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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