Could Morning Pages Help You Balance Personal and Paid Writing Work?

Could Morning Pages Help You Balance Personal and Paid Writing Work?

By a show of hands, how many of you try to balance paid writing with writing you love? Am I the only one burning out before I even get to my personal work?

A few months ago I brought this up with a group of creative friends. Almost simultaneously they asked, “Have you read The Artist’s Way?

Of course I have. Sort of. I mean, I bought and skimmed it. Does that count?

They told me, under no uncertain terms, that I must immediately read the section on “morning pages,” buy a notebook and start the practice.

So I did. And this is what happened.

What are morning pages?

The Artist’s Way is a well-loved book by Julia Cameron, originally published in 1992. It presents weekly exercises to unfetter your creative self. I’ve only tried a few, but Cameron calls morning pages “nonnegotiable.”

Morning pages are the daily practice of writing three free-form, longhand pages every morning. You don’t need anything except a notebook, pen and 15 to 30 uninterrupted minutes as soon as you wake up.

That’s it. Write about the whatever springs to mind: your headache, your spouse, your snoring chihuahua.

Morning pages are your writing warm-up

While “morning pages” are specific to Cameron, the idea of writing practice isn’t new. Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones, “It is good to go off and write a novel, but don’t stop doing writing practice. It is what keeps you in tune, like a dancer who does warm-ups before dancing or a runner who does stretches before running.”

My morning pages are my writing warm-up. If I woke up and went straight into my work for the day, that writing wouldn’t be any good. Hammering out a few pages of dribble beforehand is like blowing the dust off my brain.

That doesn’t make them easy though. Half the time I don’t want to do morning pages. You’ll probably feel this way too.

Bring it back to the fitness comparison: health coaches often advise that instead of expecting yourself to work out for an hour every day, you should put on sneakers and tell yourself you’ll run for “just five minutes.” The idea is that by the time you’ve done five minutes you’ll be in the groove and excited to keep going.

It’s the same with morning pages. Many of my entries start with, “I don’t know what to write. I haven’t had my coffee and I hate everything.”

But once I get going I’m caught in the flow and find myself not only finished, but halfway through a personal project before I even glance at the clock.

Morning pages create balance

Morning pages are an incredibly useful tool. “All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity,” writes Cameron in her book.

And she’s spot-on. Once I’ve dislodged a layer of emotional noise, I suddenly have the headspace to tackle more complex issues in my writing. The simple act of putting pen to paper often solves so many tiny problems. I’ve never found this to be the case with typing.

By day, I write for a wide range of publications and company blogs. It’s a fantastic job that allows me freedom and growth.

But it’s not my life’s ambition. I have a half dozen personal projects going at once, from an anthology submission to a blog rebrand. It’s tough to switch gears and give my passions the time they deserve. Once I’ve expended my energy and creativity for the day on client work, I have nothing left to give my passion projects.

Which is why we need to rethink our priorities.

One afternoon I was watching this amazing video with business coach Marie Forleo. She references Stephen Pressfield in the War of Art: “I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first. What’s important is the work.”

According to Forleo, “The urgent stuff is always gonna get done because it has to.”

By remembering this concept and practicing morning pages, I’ve changed how I tackle my work. The new rule: personal projects come first first.

I want to give my best work to the writing I love. Because I discovered that me at 80 percent is good enough for my clients, but I want to bleed 100 percent into my own work.

Morning pages have allowed me to do this. To give my best work to the work that matters.

Morning pages with a twist: write about your work

Sometimes I forget to to do my pages. When that happens, I turn to afternoon transitional pages. After I’ve sat with an essay for two hours, I find it hard to move from flowery writing about feelings to website copy for a client.

Transitional pages are my weird adaptation of morning pages where I essentially just write a page or two about my client work. What do I need to accomplish today? What am I finding finding tricky?

