deal-with-morning-pages

The Deal with Morning Pages

artist, creativity, music, songwriting

I remember the first week of my Songwriting Degree and my tutor saying: “Develop these two habits now: morning pages and artist dates.” At the time, I had never heard of Julia Cameron and ‘The Artist’s Way’ and didn’t have the slightest idea of what my teacher was talking about.

Artist dates seemed pretty straightforward. They were dates you went on with yourself, the artist. Like a trip to the cinema, or a stroll through the park. But morning pages had a much vaguer explanation. They were pages you wrote in the morning, but were they a diary? Were they lyrics? Prose? And what exactly were they supposed to help with? What was the best way of doing them?

I’ve been writing morning pages on and off for over two years, and have explored different ways of doing them. I want to share some of my experience to help you understand what they are and why they work.


What are morning pages?

Morning pages can be whatever you want them to be. It’s three pages that can be a diary, a poem, anything. But they must be written while your mind is still wandering through that morning fog that keeps your inner critic from judging your writing. It’s stream-of-consciousness writing that no one will ever see. It’s a place where your secrets will be safe, and so will your terrible writing. You can use it to reflect on your goals or to try something daring that you won’t have the courage for anywhere else.

Get a morning pages journal that’s dedicated entirely to morning pages. Don’t use your computer to type them out – write them out by hand because it’s only then that you feel that connection with the words you’re writing. It’s so easy to type away mindlessly. I know very few people who write by hand mindlessly. Oh, and don’t show your morning pages to anyone. Ever.


“Pages clarify our yearnings. They keep an eye on our goals. They may provoke us, coax us, comfort us, even cajole us, as well as prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. If we are drifting, the pages will point that out. They will point the way True North. Each morning, as we face the page, we meet ourselves. The pages give us a place to vent and a place to dream. They are intended for no eyes but our own.”

Julia Cameron, ‘The Miracle of Morning Pages: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Most Important Artist’s Way Tool: A Special from Tarcher/Penguin’

Julia Cameron is not the only one who advocates this practice. Natalie Goldberg talks about a ‘writing practice’ in ‘Writing Down the Bones’, and although she talks about writing in general, at any time of day, there are clear similarities with Cameron’s morning pages. She also advocates writing them out by hand and says that you shouldn’t think too much about what you’re writing while you’re writing because you might censor your most energetic, most alive writing.


Don’t try to control it. Stay present with whatever comes up, and keep your hand moving.

Natalie Goldberg, ‘Writing Down the Bones’

Why write morning pages?

I have asked myself that question many, many, many, many, many times. Especially when my alarm would go off at half six in the morning so that I’d have time for my morning pages before dashing off to work or uni. Unfortunately, there are many good reasons why, so I always ended up dragging myself out of bed anyway.


1. They get you thinking creatively at the start of the day.

You start your morning by filling a blank page. That sets the tone for the rest of the day – your mind enters the creative mode early on, making it easier to create throughout the day. It’s hard to even contemplate writer’s block when you’re writing three pages of something every day. Pat Pattison, the writer of ‘Writing Better Lyrics’ supports the idea of writing in the morning. He writes:


Always wake up your writer early, so you can spend the day together. It’s amazing the fun the two of you can have watching the world go by. Your writer will be active beside you, sniffing and tasting, snooping for metaphors. It’s like writing all day without moving your fingers.

Pat Pattison, ‘Writing Better Lyrics’

2. They hold you accountable.

When I first started doing morning pages, they frightened me. I genuinely dreaded writing them. Not because I couldn’t come up with anything to write about, but because of what I was writing. The longer you keep up the practice, the more honest with yourself you become on the page. And when I started being honest with myself, I started realising things about my life I would have preferred to stay in the dark about. My relationship, my career, my studies, my friendships – morning pages scrutinised everything. But two years later, I can say that I should’ve trusted the words I was writing down. Without a filter, our mind tells us what we want more clearly. Morning pages help us figure out what we want to do and who we want to be.


