Journaling, Writing Practice, or Morning Pages. What the difference?

Journal Conference 2016 is a celebration of all things journal and I’m delighted to join conference organizer Kay Adams, who is celebrating thirty years as a pioneer in the field, and more than thirty other master teachers, authors, pioneers, and all-stars for the event. I’m presenting “Wild Voice, Wild Writing” in a couple of pre-conference workshops.

The conference is set for May 19-22, at the Kanuga Conference Center near Asheville, NC. Day passes are still available if you’re in the neighborhood.

journal-to-the-self-coverAs most of you know, I’m a dedicated journalor and have been for decades. My copy of Kay Adams’s book, Journal to the Self, which was released in 1990, is dog-eared, highlighted, underlined, and dense with my own marginalia. And you’ve heard me complain often enough about the boxes and bins of old journals I kept in a storage unit that I’m now culling through, sometimes boring myself to distraction (hello M&Ms).

its_never_too_late_cover_480-250x312I also recently bought Julia Cameron’s newest release, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again—Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond. Paging through before making a full commitment, I’ve spent the last few mornings writing Morning Pages, which those of you who’ve worked through The Artist’s Way or another of Cameron’s many books, know is a basic requirement of her programs.

Layout 1And of course, I am also a regular writing practitioner, doing writing practice several times a week, alone and with others in writing practice groups and on writing dates. My book, A Writer’s Book of Days, is all about writing practice.(Note: my online writing practice group, Write Now! is in the works. Stay tuned.)

So all this got me thinking about the differences among journaling, writing practice, and morning pages. The three approaches have much in common; however the are all very different processes.

Writing practice is focused, creative writing on a topic; journaling is writing for self-exploration, self-expression, and often, catharsis; morning pages is a kind of “brain drain,” writing three pages about absolutely anything that shows up and doing it first thing in the morning.

Writing practice is about finding our voices and telling our stories in a creative way—using the craft of writing and the expressive channels of language, imagery, metaphor. In writing practice we employ the tools of the craft: dialogue, setting, point of view, mood. Characters are invited in and booted out. We write memory and we make stuff up. We lie to get at the truth and board flights of fancy that transport us to the outer edges of our imaginations. Most often in writing practice I write in timed, focused free-writes.

timed writing


Journal writing techniques focus on going within, writing feelings, reflections, thoughts, and opinions, and provide a forum for processing emotions that arise from introspection. A journal is a place for recording a life, safekeeping memories, dwelling within, and working through. We write to know and express ourselves.


Morning pages is strictly stream-of-consciousness writing and limited to three-pages, preferably hand-written, without reading back what you’ve written.

messy notebooksAll three practices benefit writers and seekers. Within the journal we find evocative topics to rummage through in practice sessions; during writing practice we touch upon tender places that we may want to explore within the private confines of our journals; and morning pages give us a place to clear our minds and who knows what might show up. In fact, the surprises that spontaneously occur within each practice are reason enough to do all three.

What’s your practice? Are you a regular journalor? A committed writing practitioner? A morning pages devotee? A combination of all? A creation of your own? When and where and how?

11 thoughts on “Journaling, Writing Practice, or Morning Pages. What the difference?

  1. Hello Judy, very interesting thoughts! Actually I do all three, it depends on the moment and what I need to write. I do journaling since my childhood, but I didn’t kept all my notebooks, and I deeply regret; writing practice, creative writing, autobiographic…I just need to write!

    I’d worked with Natalie Goldberg’s books, I could say that she is somehow my first ‘virtual’ mentor’, and then Julia Cameron. But, for me it’s difficult to do the same thing every day, just need to change the way and the method. Fortunately there are so many ways to write!

    Thank you and have a nice day!

    • That’s funny, decades ago I worked with their books too and just bought Goldberg’s revised Writing Down the Bones. Disappointed to find she didn’t add anything I could see into the text itself (only at beginning and end) and by now it’s kindergarten. Thirty years makes a difference when you write through those. Cameron’s new book is on its way though and I know her stuff works at any level of writer expertise. Already decided to go once a week with NoteBook to a nice restaurant three walking minutes away.

    • Hi Patricia, thanks so much for your comments. I’m like you in that I do all three, depending on the time, place, etc. both physical and psychological. I need change, too, and all these ways serve me, too.

      I know so many of us who claim Natalie Goldberg’s books as so important to our writing practice and getting out stories on the page. And I love Julia Cameron’s work, too.

      And you know what, in addition to all these ways to write, we can make up our own, too!

      Thanks for writing,

  2. I found doing the morning pages too difficult, so I write in my gratitude journal in the evening. I have started to work through Wild Women Wild Voices book, but keep getting side tracked by all the other things I enjoy…

    • Hi Carmelle,
      Thanks for your comment. What did you find particularly difficult about the morning pages? My experience was that I became bored with my own prattling on after awhile. But then I’ve been bored with my morning journal writing for a while, too. Maybe it’s not the writing, but the life I need to spice up. Maybe another trip is in store.

      Hope you do find time to work through the Wild Women, Wild Voices book. Keep me posted on your progress and how the Explorations work for you.


      • You know that is an interesting topic because I have to make myself sit with the Pages after the first quarter to half an hour. It occurs that maybe my life needs to change – if we don’t fuel our experience we don’t have anything to fire out.

        I too prattle on the page.

  3. I’m in. Let me know the cost.

    I did the morning pages today but had to rein myself in, stop talking to yourself Leenda and put it on the page, get back here and make more decaf later, this page has four more lines on it you don’t have to call the dentist right this minute (especially since he charges $1200 for a crown). This is a huge notebook too, not normal like Hilroy but we had fun.

    The book is on order at Chapters and will be here in a couple weeks they said. I found Julia Cameron to be an excellent teacher — she must have Judy Reeves for a mentor hehehe.

    • Actually, Linda, just the opposite. Julia Cameron was a mentor to Judy Reeves via The Artist’s Way.

      And uga, about the price of crowns these days. We’ll have to sell our crowns in order to pay for the new ones.

      Let’s just keep writing.

  4. Thanks Judy, I didn’t realize Julia Cameron had a new book out — and I am off to order it tomorrow at Chapters (Cdn bookstore with the hoity toity Starbucks coffee place).

    Hmm I guess I do all three writing styles. NoteBook is my journal, the Hilroy with the male ego. Writing practice happens in the thick dollar store notebook (Hilroy laughs at this because he thinks he’s superior to all paper). Morning pages are not a thing that happens here but since I am buying the book it will share with el cheapo practice book.

    Is Write Away! the wild women workshop? Looking forward to all of this! Yes! I feel those writer hormones perk already. Just in time for getting stuck on the sequel.

    Take care!

    • Hi Linda,
      I’ve barely looked at the new Julia Cameron book, but from my scanning, I think it will be a good refresher for me. Let me known what you think. I use those cheapo spiral notebooks for writing practice, too. And now, for morning pages.

      Write Now! is a writing practice group. Wild Women will happen later in the summer, probably near the end. I want to get this one up and running first. But who knows, right? We set out in one direction and suddenly the sun shifts.

      Happy writing.

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