The Morning Pages by Julia Cameron

The’Morning Pages’ have been my refuge, my place to cry, my thought organiser, my decision helper, and my main method of offloading and processing how I feel for nearly 18 years now. Over the past year I have adapted them into nightly pages instead. This seems to also stop me from browsing on my phone before sleep – something that never helps me and yet I automatically reach for the phone as soon as I get into bed.

“Write three pages, longhand if possible, on A4 paper”

Julia Cameron

Morning pages – what are they?

The morning pages technique comes from Julia Cameron’s book ‘The Artist’s Way‘. The book’s main purpose is to help you get back to your creative self, free from the suffocating hands of criticism and self-doubt. She sets out a 12-week programme for recovering this part of you but there are two main techniques that are a core part of each week’s task; The Morning Pages, and The Artist Date. Morning pages are 3 sides of (preferably A4-sized) pages of free writing, written long-hand. We are instructed to start by dumping words onto the page until something comes. It’s even fine to start with “I don’t know what to write, this is useless, I don’t feel like writing…”. Just keep going until you find a thread of something else to take you off on a tangent. The pages become a way of not only offloading, but starting to see what is within and processing any self-doubting thoughts, or critical comments. Unpacking feelings and judgments, and starting to see the possibilities if you want to look for them. They are a way to confront your blocks, to sit with them and see what is behind them.

In the original book Julia spoke of how she keeps hers for 12 weeks and then burns them. She didn’t look back over them once written they were of no use to her as her mind had already moved to a different place. She has softened this view now and often will check back to see themes and ideas that had come out. I think this is a personal choice. For me, my memory issues mean that I keep mine so as to not forget and to have a resource for writing. I also know that our brain’s can only keep in mind a certain amount of information at any one time and so there is a lot of archive material in our mental vaults. Just like in the film ‘Inside Out’ where long-term memory was a vast space, some information filed so it is easy to retrieve, but some information lost forever because the ‘tags’ are missing. Memory is a library, but the strength of any library is in how we find what is there.

Try the Morning Pages

Have you got a bit of time to yourself right now? Just a few mins is fine. Get a pen and a sheet of paper, don’t worry what size it is right now. Start writing out the first thing that comes to mind, or just let your pen move across the page and see where it goes. The point is not to try too hard to think about what to write first, just let your hand write something and go with that. If you are someone who doodles, then doodle. Some of us draw shapes and visuals rather than words and that is just as valid a way of expressing yourself and offloading.

Keep going. When you feel like you come to a stop. Keep going. This might be where you find you are a bit stuck for what to say. If this feels frustrating then let that out. “I really have nothing to say now”, “I just want to stop now there’s nothing, blah blah blah blah, this is useless, grrrrr what the hell am I doing I should just stop this! Aaarrrghhh, god I feel really worked up now, okay what is the point of this what the hell!!!”

Keep going. This is where writing by hand starts to produce something different to typing. When we type we are concerned with typing correctly, making sentences, using full stops. When we are mark-making with a pen and by hand we can doodle, and scrawl, and cross out and not make any sense with words if we want, this is where the expression starts to happen.

Keep going.

It is in this halfway point of feeling like I’ve reached the end and have nothing to say that I find I can get down to a deeper level – but I have to let myself write rubbish first, sometimes swear, sometimes scrawl and doodle too. Try it. Keep going at this point and see what happens. If you feel annoyed, or stressed, or sad even, notice this. Notice this feeling in your body and write about how this feeling feels.

