I’ve kept a journal sporadically for twenty years and written morning pages on and off in the past.
Throughout my teens I wrote about crushes, friendships and fights, my biggest dreams for the future. In my early twenties I wrote about my disappointment with the real world, my struggle to meet ‘the one’ and how much I wanted my life to be different.
It wasn’t until my late twenties that I learned my journal could be so much more than simply a place to pour my heart out. It could be used to transform and change my life dramatically, and that’s how I’ve been using it ever since. My goal with a year of journaling dangerously is to really focus this powerful tool into creating an even better life for myself.
I got the idea for the project from the awesome book, Paris Letters. The author has a ‘year of journaling dangerously’ where she writes morning pages every day for a year. Her life is transformed in unexpected ways.
What I’m doing isn’t strictly morning pages, but I am hoping for the same outcome: a life that looks different in a year’s time. The more I thought about how I wanted my project to look, the more I thought about journaling and morning pages and wondered, what really is the difference?
The term ‘morning pages’ comes from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. She defines morning pages as: ‘three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness’. Unlike journaling, morning pages have a set of rules:
- Write every day
- Write by hand
- Write first thing in the morning, before doing anything else
- Write three pages
- Write whatever comes to mind, without stopping, until you reach three pages (even if that means writing ‘I don’t know what to say’ for three pages)
- Write whether you feel like it or not
- Do not reread the morning pages
That’s a lot of rules, but Cameron assures us that doing so will lead to great insights, unblocked creativity, inspiration and a better relationship with ourselves. It’s designed as a sort of ‘brain dump’ – to get all the whiny, petty nonsense out of our brains and onto the page, so we are free to focus on other things.
This is a very broad term and cannot be as easily defined as the morning pages. While morning pages are focused entirely on stream-of-consciousness writing, journaling can take many different forms. It’s up to each individual to define what their own journaling practice looks like, but here are some of the most common approaches to journaling.
Types of journaling
- Written journaling, which can include:
- Bullet journaling
- Responding to journal prompts
- Unsent letters
- Any other written form
- Art journaling using some or all of the following:
- A combination of any of the above
Journaling is entirely up to the journaler to define. We can journal in the morning, the evening, the middle of the night, or all of these times. We can start and stop, leave a page for days, pause to reflect, and reread as much as we like. Journaling is entirely open to interpretation, and I think the reason for this is that we all have a different purpose for journaling.
The purpose of journaling
The purpose of journaling goes beyond unblocking our creativity, which is the primary goal of morning pages. Journaling can include any and all of the following goals:
- A form of creative self-expression
- A way to connect with our inner, wiser selves
- A way to connect with God
- A way to process emotions
- A place to explore goals and dreams for the future
- A way to keep track of day-to-day appointments, events, goals, etc
- A place to record favourite quotes, song lyrics, sayings
- A way to learn more about who we are and what we desire
- A method for tapping into inner resources such as courage and determination
- Creating a channel to receive inspiration
- A place to play with colour, composition, media, language – whatever we like
I’m sure there are many more reasons that people journal that I’ve not covered here. Feel free to share yours in the comments!
While journaling is very open to interpretation, morning pages come with a set of rules. We could certainly include morning pages as part of our journaling practice, but the same could probably not be said the other way around.
It seems to me that the greatest difference between the two is the rules with the morning pages, and possibly the purpose of each.
What matters, really, is that you find a way of journaling that works for you. If you find the guidelines of morning pages helpful, then do that. If you prefer the freedom to approach the page differently each day, then let yourself do that. The important thing is that you enjoy the process and that it brings some benefit to your life.
I believe that any form of journaling regularly (morning pages included) will bring all kinds of benefits to your life, regardless of what method you choose. Instead of worrying about whether you are doing morning pages ‘right’ or whether you are journaling ‘properly’ – just enjoy it, and keep showing up.
What does journaling mean to you? Do you do morning pages, journaling, or both? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
38 thoughts on “Journaling vs. morning pages – what’s the difference?”
I’ve been tempted to try Morning Pages again…even though they’ve never worked for me because I want to transformation that Cameron promises. Thank you for the encouragement to find the kind of journaling that actually works for me and to trust that the changes will come.
