our teacher had a headache.

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I have a hard time with regimentation of any kind. I force myself to the gym a minimum of three days a week. I have to remind myself to brush my teeth. I sometimes remind myself that at least things like deodorant and putting on something beneath a t-shirt ::cough:: are automatic now, but boy — I really remember fifth grade when my mother despaired of me. I just can’t seem to get into a groove very easily. At least, not doing things that are supposed to be routine; I often can’t even be bothered to eat lunch until 3:30 or so.

Sadly, I tend to run up against this same feeling of put-upon confinement when I encounter …well, any writing advice. When I graduated from college, my favorite professor gave me a copy of a book called, If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland. In it, I read that she subscribes to the theory of moodling along, coddling creativity by happily doing nothing in particular. Okay, I can agree with that. Unfortunately, she advocated doing that “moodling” by taking several long walks a day.


I like walking all right, but I don’t think it makes me more creative. Walking usually makes me hot, unless it’s nice and windy out, and then I enjoy the sensation of being all sweaty with a cold face. (It’s actually quite nice, and we get 70 mph gales here – that’s actually a lot of fun to walk in, and yes I know I’m weird. Hush up.) If I took several long walks a day, I fear I would never finish anything much – including simple things like laundry and making meals. While I’m find living on toast and wearing wrinkled sweats, I’m not sure how successful a writer that would make me, not really.

The proof should be in the doing, yes? I mean, I manage to write because I enjoy sitting down and writing. And when I don’t enjoy it, I frown a lot and mutter, and do it anyway — because I know I’m just at a spot where things aren’t working, and if I backtrack a half a chapter or so and change a few things, usually things turn out all right.

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Would that kind of insight be easier with a walk? Or morning pages?

I don’t know. The reason I bring this up is that I’m planning on re-reading all the writing books I have. If they don’t actually contain any helpful information — avast — to the library they shall go. Maybe someone else will be able to get something out of them.

(Why is it that people give writers books on writing advice? Besides the Ueland, I have Bird by Bird, a few more text-book-y types, and a bunch of Annie Dillard, too.) It’s time to make some space on my shelves – past time, with another Cybils coming up – and so I am doing An Almighty Weeding.

But, tell me about you: what do you do with your early morning hours? What writing books have you found useful? What daily practices – if any – make sense to you and inform your writing? Where did you donate all of your unwanted writing books??

9 Replies to “{just call me “Angel of the Morning (Pages).” Or, not.”

  1. Hello everyone,

    I am responsible for the initial post on the Write For Your Life website and have been very interested to read all the responses that were generated by morning pages generally. They definitely seem to inspire heated comments from people – very pro, or very (very!) against.

    Everyone’s body clock works differently. I’m definitely not one who could get up at 5am, meditate for an hour, workout, and then go about my day (I have friends like this – shudder). I also like sleeping in my morning hours, and rarely drag myself out of bed early enough to do my pages before I have to rush out of the house for work, or whatever.

    But the point is not when you do it, I don’t think – the point is doing it at all. I have friends who do their ‘pages’ (they don’t call them that) before they go to bed so, their minds are completely empty before sleeping.

    Whenever you do them – they’re a useful exercise. If you’re working on a big project, they’re a great place to let you mind doodle on the page – dripping tiny ideas into words in no order, with no pressure for things to make sense or be strung together in a coherent narrative. Whatever I’ve been working on at any particular time, my morning pages are pretty much inevitably taken up with planning – and it’s been a really useful way to structure my thoughts.

    I notice all the people who’ve commented on this post and are vehemently against doing the morning pages are people who haven’t tried them… I’m sure I won’t make myself popular by suggesting this, but why not just try doing them, for a couple of weeks, and see if they make any difference to your life? Only two weeks can’t hurt – and then at least you’d know for sure?

    I’m interested to hear how you all get on….

    For those who want it, the original article is here – http://writeforyourlife.net/morning-papers

    Thanks all! An interesting post and comments


    1. Helia! Thank you for dropping by!
      I thought your piece was beautiful, if I didn’t say so before, and hope you don’t feel mocked.
      I am SCARED of the TIME the whole Morning Pages routine would take. I’m… I don’t know – what am I supposed to write???
      On the other hand – I do hear the people who say it has worked for them, and though it sounds like it’s burning daylight, that’s also what I’m doing when I’m reading blogs before I start working ::cough::

      I am game to try it…

  2. Oh, I always thought that was Juice Newton. I’m positive she did a version.

    I SLEEP in my early morning hours, thank you very much. 🙂 I am not a morning person at all, which makes morning pages an even more ridiculous idea for me. I’m only good for coffee, breakfast and some reading material for at least an hour after I get up.

    I do sometimes find that some cathartic blather helps me get going–but only if something specific is bugging and distracting me. Just doing it for its own sake isn’t always going to work for me and if I have to force myself, I just feel resentful about the thing I love doing, which is horrible.