Where to find a therapist in the UK

In my book ‘Do I Need to See a Therapist?!’ I have put together a list of all the therapy directories I could find that offer a place to search for counsellors and psychotherapists. I plan to link to this information on here once the book has been published but for now these are the main therapy directories that I personally use if a friend or family member asks me where they should go to find a therapist. I do not endorse any of these therapists myself or the sites, but I use them to check therapists against my own personal criteria. The first place to go is usually to your GP who can let you know the options for NHS Therapy. For private therapy, this is what I look for:

Qualifications: I look not just for the specific mode of therapy but also the previous training and background that the person has. I also look for the blend of therapies that they use, years in practice and that they don’t make over-inflated claims about being able to help everyone with any problem. As far as I have found there is no ‘magic’ therapy that can help with every issue and this is the reason why we have such a vast range available. Yes, evidence-bases are important but we have to remember here that this does not always give us the full story. For research purposes some clients are excluded from studies if they have certain symptoms and so we have to be open-minded even about what ‘evidence-based’ means.

Accreditation and Registration: I look for the therapist to be accredited or registered by a recognised therapy organisation such as the National Counselling Society (NCS), United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy (BABCP), British Psychoanalytical Council (BPC), National Council of Psychotherapists (NCP) or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). For example if a listing says that the therapist practices CBT then I look for Accreditation by the BABCP. You can check that a member is accredited by using the CBT Register and putting the person’s name into the right hand search box (the left search box is for premium listings which not all therapists pay for but if they are accredited by the BABCP they will appear in the right hand box if you search for their surname). It is important that they are registered/accredited by one body, it doesn’t have to be more than one. I just want to know that there is a body that they are accountable to and whose code of conduct the therapist signs up to.

Therapy bodies: Therapy bodies usually have directories that you can use to search for a therapist. In my book I have put together a list of all of the bodies I could find in the UK where you can find a therapist who is registered and/or accredited by that particular body. These are the ones mentioned above but there are many others:-







Private Directories: In my book I have researched every directory that I could find and assessed them against some core criteria. Therapists pay to be on these directories and so it is unlikely that you will see the same therapist on all of them. So don’t be worried if you don’t see your chosen therapist on all of the sites. Here are two of the main directories:

Counselling Directory:

Psychology Today:

Differences in pupil dilation between people with PTSD and those without

A study carried out jointly between Cardiff and Swansea University has found that people who have suffered PTSD show different pupil dilation and constriction patterns.

The study looked both at constriction in response to light changes, but also enhanced pupil dilation in response to both exciting-positive and traumatic-negative imagery, and perceiving both as equally negative.

This points to an increase in arousal which is apparent by watching a person’s pupils, and indicates that therapists should be mindful that clients could potentially interpret positive arousing stimuli as a threat.

Rethinking the role of the body in emotions

This article in the New Scientist pulls together some exciting findings from researchers studying the role of our bodies, and particularly our hearts, in our emotional lives.

HEP looks to be an area of interest and I wonder how this links in with HRV? The part that stood out for me with the HEP studies was that they used gaze spots. The link between a fixed gaze, HEP and thoughts and feelings makes me feel intrigued as to how this links with Brainspotting.

How to find a therapist

So how do you find a therapist, and how do you find the right one for you?

In the UK, the first places to look would be the therapist directories held by the main registration and accreditation bodies, for example the BABCP, BPS, UKCP and NCS. Outside of these bodies there are directories such as Psychology Today, Timewith, and Counselling Directory. I have blended together both counselling and psychotherapy bodies there, and there are many more I could add to this list. For now though I wanted to be brief and hopefully give you some quick links for where to loo.

I noticed quite a helpful article from Esther Perel this week which has some helpful questions to ask yourself when choosing a therapist. Have a look at it here:-

Expressive writing

Writing has always been my way of trying to process and understand events and experiences, and to write out ideas, plans, wishes and hypotheses for the time and space I have yet to move through in life’s journey. I use a technique called ‘The Morning Pages’ as my daily brain dump – except I do them at night before I go to sleep as it helps me process the day and clear my head. I also use it to understand how I feel about certain things because I don’t always know until I write it out.