Like Goldberg says in Bones, a popular book for writers about creativity as spirituality. “Handwriting is more connected to the movement of the heart.” Because of this, I find it easier to process client work — which is often in “brand voice” — if I can write about it in my personal voice. Here’s an example:

Okay. So today I need to hammer out this headline. I need 20 ideas by the end of today. I’m having trouble balancing professionalism with our “quirky” brand. Are headlines with questions still a thing? We’re trying to say that this app is the easiest app in existence. But legally we can’t say that. Maybe it’s so easy your grandma could use it? Your dog? You could do it in your sleep?

And on and on it goes.

Note the poor writing and weird sentence structure. I try to do this without censorship or judgement, just like “real” morning pages. Sometimes I’m able to solve a problem, sometimes I can’t. Either way, I’m able to transition from my personal work to my paid work without hating everyone or burning out.

How do you balance client work with your personal writing? Are you a morning pages fanatic?

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Filed Under: Craft
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  • ashriwal says:

    It’s really a cool and helpful bit of info. I’m happy that you shared this useful info around.
    Please keep us informed such as this. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  • Kara Vogel says:

    I love the idea of transitional pages! I’m just starting out my freelance writing career and still have my day job in the corporate world. A lot of times after work I find it hard to transition to more personable, relaxed writing. I get stuck in a more technical, professional tone. I think this will really help me produce better writing after a long day of work – thank you for sharing!

  • Hassan says:

    I really loved the idea of morning pages, I’m a student struggling with my boring degree in computer sciences, I don’t know why I choose computer sciences but now after completing my half degree I realize that my area of interest is kind of literature, I love theoretical subjects, getting best grades in them. Will try to do morning pages from tomorrow<> fingers crossed x.
    I can do free writing for you as I want to write and I don’t really know what to write so please let me know I can be of your service or anyone else’s because all I wanna do is to write.

  • Marian,

    Thanks for the timely reminder about Morning Pages (even though I came across it a month later). It’s just what I need to get me kick started on my new writing venture. And the suggestion of Afternoon Transition Pages is a perfect addition. Can’t wait to try them.


  • V.Lewis says:

    Marian, while I’ve heard but never tried Morning Pages ( I know, I’m missing out! ) 😉 I love your suggestion about transition pages. It makes sense since most freelance writers have to bounce between all types of writing. Thanks

  • Kit says:

    Hey Marian

    I am a newbie to this ‘Morning Pages’ trend – just started today, in fact! LOL

    I LOVE the idea of ‘transactional pages’ – should try that too in order to de-clutter my mind that is bubbling in a pool of crap 🙁

    Thank you

  • veron says:

    On chapter 4 of this book, and the action of doing the morning pages has had the biggest impact on my writing thus far. And in subtle ways, I’m more creatively open, and curious. It’s managing to seep into my other, more business related, writing. I find myself jotting down more ideas…as if my mind is slightly more alert for creative opportunities.

  • Great article. Thank you.

    I do morning pages, but it as ‘fits and starts’ throughout the day.

    When an idea rushes by, I grab it and write it down, scribbling a few notes about what it all means and where it all fits. Then, events fall into place, and that idea born out of ‘morning pages’ is a magazine feature, a book or film script.

    But I’m keen to see the result of actually doing morning pages first thing when I wake up.

  • Wendy says:

    I tried “morning pages” for a while (actually evening pages for me). After a few weeks (when they say a practice should be becoming a habit) I kind of petered out. Never did anything with what I wrote in them, either. (Certainly didn’t have the basic draft of a novel, like she did–or even a short story.)

  • I have had the Artist’s Way lying around for a while on my reading shelf. Finally decided to seriously follow the exercises in the book some months back. The morning pages have helped me remove destructive creative blocks that I hadn’t even realised before doing morning pages. Another important tool in the book is artist’s date which I’m still struggling with:(

  • Gayle says:

    This was a great post and as soon as you mentioned “The Artist’s Way” I pulled it off the shelf and started reading it. I have had it for years but for years I have put off my dream of being a published novelist. I’ve written two novels but have told myself all the things she mentions on page 7 of the book. No more. I feel as if GOD has spoken–Good Orderly Direction.