3. They help you take control of your day.

Morning pages are not just about reflection, which is why you can’t write them at the end of the day. They’re also about setting goals and understanding how you want to live your life. By writing them in the morning, you start your day knowing what matters to you. And even if you don’t use morning pages as a diary but as a writing practice, you are setting out your priorities by making writing the first thing you do. You are claiming your day.


4. They offer you a safe space for your ideas.

No one else will read your morning pages. You can do whatever you want on the page. Write about your wildest dreams, your deepest secrets, or try writing a weird, experimental poem that will suck. Let your writing guide you. Natalie Goldberg thinks of it as a place where we let our wildest selves be free.


It’s our wild forest where we gather energy before going to prune our garden, write our fine books and novels.

Natalie Goldberg, ‘Writing Down the Bones’

What’s the best way to write morning pages?

If you’ve read all this, you probably realise that there is no best way to do it. Your way is the best. The only rules are: write three pages longhand and don’t think too much about what you’re writing. Everything else is up to you. I recommend you try out different things – a diary, a writing practice, a mix of the two – for at least a couple weeks to see what works best. As Julia Cameron wrote: “Do not overthink Morning Pages: just put
three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

does-music-education-matter

Does Music Education Matter?

artist, music, songwriting

I remember how I decided to study Songwriting almost three years ago. It didn’t involve as much decision-making as thinking “oh why the hell not”. The reason I’m publishing this post now, and not when most teenagers decide on a university, is because I enrolled in my course in September, during freshers’ week. It’s to say it’s not too late for those who are still trying to figure out what they’re going to do. And why you should take the leap. Or shouldn’t.

I had just started my Law Degree when my mother stormed into my dorm room and cried out: “If you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to!” She has a flair for the dramatic that I have inherited because I immediately proclaimed that studying law seemed akin to torture (even though I had been very enthusiastic about it up until my first lecture) and wanted to live my life and seize the day. An hour later, I was on the phone to BIMM London to check if they still had any spaces left. I moved to London at the end of the week.

For me, studying Songwriting was not a conscious decision. It was an escape from a career path that would have led to a 9 to 5 job, and to the nineteen-year-old me, being a musician sounded thrilling and adventurous. Those aren’t great reasons for starting a degree, though, which is why at the end of my first year, I was already thinking of dropping out.

I didn’t think I belonged, I didn’t know what I was there for, and it was costing me a lot of money. To top it off, as a music student, your music will be criticised constantly, your artistic persona questioned, and your integrity compromised. When you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re doing there in the first place, those things can be hard to deal with.

After a lot of journalling, talking with my ever so patient ex-boyfriend, and arguing with my parents, I decided to stick with it and go in for a second year. But this time, go all in. I worked hard on my assignments, was more involved in social life, started recording my own music and playing with other musicians. I started to have faith in the process. And at the end of my second year, I started understanding why music education could be beneficial, and it became clearer to me what I’d learnt. For those of you interested in pursuing music education, here is what it did for me:


1. It made me more professional.

In a lot of different ways. Before starting the course, I didn’t know how to communicate with other musicians – I didn’t know the difference between melody and harmony, I had never heard of Ableton, I had never tried writing with other songwriters. During my studies, I learnt to hear the difference between a good recording and a sloppy one, I started setting higher standards for myself, I started carrying myself with more confidence at gigs. These are all things that musicians can learn on their own if they take themselves seriously enough, though. Which leads me to another point:


2. It gave me the license to take my music seriously.

No one is ever going to question that medicine is important for mankind. Or that we need teachers, scientists, and engineers. But somehow, even though everyone spent lockdown watching films, listening to music, and reading, the importance of culture gets questioned every day. So, growing up in that environment, I always considered music to be a hobby and could never see it as something I could pursue full time. But doing a degree in Songwriting left me no other option but to work on my songs in earnest. And when people asked what I did, I didn’t feel as stupid saying I was a singer-songwriter anymore.