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you say, ‘trust that the changes will come’. It’s about showing up regularly, and even when it seems like nothing is happening to keep showing up. This is when we start to move through the blocks.
Thanks for clarifying this. What I do is journaling because I make my own rules. I do either freestyle writing or I use the computer. I reread my entries sometimes. And it isn’t necessarily the morning when I journal. I agree with your conclusion that I will benefit even though I’m technically not doing morning pages.
Yeah I don’t always journal in the morning – I don’t always have time. But I still find it beneficial at other times of the day! 🙂
A lovely way to describe them – and having done both, I prefer free journaling (a no rules, anytime journaling within different journals and with words or images – or both). The morning pages are definitely intended to assist with unblocking creativity and were very useful for that, but as a process, I prefer journaling at night without a limit on page count, the process or how the writing is constructed. It’s a good idea to try both styles to see what suits that specific time of your life.
Agreed – whatever styles suits you, or a combination of both!
I’ve never really thought about it that way (of course I’ve only become aware of the term “morning pages” recently when a friend of mine told me about The Artist’s Way), but it seems I’ve been doing a bit of both all of my life. Some days I will write first thing in the morning and completely unload, other days I will write a few sentences at a time until I have a complete entry by the end of the night. I’ve recently started art journaling too, so it seems I’m hitting all the journaling fronts!
I like to switch between written and art journaling as the mood strikes! 🙂
I’m an avid journaler, but I don’t do morning pages regularly… I like the concept, and I think the argument that Julia Cameron makes for the way she does them is a compelling one, but they just don’t always fit in the way I do my mornings.
I tend to think of Cameron’s rules more as ideal guidelines.
It’s good to write first thing in the morning, but if I don’t get to it first thing it’s okay. As long as I write today, it still counts.
It’s good to write with a pen and paper instead of typing because I can’t erase and edit things on the fly, but if pen and paper aren’t handy it’s okay to type. As long as I write today, it still counts.
It’s good to write everyday, but if I miss a day it’s okay. There’s always tomorrow.
It’s good to write three pages, but if something happens and I can’t, it’s okay.
As long as I’m writing, I find it to be good enough.
I love this approach. It’s so good to see you taking the ‘rules’ and turning them into gentle guidelines that help, not hinder you. ‘As long as I’m writing, I find it to be good enough’ – yes to this!
Hey there. Janice, the author of Paris Letters here. Even I have found that I’ve shifted from the morning pages to journaling. Turns out I’m not great at her rules… especially the morning rule. Looky loo. The poster child for morning pages has evolved out of them. Thanks for the shout out.
Hi Janice, thanks for taking the time to comment! I’m such a huge fan of your book, it’s so inspiring, and it just goes to show how powerful a regular journaling practice can be. I agree the specific rules of morning pages can be a little restrictive, we all just need to find what works for us 🙂
I run more with the free writing, I do it by hand. I have many journals that I write in, normally I rotate through so I get the chance to write in each of them.
I believe that it is good to write a lot in my journal because it give me more to look back on, I personally think that 3 pages is quite a push, depending on how busy your thoughts and life are at the time. Also on how detailed you write it.
Hi Alisia – yes I think three pages can be a push too! Some days I only get a page down, but I figure since I’m showing up to the page it’s all good 🙂
I like Journaling because I feel like it is a cleansing of my soul. If I write it on paper, I don’t have to carry around the mess inside of me. I am set free.
I really like that Darlene – ‘cleansing of the soul’. I like to think of it the same way with dreams and hopes for the future – I’ve let them go for the universe to work its magic for me!
I use to do morning pages but I found them not at all helpful. Course I was in my teens but I would literally be writing “I am writing” for three pages. That got old fast so I dropped. Only journaling my way with my rules (ie none) is when I felt the difference. I think either could work for anyone, as long as you allow it to work. Like poetry is best for me.
Exactly – whatever is best for you. I’m the same – my rules for my journaling practice.
