On a recent episode of the Stop Writing Alone podcast, Nicole Rivera replayed an episode (“The Morning Pages”) dedicated to something that inspired her practice: Morning Pages. She is convinced that practicing the Morning Pages technique has done more than affect her writing: it’s also helped her work through personal challenges, helping to center her.
Her ongoing enthusiasm about Morning Pages finally made something click for me in regards to how Morning Pages could be adapted to help writers get unstuck in their novels.
First, I’ll explain Morning Pages, and then I’ll introduce my Getting Unstuck adaptation.
What Is The Morning Pages Technique?
The Morning Pages technique comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, a book designed to help people recover their creativity. The Morning Pages technique is just one component of a 12-week practice outlined in The Artist’s Way.
To practice morning pages, all you need is a pen and a notebook, and you write three notebook pages as quickly and fluidly as you can, no editing, no crafting. Your Morning Pages will just capture whatever thoughts are flitting about your head at the moment or you may capture ideas you’ve been mulling over the past day or it might include a list of tasks that lay ahead of you for the day.
It doesn’t really matter what the words are, because the morning pages technique is an exercise in free writing. For this to be effective, you need to write continuously for those three pages: no stopping to think, no checking email, no rereading (or editing) what you wrote, and no contemplating the drops of dew on the rose bush outside your window. Writing non-stop, that what it is: three pages worth of words in a single, fluid writing session.
Oh, and once you’ve written the Morning Pages, you can’t go back afterwards to re-read them. Ever. Why? Because you are learning to let go. You’re learning to clear your mind.
More than just “writing in the morning”, Morning Pages is free-writing exercise that becomes meditative. It is separate from writing for production, and that necessarily activates a different part of our brain that those times we sit down to do structured writing. Morning Pages immediately removes the need to write only for progress in your writing project.
In other words, this isn’t a writing session intended to add words to your novel; however, the practice of morning pages will boost your ability to write more freely when you do sit down to write the novel.
The technique can help us to silence the internal editor that haunts many of us and who bogs down our productive writing sessions.
Adapting Morning Pages to Getting Your Novel Unstuck
As identified above, Morning Pages frees your mind and is part of restoring your innate creativity. But what if you also could adapt the technique to help you get unstuck within a specific writing project?
Imagine you’ve encountered a roadblock in a novel. Maybe you’re having a tough time trying to advance the storyline without getting bogged down or wandering off into a dead-end narrative cul de sac. Here are the steps for Unstuck Morning Pages technique, adapted from The Artist’s Way.
Grab your notebook and pen.
Find somewhere to sit (or stand) that’s away from your usual working space.
Begin your Unstuck Morning Pages writing by posing the specific challenge you’re facing.
If you’re unsure of the specific challenge, but you know that something’s “not right”, start by writing that: something like There’s just something in this story that’s not working.
Keep going from there and DO NOT STOP writing. Let your words flow around the topic of the story challenge you’re facing.
If you find yourself pausing, write that down and bring it back to your problem-solving focus: I was just looking out the window but I really want to figure out why my character would want to chuck his old life to move to an uninhabited island.
If you find yourself in a circle of non-resolution, inject some what-if questions, as wild as you like and answer them: What if he knows he’s dying? What if he is the son of a billionaire yachtsman whom he is afraid of becoming? What if he is allergic to pizza? What if he’s not alone on the island?
Write at least three pages. You may end up in a state of flow. Go with it.
Repeat this process until your brain unlocks the solution, because it will. True magic happens when you combine intention, focus, and action.
Focusing your writing on the place your stuck is the primary difference between the Unstuck Morning Pages and the original Morning Pages as applied in The Artist’s Way. Another difference is that you may re-read what you’ve written, because you are going to take the parts you need to help you get your story unstuck.
Just as in my Greenrooming Unstuck Tip, Unstuck Morning Pages bring you to a place outside of the story in order to observe and interact with the story. When we sit down for productive writing sessions, we have on our author hats and we dive into the forest and start counting trees. But for Unstuck Morning Pages we soar high above the forest, carried by universal creative forces.
This Unstuck Morning Pages may sound like sacrilege to those devotees of the The Artist’s Way, but I am not suggesting you skip the original Morning Pages exercise: I am merely proposing the Unstuck version in addition to your meditative, creativity-unlocking practice.
My First Experience with Unstuck Morning Pages
I tried this myself, and it was effective the first time out! In fact, it helped me:
Uncover where the story needs to start (and how to adjust chapter order accordingly)
Understand a character’s motivation
Confirm when a specific character learns an important skill
Introduce a resolution beat for a specific character action
…and it ENERGIZED me.
All that in a 15-minute session of 550 words. It worked for me, because I needed to step away from the living characters and scenes that draw me in when I sit down for my productive writing session. Now I have a “plan of action” from the Unstuck Morning Pages exercise to guide my next writing session.
Give it a try, and let me know how it worked for you!