“The morning pages are not supposed to sound smart — although sometimes they might. Most times they won’t, and nobody will ever know except you.”
The Artist’s Way
None of us emerge from the womb accomplished writers. And just like we had to learn to walk and talk (by falling down and saying gah gah goo goo a lot) good writing takes consistent, daily practice. In this short blog post I’m sharing a couple of simple things that have made me a better writer. They aren’t earth-shattering, groundbreaking, or even unique — but what makes them effective is the doing. You’ll probably hear these things a thousand times during your writing life, but if you are willing to actually put them into practice … they will quickly improve your writing. Let’s go.
Writing down your thoughts
The single most important way to improve your writing is to simply practice getting your thoughts down into the written word. You probably already know that more than 60,000 thoughts fly through your head every day, are you fast enough to catch any of them with your pen or keypad?
Most writers I know carry a notebook all the time (I’ve got notebooks all over my home and in my laptop bag) to capture ideas, create an expansive to-do-list, or just nut out thoughts. The act of writing can slow down the thought process and help you get some clarity — or just narrow your focus into a single idea.
Two of the best ways to trap some of your thoughts on the written page are by writing morning pages, or an evening review. Let’s take a quick look at both of them.
Morning Pages are a concept introduced by Julia Cameron in her bestselling work The Artist’s Way. Every morning as soon as you wake up, reach for your notebook and hand write three full pages of notes. Close the book and don’t look at them again (until some strategic time in the future). The point of morning pages is in the writing, not necessarily the reading.
And when I say as soon as you wake up this specifically means before you:
- Go to the toilet
- Check your cell phone
- Talk to your partner
- Wake up the kids
- Make coffee
It’s a direct line to your sleeping self, so do your best not to interrupt the process and get writing as soon as your eyes open. For me I try to get up long before anyone else is awake and lock my bedroom door in case the feisty 11y/o in the next room gets up early.
Morning pages use a stream of consciousness technique where you don’t stop writing at all. Keep your pen on the page and just keep writing, and if you lose track of your thoughts just keep writing the same word or phrase over and over until something new emerges. Sometimes I have three or four lines of scribble that say keep writing keep writing keep writing until suddenly my pen takes off after a new thought.
Don’t get upset when your morning pages seem like nothing but a heap of random negativity — the whiney, whingey stuff you’d be too embarrassed to tell someone else. Let it all spill out onto the page. Remember the point of morning pages is to put your incoming thoughts into actual words, you aren’t stopping those thoughts or trying to mould them into a sexy, intelligent meme. That’s a different type of writing.
Ending your day with a written evening review is another excellent way of improving your writing. Unlike morning pages, the evening review is a more deliberate type of writing where you are thinking about your day, what you learned, what you could have done better, or maybe what you didn’t do at all.
Try to imagine your thoughts as a water hose and your writing journals are the bucket. With morning pages you are trying to catch as much water as you can, whereas your evening review is selective and concentrates on catching only the cleanest water, or the dirty water, or the water that is hot. Whatever water you choose.
Writing every day
Morning pages and an evening review don’t need to take hours, 15-25 minutes should pull it up. Once you get yourself into the habit of writing everyday you’ll be amazed at how much easier it becomes. And not just while writing in your journal but everywhere: blog posts, emails, letters, technical manuals, the elusive novel. That little bit of daily discipline gives your mind a very clear message every morning and night … you’re serious about this writing stuff. If you turn up at the page every day without fail, I guarantee … the words will too.
Get writing, friends.
© 2019 Melinda J. Irvine