What a lovely blog – it’s something I’ve always wondered about and like many others have agonised about ‘doing it right’ – that’s the scourge of our lives I think.
I’ve been doing morning pages on and off for about 16-18 years … when I was consistent about the practice I had great break throughs, wrote an album, changed my direction of work and overcame quite serious depression.
I still pick up the practice every so often and love to do it daily, but when that’s not possible that’s fine. I write when I can, as often as I can, at whatever time of the day suits and the main benefit is that I feel centred afterwards. It brings me back to me.
Recently I started trying out art journalling but I think that will be more something to play with rather than a practical tool for me, although it’s great fun.
Thank you! Isn’t it amazing how powerful morning pages can be when we are really consistent with them? I like your gentle approach to doing it when you can, but not being hard on yourself if you don’t manage every day 🙂
I am glad both ways of journaling work for me, although my morning pages are more like day pages…I write whenever I am ready for it…
Have a great and creative day – Irma
I have taken to my journaling many times over my life. I do have a problem with sticking to it and actually filling out a whole journal. My goal this year is to fill a journal from front to back. I plan on approaching it from several ways. I want to do morning pages, but only on mornings when I feel like it. I also want to make lists, create art, write poetry, talk about daily life, and share my thoughts in general. Thank you for this post, I found it enlightening.
I used to have a problem filling journals too, but now I go through them quite quickly so it’s not so much of an issue. I like your combination of journaling ideas, they should work nicely together!
Good Morning Jen. Thank you for explaining the difference between Morning Pages and Journaling. I too have bee journaling for most of my life, but since coming across your website, I have been inspired to write every day. I never knew that I could have something bothering me until I started writing every day. I do prefer to write in the morning when the house is still and the only people that are awake are me and my dogs. Writing in the quiet of the morning means that there are less interruptions for me and my day starts of fresh and lite. Thank you for your encouragement to journal every day.
Thanks Teri, you’re welcome. It’s good to know that you are encouraged to journal more! I love writing in the morning too, but as a night owl I struggle to get up early enough to enjoy it! When I have done it in the past, though, it has been so rewarding.
Hi there! Thank you for this post! I just found you today and can’t wait to read some of your archives. I have been journaling on the computer for more than 20 years, but recently bought a Moleskin and started hand journaling (and am also giving art journaling a shot) – and it makes a difference! I’ve never heard of morning pages (love the idea) and may do this! I’ve noticed something. My handwriting changes per my mood. Does this happen to others? If I’m happy, angry, sad, etc. – my handwriting looks a little different for each. I don’t know why, but this seems important to note. It’s almost funny – I can identify my state of mind by what my handwriting looks like – LOL! I have a new puppy, so my morning starts with hurried trips down the stairs to take the fuzzy potty and get him fed, but after that, since I’m the only one up at the ungodly hour of 5 am, I think it will be a perfect addition to my life, and a constructive way to figure out why I’m struggling with some things! Good to meet you – feel free to stop by and say hi at my site: http://crazydogmama.com! – Cheryl
Hi Cheryl, thanks for your comment! In all honesty I’ve never journaled on the computer – I can’t imagine not using my pen and notebook! There’s something about it that feels so much more sacred than the computer. And I definitely agree on the handwriting – mine changes all the time based on my mood! I like to be able to see all the differences when I look back! I have a puppy who is now two and a half, but when I first began my journaling journey he was just tiny – my mornings looked exactly the same! I found he was a good reason to get up, which then led to making a cup of coffee and grabbing my journal. Yes I recommend journaling as a great tool to dive deep and figure out those things! Great to meet you too, I look forward to checking out your blog 🙂
Hello Jen . . . Thanks for this post. I am working through Cameron’s new book for retirees and I have been doing morning pages for over 2 months. I find that I am free to journal anyway I like, as I do not feel bound by other people’s rules. I do find that I have a resistance sometimes to the morning pages, usually because I am trying to avoid something. I know I need to write about it, and I come up with all kinds of excuses not to. If I am being really honest, I need morning pages but I also love all the other kinds . . . sometimes I take notes about a subject I am plunging into. I think ANYTHING goes with journaling. thanks for opening it all up to us!!
