Columns > Published on February 26th, 2020

The Zen of Morning Pages

Original images via Pexels

I’ve lost count how long I’ve been writing Morning Pages. I think I started in 2009, but maybe it was 2010. Either way, I’ve been writing a few pages every day for around a decade now.

I got the idea from The Artist’s Way. I remember buying it as a gift for my mom. She never read it, but I did. I rolled my eyes at a lot of the new agey stuff, but the idea of ‘Morning Pages’ really floored me. The simple but effective idea of starting your day by writing, not to publish, but to connect with yourself. It was exactly what I needed. It was like being taught a secret mediation technique and I’ve been doing it ever since.

My mom passed away recently. She was an artist with great potential, but she never finished many paintings, among other things. I remember going through her stuff and understanding that potential doesn’t add up to much in the end. It was a tragic moment of realization: you only get one chance to be who you are; one day you will be gone but your work will stick around.

I wish there was more of her work; it’s too sad for me to hang the few unfinished paintings. They are in storage.

Sometimes all you can do is say fuck it, and keep going till one morning you write your pages, delete them, and realize you’re going to be okay.

It was a rough time for me after she passed. She had physical illnesses, but it was her mental illnesses that prevented her from living much of a life while she was in her prime. Struggling, I kept writing my Morning Pages, but instead of saving them, something in me wanted to delete them. To remind me that the thoughts and worries I have every day aren’t tangible. That these writings aren’t what I want left behind. They are ephemeral moments and are meant to be therapy. Dead thoughts for me and me alone.

So I started throwing them away and or deleting them from my phone. Fuck it, I felt, I should save the permanence for my art, my actual writing. Let Morning Pages be a place to just write, where the act itself is more important than what is left on the page.

Like my mother, I struggle with depression, and it’s a motherfucker. My mom would have laughed at that ill-timed joke. She had a screwed-up sense of humor to help deal with the darkness as well.

I’m not going to wax-poetic about depression, but basically, when it is in full swing, all I can see is what is wrong—even if things are going right. A murky screen obscures whatever is good in my life, like I am looking through bullet holes.

Okay, maybe I did wax a little, but basically depression fucking sucks and it makes everything harder.

Zen Morning Pages cannot cure depression, but it makes the view a good deal less murky. The darkness evaporates just enough to see a little more of the light.

Sometimes I use Morning Pages as a gratitude list, sometimes a daily reminder. Sometimes it's just me telling myself I’m doing a good job. It is not medication, but my ZMP’s are a barometer of my overall mental health. When I’m doing pages, exercising, and doing all the right things and I still don’t feel right—I need to go back on meds.

The only thing that has consistently helped alleviate my depression is medication. I go off it sometimes, because the one that works has side-effects, but as I write this I have just started a new one. If it’s good I’ll stay on it, but until it kicks in, I center myself with the pages. They allow me to face the tough days ahead, and when the meds kick in they will help me see what I need to do to connect to myself.

I feel purpose and I feel alive when writing and deleting my pages in the morning. It’s saying, "today will matter and I’m not going to sleepwalk through life."

Now, for those of you who are like: I didn’t read this article for some Oprah shit. Sorry about your sad ass life, Christoph, but how will this help me with my writing?

Yeah, I do the ZMP’s for my mental health, but I also do them because they help me write later in the day. It’s like a quarterback throwing the ball or a basketball player practicing shots. It gets them warmed up for game time.

Later in the day, whenever I write, my body and brain is like: I did this shit earlier and it made me feel better, so now let’s do this for real. It prevents writer’s block, and I get something down unless I’m taking the day off.

Ideas come to me during my Morning Pages, sometimes solutions to a future scene or something yet unknown about a character. I’m not “writing,” but my subconscious is making sure I’m prepared later for when I do write.

Sometimes it’s all just really fucking hard. Finishing this piece has been hard. Some days it all feels too hard, but doing those pages makes the day a little bit easier. I know the depression passes, but some days it doesn’t feel like it will.

Sometimes all you can do is say fuck it, and keep going till one morning you write your pages, delete them, and realize you’re going to be okay.

About the author

Christoph Paul is the Managing Editor and owner of CLASH Books, who have published over 60 books and have been covered by NPR, Poets & Writers, Rolling Stone, Believer Magazine, Oprah Magazine, The Observer, Fangoria, and Publisher's Weekly. The press has had books translated into Spanish, French, and Italian. He has been editing books in almost every genre for over a decade. As an author, he won a humor award and had viral cult success under a pen name. He is the lead singer and bass player of the rock band The Dionysus Effect, who have received positive reviews in Loudwire, EARMILK, and Red Rock Magazine. He sometimes writes songs about the books he publishes because even artists are inspired by their day jobs. Follow him on Twitter @christophpaul_ @clashbooks @dionysuseffect.

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