    When the student is ready the teacher will appear. Thanks!!!!

  • I haven’t heard of this before (I’m new to the freelancing world), but I’m definitely game to give it a try. Thanks for sharing this idea with us!

  • Robin Botie says:

    Thank you for reminding me of the book and the practice. I can’t remember when I gave it up. It had been so valuable to me for a long time – I sometimes went back to it when I was stuck for ideas and found inspiration and material to expand on. Cheers!

  • This post was so applicable for me. I just heard about Morning Pages and the Artist’s Way and have been toying around with starting this practice. I too balance paid versus creative writing with paid writing plus life winning out every time. Now I see how to put my creative writing first. Thanks so much for the kick in the pants.

    • Yup, I so hear you there.

      Morning Pages have really been transformative for me. Most of the time I don’t want to do them but it barely takes 15 minutes and I’m always happy I did them. My day is noticeable more sucky and less productive if I bail.

  • Jeannie Leighton says:

    I like your idea of ‘transitional pages’ later in the day. And thanks for providing the link to Marie Forleo – her segment on ‘urgent’ versus ‘important’ tasks hit home.

    I discovered “The Artist’s Way” in 1994 during a serious rough time and I used those morning pages to heal. The action turned into a routine that I still do to this day as far as the writing first thing in the morning. It helps clear my mind of any niggling thoughts from the day before and helps me focus on the day ahead. I use a fountain pen and 6×9 spiral bound lined journals.

    • Isn’t that Marie Forleo video the best? It made me re-think what I prioritize and it helped me give myself permission to put my work first. And do you know what? In that time I’ve submitted two essays to major publications, entered a writing contest and applied to a colony. All because I put my personal work above my client work. And the best part is my client’s haven’t noticed a thing.

      I also hear you on morning pages. I started doing them before I even read The Artist’s Way because I was having a hard time during a break up and a friend told me they would help. And they did. I haven’t stopped doing them since.

  • Thank-you so much for this article about the most important part of being a writer: WRITING!

    I am a great believer in daily writing. I think such details as longhand or word-processing, morning or afternoon (or night), before or after caffeine, can be negotiable, but regularly scheduled writing should not be, not for anyone who aspires not merely to write but to BE a writer. Daily writing not only keeps your skills sharp, but deepens your sense of identity as a writer.

    I have long compared daily writing with a visual artist’s sketchbook: work done in a limited amount of time which creates no obligation by the artist beyond itself. This gives the freedom to explore avenues of self-expression that might otherwise have been neglected. I personally have grown a great deal by doing timed sketches as brief as five minutes. The ticking clock leaves no time for self-censorship, so ideas are free to bubble up from the depths of my being.

    I recently started compiling sets of sketch starters for writers who want something to freshen up their daily writing. I offer them in my Etsy shop, rather than on my regular website:

    I wish you all fruitful daily writing!

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Coaching

    • I couldn’t agree more Trish! AT the end of the day we have to choose a “system” that works for us. For a long time I used a great website called because I could get out the same amount of words in half the time. I recently switched to long hand because it allows me to think through things in a more streamlined way. Maybe I’ll switch it up tomorrow, who knows. But you’re totally right. As long as we’re writing it doesn’t matter where, when or how.

  • Great post, Marian! I’ve read about Morning Pages but love seeing an example of how someone like me — who is always trying to balance client + personal work (also to the detriment of my personal work) — using the practice.

    This seems much more approachable — and your example of transitional pages sounds like exactly what I need some afternoons!

    • It really does feel sometimes like MPs are the only reason at all I’m able to get anything done. It’s funny how 15 minutes can change your day.

      And glad you like the idea of transitional pages! I don’t do well with to-do lists because there’s still too much in my head I need to get out in order to feel organized. Writing about it helps me really figure out what needs to get done and how.

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