how-free-writing-can-free-your-mind

How Free Writing Can Free Your Mind

creativity, self-love, songwriting

My dad is an avid journaler, who has a stack of red, hardcover notebooks that date back to when we lived in Russia, and, though my parents never taught me the importance of journaling or introspection, I have always seen them practice it. To this day, my dad sits down every night to write at least one page in his journal. My mum writes like she lives – sporadically, in great bursts of enthusiasm.

My journaling practice started early on but wasn’t consistent. It had more to do with my obsession with pretty notebooks – I had stacks upon stacks of spiral notebooks, sketchbooks, diaries with locks that I kept losing the keys for. I usually started the notebooks with a lengthy introduction of who I was – my favourite colour (purple), my favourite book (‘The Secret Garden’), my favourite film (‘Spirit’ or ‘Home Alone’), and then promptly forgot they existed. I still have all those notebooks in a box in my bedroom. I’m a hoarder at heart, I guess.

What started as a hobby that I wasn’t all that committed to, became a lifeline when I was a teenager. I remember anxious nights before school, anticipating eating my lunch in the girls’ toilets or spending breaks hiding in the library. I remember the comments the teachers made about how my uniform was not the right shade of green, and how respectful they were to my mother when they thought her accent was German, and how swiftly their faces changed when she told them it was Russian. Filled with frustration, anxiety, and loneliness, I spent nights journaling.

Somewhere down the line, those midnight journals turned into morning pages and bullet journals, but the purpose is the same – purge whatever’s holding me back and stressing me out, write down my thoughts to understand them, own up to other thoughts I didn’t even know I had. It’s a practice that has always sustained me, but I have made another discovery recently, which has changed my life and my writing: free writing.

I was reading ‘Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women‘ by Mirabai Starr, a book given to me by one of my spiritual friends. Mirabai writes about female mystics and how we should implement their wisdom in our daily lives, offering writing prompts at the end of most chapters. Her writing prompts follow the rules of free writing by Natalie Goldberg, which you can find here. The main idea is: time yourself while writing and write as fast as your hand can move and your mind can think. Don’t edit yourself. Not on the page, not in your head.

I was reading ‘Wild Mercy’ after coming home, feeling uprooted and out of whack. I spent a week feeling at a complete loss, and the only thing that helped was talking to friends. Even the morning pages weren’t cutting it – I felt I wasn’t being honest with myself anymore, I could feel I was suppressing something but I wasn’t sure what. In short, I felt stuck.

But then I sat down with one of the writing prompts Mirabai Starr suggested: “What do you want from the Holy One? Write a letter to your Beloved, stating your demands.” I’m often sceptical about anything that has to do with God, after having been to a humanistic school and grown up in a mostly atheistic family (apart from when my mum lit candles to help my brother or me pass an exam). But for this exercise, I let go of judgement. I just wrote. And it all spilled out.

I wrote about why I felt like the ground was disappearing underneath my feet, I wrote about what I wanted the Universe to take away from me, like my anxiety, stress, the want to be liked and loved by people I don’t even care about. And it was stuff I’d been holding back in my other writing, but setting a timer for ten minutes and not stopping until I finished, stopped that inner censor from creeping up. I’d been talking about our inner censors for a long time now, so I was surprised to find out I still hadn’t banished mine. I’ve been keeping up that free writing practice for over a week now, and it’s made its way into my morning pages, my lyrics, my academic writing. I’ve been writing more easily and honestly.

If you want to try free writing, here are some writing prompts to get you started:

  • What are my values? What would my life look like if I lived it accordingly?
  • What do I believe to be true about myself? Which of these beliefs are limiting? How will they affect my life if I act as if they’re true? Why are they not true?
  • What does living with intention mean to me?
  • What emotion am I trying to avoid in my life? What do I think will happen if I allow myself to feel it?
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.”