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?

My Love Affair with Writing Prompts

I always think of writing prompts as music that invites the writer to dance. Or, to use another metaphor, they’re like starting blocks a runner uses to kick off for a race.

Prompts aren’t “exercises,” which tend to give directions—“Two strangers get stuck in an elevator; write their dialogue.” Instead, writing prompts suggest images or events or spark memories—each prompt evokes something different for each writer. And because they aren’t directives, the writing can take off in any surprising direction.

timed writing

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Ten Daily Habits That Make a Good Writer (redux)

I may have been talking to myself as much as anyone when I compiled “10 Habits That Make a Good Writer” that first appeared in the original edition of A Writer’s Book of Days. Flannery O’Connor calls it “the writing habit,” others call it a daily practice, like meditation, like yoga. We know a regular practice, done with intention, can have a powerful effect on our well being.

Here’s a short-list of the “10 Habits”
1. Eat Healthfully
2. Be Physical
3. Laugh Out Loud
4. Read
5. Cross-Fertilize
6. Practice Spirituality
7. Pay Attention
8. Give Back
9. Connect With Another Writer
10. Write

Writers, like other artists and creatives, are easily seduced by our work. The creative process really can cast a spell. We forget to eat, forget to sleep, forget to move our bodies; we isolate, become self-centered (the work is everything). I think we forget we’re merely human—physical beings in a physical world, fragile and susceptible to all manner of ills, of the body as well as the spirit.

Balance. That’s what the “10 Habits” mean to me. Taking care of our bodies, not taking ourselves so seriously, filling the well that we empty by doing our work, participating in the world we live in. Our creativity is a gift, whether it’s writing, visual art, dance, music, cooking a delicious meal, crafting a beautiful vase, building a cabinet, decorating a room—all these creative gifts are meant to be shared. Give back to the world and the world will gain in ways we may never know.

Writers need one another’s support because creating our particular art is a solitary act and who can better appreciate that than another writer. Who can better understand the particular rigors, joys and disappointments of writing than another writer? Who better to help puzzle out a problem or to know what kind of celebration is called for when a poem is finished or a story or a book, especially when the writer herself is pleased with the work?

And that last “habit,” number 10: “Write.” This is what I find many who want to write don’t do—write every day. Even if only for ten or fifteen minutes. Give it half an hour; who knows what can happen. If we don’t write every day (or at least five days a week), we lose touch with our writing muscles, our imagination goes a little brittle, words hide out. The worst part about not writing, especially when we intend to write but somehow just don’t get to it, we feel bad about ourselves; maybe a little guilty, maybe embarrassed or ashamed to admit to ourselves or others. When we feel bad about ourselves it’s more difficult to get the pen moving. So we may miss another day, and then the next. The more we don’t do it, the worse we feel and the harder it is to “just do it.” But, by simply putting pen to page every day, or fingers to keyboard, even if what we write is what Natalie Goldberg calls “the worst junk in America,” we keep the creative muscles limber and the self-esteem healthy. The more we write, the better we feel about ourselves not just as writers, but in other areas of our lives, and so the more we write and so it goes. Daily practice. No judgment.

Download the completer version of “Ten Habits That Make Good Writers” here: ten habits