3. It forced me out of my comfort zone.

Until my first year at BIMM, I was confident I knew what ‘my sound’ was. I don’t know why I was so certain about it, since I had never changed my sound and was reluctant about trying something new. But our assignments included writing for other musicians, and I had to let go of my ego and start writing in new and different ways. I was forced to experiment for the first time, and to my surprise, I enjoyed it. I found out I liked music production, and that my music sounds better with a bigger arrangement. I tried different kinds of singing. Again, this kind of experimentation comes naturally to some people, but I’m not one of them.


4. I’ve met like-minded people that will support me on my journey.

This one is a double-edged sword. In my first year, I hated being surrounded by so many good musicians because it made me question my worth. I started comparing myself to everyone and tried to keep up, even though every artist has their own trajectory and each of us moves at a different pace. Once I came to terms with that knowledge, it became easier to make friends, and I noticed that most of us had the same doubts. I discovered the joy of having friends who understand why you’re passionate about music, who don’t judge you for not having a ‘proper career’, and who take your music seriously. Most people talk about networking in uni, but to me, it was about finding a group of people that make me feel like I belong.


5. I learnt about the music business and branding.

Like any other musician, I’d rather pretend the business side of music doesn’t exist. However, in university, a big part of my curriculum is based around the music business, branding, my image as an artist, etc. It made me consider things I’d never considered important before. At one of the tutorials about my release strategy, my tutor told me my covers were my problem because they didn’t look folky enough, so I couldn’t attract the following that would be interested in my songs. It was not something I had previously considered – I was only thinking about my cover being pretty, not about all the connotations that go along with it.

I didn’t know what a music publisher was, and all I knew about labels was that they signed people. It seems like some basic research could fix most of these issues, but there’s a lot to being a musician – the legal framework, the marketing side of it, the practical stuff like music distribution, and tour planning that musicians can’t be bothered with until they’re forced to.


I don’t think that music education is a necessity for people who have the self-discipline to work on their craft every day with no outside incentive. But, let’s face it, that’s not how most of us function. Most of us just want to plop down on the couch in the evening and watch some Netflix. Music education provides me with the necessary motivation I need and provides me with the feedback I need. If you think you can do it alone, go for it. But if you don’t… it’s fun to do it together.

best-books-for-songwriters

My Favourite Books for Songwriters

artist, creativity, music, productivity, songwriting

For those of you who don’t know me – I LOVE reading. Not just love. LOVE. For someone who hasn’t lived in the same place for longer than four months in the last three years, I have a lot of books. And since I’m a songwriter, a lot of them are inevitably about writing and music. So, I thought I’d share my thoughts on my favourite ones with you.


On inspiration and creativity

‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert

big-magic-elizabeth-gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert is the woman that brought us ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, inspiring people all over the world. ‘Big Magic’ has a different purpose. It doesn’t talk about how to become a bestselling author or how to embrace your wild, creative dreams. Instead, it focuses on small victories, on how to live a creative life without harbouring unrealistic expectations. Gilbert writes about her own life, her process, and how creating in itself should be the goal. It’s the book to read when you’re feeling stuck, or when you don’t know why you’re doing it anymore.

‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg

This is the best book on writing and inspiration I have ever read. Natalie Goldberg gets down to the joy of writing, incorporating Zen practice and meditation into her teaching. The love she has for writing and creativity is so contagious it will make you want to throw aside the book and start writing. Which is exactly what books like these are supposed to do anyway.




On lyrics

‘Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting’ by Jimmy Webb

tunesmith-jimmy-webb

This is probably the most thorough book on songwriting I’ve ever read. It’s written by one of the greatest songwriters of our time (think ‘Wichita Lineman‘ and ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix‘) and gives amazing insights into how professional songwriters work. Webb dedicates a whole chapter to his writing process, describing in detail how he starts and finishes a song. It’s a book for more advanced songwriters, as it deals with some theoretical concepts and frameworks beginners might not be familiar with, although Webb briefly explains all the terms he uses. He also delves deep into melody and harmony, which a lot of books on songwriting fail to do.