    Writing books…I enjoyed Bird by Bird, but haven’t re-read it. That’s true of most writing advice books I’ve read–one read and that’s it. The ones I really like are WHAT IT IS by Lynda Barry, ART & FEAR by David Bayles & Ted Orland (not really a writing book but I can’t be without it!), and WRITING DOWN THE BONES by Natalie Goldberg. Something I like about all of these is that they come in shorter segments, so you can just turn to a portion at a time in no particular order.

  3. Ooof, books about writing. Call me the ornery MFA student, but I hate those books.

    I do love writing in the morning though–which I try to do 5x a week. But that doesn’t always happen. All too often writing happens when it happens (though I need to put more of a priority on it to get my thesis done!).

  4. Writing books are most helpful for me when I read a page or two, then say, “Wow, I really feel like writing now” and then going to do it. My favorite book about writing is as much about the author’s own book recommendations and family life. It’s called Turn Not Pale, Beloved Snail, by Jacqueline Jackson. It was published in the 1970’s and is now out of print.

    My challenge is where to write. I don’t want to write in a coffee-shop or a library. I write best in my own home with no one interrupting me. Feel free to snort.

    And yes, the proof is in the doing. You are writing. You are doing what works. I find it refreshing that the published writers in your group are not kvelling to the morning pages. (Morning pages were helpful for me at a particular time in my younger life, but I don’t think they helped with writing specifically– more with general bravery.)

  5. ACK, now I have that tune stuck in my brain as I crawl into bed! 😯

    One of my high school English teachers had us do 10 minutes of free writing at the beginning of every class. I loved it–just let it all pour out. No crafting of sentences, no thesis development, just a torrent. This was pre-computers and it was impossible to keep up with thoughts via ink/pen. The class got hooked on this ritual of writing.

    I just celebrated my one year of faithfully doing the artist pages. (my blog entry on the outing to La Cote was the day). I am not a writer–so don’t know if these would be useful in conjunction with crafting a story line, but I find that this routine has been a healthy shift in my days.

  6. Boy, do I feel old. ‘Just Call me Angel’ — (I’m pretty sure it’s ‘in’ the morning instead of ‘of’, though everybody always says ‘of’) was done by Marianne Faithful, Mick Jagger’s old flame, way back when. I first heard it at my cousin’s apartment in Miami, in 1971. I never know stuff like that, so I’m pretty proud!

    I can’t make myself do morning pages, though I have a writer friend who does them almost religiously. My agent has recommended Bird by Bird and I plan to read it, but as a general rule I don’t read writing books and I’m not sure why. I suppose I just prefer to muddle through on my own. If I read writing books, I’d probably be way ahead of the game by now…

  7. The problem with coddling your creativity by taking long walks is that you are de facto out walking, and not in a position to write anything down, and by the time you get home maybe you don’t want to anymore, or have completly forgotten the brilliant thing you were thinking, and if you were were walking in the rain and gale force winds, you are probably wet, and have to change your clothes, and maybe have a warm drink, or some soup, so I don’t think you actually get anywhere in the long run. Unless your ability to hold things in your mind is better than mine.

    My ideal way to spend early morning hours is weeding and blogging…it is a nice straight shot from the weeds to the computer, so I can think about what I might want to say and then go say it. But, especially now that school has started and the dark of the morning is closing in, this seems to be happening less frequently.

    But all my days begin with a sullen cup of coffee, sitting on the back step and morosly contemplating weeds, chickens, the indisputable remenents of skunk visitations, the paint peeling of the barn, and the odd sock that escaped from the clothes line (all those little touches that make a house a hovel). I do, howver, get to excercise my imagination quite a bit, as I day dream about what it will all look like “next summer” when time and money will both be magically vouchsafed to us….

  8. I forget my outward response to your email but I do chafe against made-up requirements. You could say, of course, that this reaction is due to an undisciplined and lazy attitude, but I think not. I have proven to myself that I have the discipline and perseverance to achieve difficult goals. I just don’t think that it means every new regiment that comes along is one I should adopt. There are enough habits–brushing teeth, cleaning toilets. washing dishes–in life without imposing extra, and perhaps unnecessary, ones.

    I am not totally opposed to this idea of free writing every morning, I just don’t think it’d work for me in the intended way, ie unlock my creative thinking. The more likely outcome may be a lot of teeth-gritting teeth and bootstraps-pulling.

    On the other hand, the relief of having done something like that may be a nice pat on the back, whether or not it actually fulfills its intended purpose.

    Unwanted writing books: I donate to the library.
    Just call me angel in the morning: I know that song. It was in one of those disaster movies so popular in the seventies. This one took place on a cruise ship, I believe.
    Early morning rituals: be awake enough to get breakfast for my children and get them off to school.

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