This is something that fascinates me. In everyday life I find that there is so much to be dealing with that feelings often get suppressed or not even registered. This has to happen in order to get on with the day, function effectively, and maintain relationships. But all of this information that is either suppressed or not attended to doesn’t disappear. It is still there somewhere. When I do my daily ‘brain dump’ I often notice things about an event that I had no idea had registered with me at the time. Sometimes I find an emotion is there to be processed and I now know how to let the sensations of an emotion be present without being scared of them. They come, and then they go, if you let them. This emotional offloading or suppressing is quite a fascinating mechanism.

I do have to be honest though, I cannot always do the writing task every day. Sometimes I sit and scroll on my phone instead, or can’t be bothered to write, or the pen and pad aren’t within reach. I notice a difference when I don’t do it though. My head gets woolly and confused and I feel like I’ve got loads of ‘stuff’ to process. I’m like a cupboard that has been overstuffed and is full to bursting. But this is normal too, and one thing I’ve learned as a therapist is to ease up on myself. It’s okay to not keep up with things, it’s okay to slip up, it’s okay that I didn’t keep up with the daily chores, or the daily brain dump. But it does help me to do it, so I’ll help myself to do it tonight.

Expressive writing is important to me personally, and I also use it in my psychotherapy work with clients – where relevant. There is a good body of research to show how this can benefit us. If you are interested have a look at the work of James Pennebaker. But there are other forms of writing that are used therapeutically. I’ve recently begun practising Cognitive Behavioural Writing Therapy (CBWT) developed by Arnold van Emmerik at the University of Amsterdam. This is used as a trauma-focused approach for those who wish to use writing rather than talking as a primary approach.

There is also Poetry therapy, Hip hop therapy and many other forms of writing for wellbeing projects. Have a look at Lapidus for some of these projects. Through writing, and through therapy, we can process our feelings, learn to offload, and understand what our story has been up til now. We can think about whether this is a story we want to continue. Although it can seem impossible at first, it is more than possible to construct or ‘write’ a new way of being, or ‘story’.

You matter, and your story matters.

Changing Morning pages to Nightly pages: an experiment to help my Covid-19 Coronavirus Insomnia.

I’ve been a fan of Julia Cameron for 17 years. Her book ‘The Artist’s Way’ released my writing and helped me believe that I could be creative.

The most well known exercise in The Artist’s Way is the ‘Morning Pages’. This exercise is meant to be done in the morning and ideally should be three A4 pages, of longhand free-writing. I had the incredible honour of attending a workshop with Julia last year at the Hay House Writers Conference, and the morning pages were a hot topic. Julia gently but adamantly affirmed the importance of doing these pages in the morning. She told us that if they were done in the evening then they would be covering the events of the day just past and would take on a different quality.

I have struggled to do my morning pages ever since becoming a mum. Mornings are busy from the get-go, and so I have often had a background sense of guilt over not being able to consistently do my morning pages. This is an issue because they provide so many benefits to me when I am able to actually do them. They are a brain dump, they clear my mind, they help me work through things I’m wrestling with, they help me become aware of things I wasn’t aware were bothering me that much, they help me plan, they help me prioritise and ultimately they keep me focused.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Morning pages were always ‘morning’ pages. Even though I struggled to do them in the morning, I never thought to challenge Julia’s assertion that they should be carried out in the morning. Mainly because, well Julia Cameron’s opinion matters to me, and she’s spent years writing about this so she should know!

But, I’ve just been listening to ‘Opening Up by Writing It Down‘ by James W. Pennebaker & Joshua M. Smythe and something caught my attention in the chapter about insomnia. Apparently the co-author of the book (Joshua Smythe) was having some trouble sleeping and decided to see if either writing or talking before bed could help him to ‘dump’ the information his brain was churning over whilst he was trying to sleep. Joshua decided to try vocalising what was on his mind into a voice recorder and said that this did help him to get to sleep.

It made me wonder something. Do the ‘morning pages’ really have to be done in the morning? Is it possible that they could work as a helpful brain dump before going to sleep? I needed to test this out and not least because I was finding sleep a bit of a struggle since Covid-19 lockdown began.