‘The Songwriter’s Idea Book’ by Sheila Davis

songwriters-idea-book-sheila-davis

Sheila Davis has several books to her name that have become required reading in music courses. In this book, she talks about how personality types influence the way we write and think about our work, and offers 40 strategies for writing a song. She talks about everything from rhetoric devices and figurative language to plot strategies and the importance of a good title, but the main emphasis of the book is on ‘whole-brain writing’ and how our personality influences our productivity.


On music business

‘How to Make It in the New Music Business’ by Ari Herstand

This book is the Bible of the music business for independent musicians. Ari Herstand – a DIY artist himself – talks about everything you might want to know. Although parts of the book focus specifically on the US, most of it is geared towards musicians everywhere. He gives practical tips and provides strategies, timelines for releases, and templates for emails. It’s the most hands-on book on music business I’ve read so far.

‘The Art of Asking’ by Amanda Palmer

Although technically it’s not about the music business, it taught me more about how to handle my career than most other books that are. Amanda Palmer – a DIY legend – writes about how she started out, the innovative (read: crazy) strategies she used to build a fanbase, the work that went into her Kickstarter campaign, and the mental toll of it. It’s not a step-by-step guide by any means, but the creativity with which Amanda Palmer built her music career from the ground up is so inspiring, it will spark interesting marketing ideas in any songwriter who reads it.


On recording

‘The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook’ by Bobby Owsinski

If you’re like me and don’t have the money to record in a studio and pay a mixing engineer, this book is a great guide to start your research with. There are a lot of good Youtube videos out there to help you with whatever DAW you’re using, recording techniques, etc., but it can be hard to find good videos on mixing. This book, however, has everything. Owsinski talks about dynamics, effects, dimension, frequency. The book also includes interviews with producers/mixing engineers like Bob Brockman, Dave Pensado (who also has a great podcast on music production called ‘Pensado’s Place‘), and Ed Stasium.


If you have any other recommendations I haven’t mentioned, let me know in the comments!

time-off-from-making-music

It’s Okay to Take Time Off From Making Music

artist, creativity, music, productivity, self-love, songwriting

Last year, I didn’t write a single song all summer. I didn’t touch my guitar until September and only read non-fiction for three months. I didn’t want poetry and I didn’t listen to music, except for Lana del Rey’s “Lust for Life” that I already knew by heart. Sometimes, I watched Netflix, mostly “Gilmore Girls” that I had already seen twice, and lay around on the couch eating ice cream and thinking about quitting music.


I have friends who worry about writer’s block. I don’t have writer’s block, I have stretches of time when I believe music has ruined my life and I should become a lawyer and make my parents proud. Sometimes, it’s when I have one too many gigs where somebody shouts a sexist comment from the bar or walks out in the middle of a song. Sometimes, it’s after I get another rejection email about how my voice is not folky enough (even though it’s not, that’s true). Most of the time, it has nothing to do with my music and everything to do with what other people think about my music.


And it’s not that I’m one of those musicians that put in hours every day playing their instrument or warming up my voice, so, at times, I don’t even notice when I haven’t played or written any songs for over a week. But, after a time away, I always feel the urge to come back. Artists split themselves open to show others the pain and the rot inside, to share their joy and the love they feel, and sometimes, all that splitting open, all the honesty can feel like too much. And it’s okay to take time to heal from that once in a while.


“If you’re having difficulty coming up with new ideas, then slow down. For me, slowing down has been a tremendous source of creativity. It has allowed me to open up – to know that there’s life under the earth and that I have to let it come through me in a new way. Creativity exists in the present moment. You can’t find it anywhere else.”

Natalie Goldberg, “Writing Down the Bones”

Last September, after a summer with no music, I went into a bookstore in New York and bought a notebook (okay, five) and got home and started writing. I didn’t stop writing for the next three months. Not just because I had missed it, but because I’d spent the time away from it living my life, and I had stuff to write about.


Sometimes, we just need a break. Every time I take time off from music, I believe I’m quitting forever. But I never do. And neither will you.