I’m on my second start of Morning Pages. Found that I had done some for a few weeks in 2011. Now I’m more and more into crafts and art and thought it would be good to try again. I’m in my third week and plan to finish the 12 week course in the book. I’ll look up the book for retirees, always like a new insight.
I also have an Art Journal, but not worked on daily or even weekly, so want to get back to that.
Paris Letters – definitely got to read that.
I think we need to Just Do It. The Morning Pages help with focus.
The Artist’s Date is important to do something for ourselves.
I couldn’t agree more – we just have to find a way to do it. It can be challenging, especially the morning pages, but it can be really rewarding too! Yes, I really recommend Paris Letters! A lovely read.
It says not to reread the morning pages. I would have thought the insight came from reviewing what was written. If not surely I would forget. What is your interpretation?
Hi Stephen, yes Julia Cameron suggests not to reread them I think. There is certainly some growth that comes from the process itself – the actual figuring things out when you write. I think I probably get the most out of it during the actual writing – kind of like therapy – the process itself is where you gain insight and come to new understandings. However, I also find rereading what I’ve written to be invaluable in terms of seeing my growth. I usually don’t reread right away, though – maybe a few weeks or months later. I’m not strict about it, and if I want to remember something I’ll reread it. Having a record of the process is really good. I know some people throw away/destroy their morning pages and I could never do that!
Thank you Jen.
I appreciate your insight into that.
Since I don’t like “rules”, journaling makes more sense to me. I’ve been journaling for a couple years but not consistently and I never added color or drawings to my entries. I have colored pencils that I use for my art projects but never thought about using them for journaling. I plan to start and will buy a bigger notebook to start the new year.
Journaling without rules can be so fun and freeing! I agree that morning pages can be a bit rigid for some – but feel free to take what elements you like from each to make it your own 🙂
A very interesting post.
I’m not sure I agree that the Morning Pages involves a lot of rules. In fact there is only one rule.
Write 3 pages first thing every day.
(if you have followed the book you will know that Julie actually instructs you in week 9 to read what you have written to look for insights – this is good advice as there is a lot you can learn, but I think the idea is not to immediately reread them otherwise you will get too self-conscious about what you are writing)
What I would say is that writing three pages first thing is challenging, since we are often half asleep, craving coffee and at first don’t trust that results will come. Having followed the course to it’s end and doing all of the many exercises involved I can only conclude that the morning pages is for serious writers, those who write creatively for a living and need to oil the wheels of their craft. For the rest of us we must decide what we want for our pages: brain dump, morning plan, express gratefulness, choose our number one thing, affirmations etc.
Once you know what you want you should adapt the tools to suit your needs.
My mornng pages consist of the following:
Response to meditation (I meditate for 10 minutes then write what comes to mind afterward)
Gratefulness: 3 things I an grateful for
Good I can do: 3 ways I can serve others today (this is from Benjamin Franklin)
What would make today great?
What is the number 1 thing today?
Why is this important? (focus on my values)
What is the first step?
Daily Plan with timings
Affirmations (depending on days objective/plan)
Whichever method you choose it should serve you and your purpose. And do reread your morning pages to garner insights and see your progress.
Just came across this article and found it interesting that many see morning pages as having a lot of rules. I see them more as tools that help develop the practice of stream-of-consciousness writing. I think of it as an excercise only so the process is what’s important (not in reading it after or saving it to evaluate over time – I find it liberating to throw them away). Being consistent and doing it in that half awake state is key. A half-awake (or half-asleep – morning or late night) state is a very creative time for me so it’s taking advantage of that groggy state to “brain-dump”. If time is an issue, writing less is better than nothing. Not for everyone but highly recommend giving morning pages a try if there’s a desire to tap into more creativity.
Hi Shelly, thanks for your comment. I agree in that they are a tool but as someone who likes to see my development and growth over time, I like to be able to look back on what I’ve written (although not usually for some time). I also think you make a really good point about the half awake state, I’d never considered that! So true that it’s a creative time and probably easier to access the subconscious too. And you’re right: writing less is better than nothing!