I decided I would set myself the task of not looking at my phone at all when I get into bed (very hard!), and instead take my notepad and pen and do three A4 pages (if possible) of ‘nightly pages’.

Night One

I did my nightly pages – actually did four A4 pages quite easily. But I started to get ideas, as I usually do and got the urge to pick up my phone and research on Google. After I put down the pad…I picked up the phone, thinking it wouldn’t take long. But I almost felt my brain light up with interest as I discovered articles and courses in my area of interest. I put the phone down but one of the courses I was interested in was on my mind through the whole night. It was one of those nights where I had on and off sleep and was aware my mind was busy thinking about that course.

Night One: Pages done: Yes, 4. Phone used: Yes, after doing the pages. Not good! Sleep quality score 4/10

Night Two

Again the pages seemed to flow easily and I got three A4 pages done in 20 mins. My nightly phone browsing can usually take up 40mins or more.

I felt I had come to a good decision and end point just at the 3-page mark. I was determined this time to settle straight down to sleep and not look at my phone. The sleep was great, no tossing and turning, no waking up during the night. A straight sleep through. When I woke I remembered where I had ended with my ‘pages’, and I briefly thought about this.

Night two – Pages done: Yes, 3. Phone used: No. Sleep quality = 8/10

Night Three

Didn’t quite go to plan. Brought my computer to bed to finish off working on email/website/domain stuff. I should know better.

I did do my nightly pages and managed two pages, but because I had exhausted myself with the computer work I didn’t finish it properly. When I settled down to sleep my mind was still working on the email issue I was having. Then hubby started snoring so I decided to go downstairs, finish the email issue on the computer and sleep on the sofa.

Night Three – Pages done, Yes, 2. Phone: No but worked on computer! and slept on sofa. Sleep quality =3/10

Night Four

Didn’t do the pages as I was working till 1am on my work website and couldn’t get to sleep due to thinking about work stuff.

Night four – Pages done, No. Phone/Computer: Yes. Sleep quality 3/10

Night five

Had a bit of a horrible day. One of those where nothing feels helpful. I’d even had a thought that there was no point writing because that won’t help me. The feeling was with me for the whole day until I got into bed. I reluctantly started writing the pages and saw the rumination pattern I’d been stuck in all day start to reveal itself to me on the page. It completely surprised me because I had not seen the pattern I was stuck in until I started to write. As I saw the trigger and rumination pattern emerge on the pages I thought “I’m a therapist how come I didn’t see I was doing this!”. But I know better nowadays than to berate myself and I know that this can of course happen to therapists too. We can be blind when in the grip of an emotion just like everyone else.

The nightly pages certainly helped on this occasion, and I ended up sleeping very well that night. Nearly 10 hours!

Night five: Pages done: Yes, 3. Phone/Computer: No. Sleep quality: 10/10.

Five nights down and I can see the beginnings of a pattern. The pages are helping me to sort through things that are on my mind, even helping me to see things I wasn’t aware of. They help me to sleep ONLY when I don’t use my phone or computer afterwards. No surprise there I suppose, but I think I’m going to keep going with the nightly pages; sorry Julia!!

Go Peacefully

Go peacefully into that night
don’t let the shadows hide you
turn your face toward the moonlight

Your day is over,
this day is over, this day is over

He kneels beside me
I touch his sleeve
See the pot of honey coloured liquid he is stirring
then his eyes close, his day is over
his day is over
The night begins for us

So we run, run, run run, run run run
So we run run run run run run run
We run in numbers
We are hunters, too
While you are sleeping,
we watch you

So for us desert foxes
the night must end
the eagle owl is watching as we tiptoe over cold sand
out night is over, our night is over, our night is over

And her eyes blink slowly
she’s palest white
locked inside she doesn’t feel the pain that’s on the outside
our side
her day is over, her night is over, her time is over

Donna M Bottomley 2015