Why I Take Myself Seriously When Some Men Don’t

artist, music, songwriting

I was thirteen the first time it happened. It was after a music competition, where on stage, I had cited The Smiths and Amy MacDonald as two of my biggest influences. “The Smiths are a great band to look up to. Forget about Amy MacDonald, though,” one of the jurors told me after I was told to come back in a few years. “Amy MacDonald has a great voice,” I said, not understanding. “Yeah, but her lyrics… Just stick with The Smiths.” I didn’t understand what had happened there until years after, when I had heard versions of the same many different times.

Just a couple weeks ago, I was talking to a guitarist friend. “Joni Mitchell is amazing. All her tunings, the way she holds a guitar – it’s so original!” I raved. “Joni Mitchell can’t play the guitar,” my friend retorted. “It’s embarrassing even to watch the videos of her live performances. If you’re looking for a singer-songwriter to look up to, look up Nick Drake.” I already knew Nick Drake, just like any folk musician anywhere would. And I still believed that Joni Mitchell was a good guitarist.

Every time I mentioned situations like these to my friends, they laughed them off and said it was subjective, nothing to do with sexism and everything with music taste. But then I don’t go around saying Nick Drake is a bad guitarist, I just say that I don’t like his stuff. What is it about women that inspires some men to say that we don’t know what we’re doing?

If I think back to my gigs, there is always that one man who wants to show me how to put away my guitar properly, how to put on a capo or advise me on how to sing into a mic. Or my favourite: “You know, I am also a musician. Like, I don’t really perform and stuff, but yeah I write songs, too. You should work on your strumming.” I appreciate feedback, I do. Just not from the man who can only play ‘Wonderwall’.

I’ve learnt to block the feeling of righteous anger because it has never led to anything good. And I can only imagine how much worse it must be for some other women. Women who aren’t white or who don’t come from families where they have been supported in the way that I have. Women who don’t believe they can accomplish anything because women often aren’t raised to expect they will.

If we look at statistics, there’s no reason to believe otherwise – in 2019, “the top 10 female songwriters generated 67% less revenue from royalties than the top 10 men” reported The Guardian. I can count the female instrumentalists I know on one hand, just like the number of gigs I’d been to that had a diverse lineup (and I’m not just talking about gender balance here, which is a whole new issue).

Whenever my ex-boyfriend came along to gigs, he was assumed to be my manager. Whenever a girl friend comes along, she’s always just a friend. I rarely headline gigs because I’m still a young girl with a guitar after eight years of playing shows. I have shared the stage with headliners who had been at it for two years but were men. Some of them were good musicians and deserved it. Some of them were not.

I was talking to my dad about all this not that long ago. He laughed it off, said that I was exaggerating and the men I was talking about were probably just trying to help. That same night, when he was ordering a beer next to me after my set, a man walked up to me and said: “You’ve got an okay voice, but you should watch your diction, you’ll be better then. I am a singer, too.” The man looked like a perverted uncle you try to escape at a family reunion. I walked away before he could continue. My dad took me more seriously then.

One of the things my ex-boyfriend said when I’d complained about this was: “They’re probably just trying to hit on you.” Maybe. Maybe he was right. But is it necessary to try to show that you’re better than me or know better than me to ask me out? Can’t you hit on me by saying something like: “I like your music. I’m a musician, too, though I don’t perform like you do.” Or, shocker, you can also just not hit on me at my gigs. I’m not there to collect phone numbers. Apart from when I am. In which case, you’ll know.

It’s not about not wanting constructive criticism or not wanting to listen to others’ opinions. It’s about being taken seriously and being seen as a professional musician after years of hard work. It’s about asking yourself, before you walk up to a woman with unsolicited advice, whether you’d say the same to a man. It’s about women having to work twice as hard and twice as long before we can shake off the label of “a young girl with a guitar”. I’m still not taken seriously by a lot of men. I’m not taken seriously by a lot of women, either. But the least I can do is to take myself seriously. Because if I don’t do it, I just might start believing all the men that explain things to me.