I’ve been a fan of Julia Cameron for 17 years. Her book ‘The Artist’s Way’ released my writing and helped me believe that I could be creative.
The most well known exercise in The Artist’s Way is the ‘Morning Pages’. This exercise is meant to be done in the morning and ideally should be three A4 pages, of longhand free-writing. I had the incredible honour of attending a workshop with Julia last year at the Hay House Writers Conference, and the morning pages were a hot topic. Julia gently but adamantly affirmed the importance of doing these pages in the morning. She told us that if they were done in the evening then they would be covering the events of the day just past and would take on a different quality.
I have struggled to do my morning pages ever since becoming a mum. Mornings are busy from the get-go, and so I have often had a background sense of guilt over not being able to consistently do my morning pages. This is an issue because they provide so many benefits to me when I am able to actually do them. They are a brain dump, they clear my mind, they help me work through things I’m wrestling with, they help me become aware of things I wasn’t aware were bothering me that much, they help me plan, they help me prioritise and ultimately they keep me focused.
Morning pages were always ‘morning’ pages. Even though I struggled to do them in the morning, I never thought to challenge Julia’s assertion that they should be carried out in the morning. Mainly because, well Julia Cameron’s opinion matters to me, and she’s spent years writing about this so she should know!
But, I’ve just been listening to ‘Opening Up by Writing It Down‘ by James W. Pennebaker & Joshua M. Smythe and something caught my attention in the chapter about insomnia. Apparently the co-author of the book (Joshua Smythe) was having some trouble sleeping and decided to see if either writing or talking before bed could help him to ‘dump’ the information his brain was churning over whilst he was trying to sleep. Joshua decided to try vocalising what was on his mind into a voice recorder and said that this did help him to get to sleep.
It made me wonder something. Do the ‘morning pages’ really have to be done in the morning? Is it possible that they could work as a helpful brain dump before going to sleep? I needed to test this out and not least because I was finding sleep a bit of a struggle since Covid-19 lockdown began.
I decided I would set myself the task of not looking at my phone at all when I get into bed (very hard!), and instead take my notepad and pen and do three A4 pages (if possible) of ‘nightly pages’.
I did my nightly pages – actually did four A4 pages quite easily. But I started to get ideas, as I usually do and got the urge to pick up my phone and research on Google. After I put down the pad…I picked up the phone, thinking it wouldn’t take long. But I almost felt my brain light up with interest as I discovered articles and courses in my area of interest. I put the phone down but one of the courses I was interested in was on my mind through the whole night. It was one of those nights where I had on and off sleep and was aware my mind was busy thinking about that course.
Night One: Pages done: Yes, 4. Phone used: Yes, after doing the pages. Not good! Sleep quality score 4/10
Again the pages seemed to flow easily and I got three A4 pages done in 20 mins. My nightly phone browsing can usually take up 40mins or more.
I felt I had come to a good decision and end point just at the 3-page mark. I was determined this time to settle straight down to sleep and not look at my phone. The sleep was great, no tossing and turning, no waking up during the night. A straight sleep through. When I woke I remembered where I had ended with my ‘pages’, and I briefly thought about this.
Night two – Pages done: Yes, 3. Phone used: No. Sleep quality = 8/10
Didn’t quite go to plan. Brought my computer to bed to finish off working on email/website/domain stuff. I should know better.
I did do my nightly pages and managed two pages, but because I had exhausted myself with the computer work I didn’t finish it properly. When I settled down to sleep my mind was still working on the email issue I was having. Then hubby started snoring so I decided to go downstairs, finish the email issue on the computer and sleep on the sofa.
Night Three – Pages done, Yes, 2. Phone: No but worked on computer! and slept on sofa. Sleep quality =3/10
Didn’t do the pages as I was working till 1am on my work website and couldn’t get to sleep due to thinking about work stuff.
Night four – Pages done, No. Phone/Computer: Yes. Sleep quality 3/10
Had a bit of a horrible day. One of those where nothing feels helpful. I’d even had a thought that there was no point writing because that won’t help me. The feeling was with me for the whole day until I got into bed. I reluctantly started writing the pages and saw the rumination pattern I’d been stuck in all day start to reveal itself to me on the page. It completely surprised me because I had not seen the pattern I was stuck in until I started to write. As I saw the trigger and rumination pattern emerge on the pages I thought “I’m a therapist how come I didn’t see I was doing this!”. But I know better nowadays than to berate myself and I know that this can of course happen to therapists too. We can be blind when in the grip of an emotion just like everyone else.
The nightly pages certainly helped on this occasion, and I ended up sleeping very well that night. Nearly 10 hours!
Night five: Pages done: Yes, 3. Phone/Computer: No. Sleep quality: 10/10.
Five nights down and I can see the beginnings of a pattern. The pages are helping me to sort through things that are on my mind, even helping me to see things I wasn’t aware of. They help me to sleep ONLY when I don’t use my phone or computer afterwards. No surprise there I suppose, but I think I’m going to keep going with the nightly pages; sorry Julia!!