No, You Shouldn’t Type Your Morning Pages

This is in response to a lot of posts I’ve seen on my feeds about Morning Pages.

Don’t waste your time

I know what you’re thinking. But typing them is so convenient! Good observation. That’s exactly the problem. When you type your morning pages you’re making a mistake because it’s too easy.

What you find when you first start writing morning pages is that some days you’ll have more to say than others. Sometimes, it’ll only take you a few minutes to burn through them and other times, you’re left scraping your mind for more.

When you type, you write fast. When you write fast, you think fast. When you think fast, you think shallow. That fundamentally misses the point of writing morning pages.

You may think that capturing more thoughts quickly is a good thing. After all, that’s more content to work with and examine, right? Not really. You’ve just skimmed the surface for what you think is valuable in favor of covering more area. There’s also the camp that believes by completing brain dumps, you can get into a mindset that lets you make serendipitous connections.

Gardening With Purpose

While this can work to a certain extent, the difference is that you’re sending thousands of seeds onto a plot of land and connecting the dots as you spread them. Why not slow down and give each individual seed its rightful attention? When you build a solid foundation, and have examined the possibilities, it actually becomes easier to come up with unique combinations of ideas. The hyper stream-of-consciousness allows you to generate more saplings of ideas but they aren’t rooted as deeply. You haven’t really considered as many aspects of those thoughts and feelings than if you were writing slower.

If you skimp on the materials for the foundation, anything else you build on top will be flimsy as well. Then, you’re left having to go back and salvage those ideas if you want to use them again. Great insights don’t come to those who wade in the coastal waters. They come to those who risk it all to sweep the ocean floor.

Childlike Mentality

When you first learned how to write as a kid, you needed to follow explicit guidelines. Through deliberately practicing you got better. You had to focus and concentrate at first to get the hang of matching sounds to letters and how they looked on a page. It would’ve taken you much longer to learn to write if you simply went about the process prioritizing speed over accuracy.

Consider a study done with German kindergarten students. Researchers were testing the idea that the relatively frictionless method of typing accelerated reading and writing in young children. The results showed that the handwriting group could write and read words much better than the typing group. A contradiction. There wasn’t enough proof in the data to suggest that typing was better for uptake than handwriting. Speed itself doesn’t carry the implication of acquiring understanding and improvement.

Reduce Friction, but at What Cost?

As for my own creating process, my preference is to reduce friction in whatever I’m doing. It seems like that’s the ultimate goal. But friction is important. Without it, 12-wheelers would be sliding off icy roads and life would be unlivable.

Similarly, when typing morning pages, your thoughts are unmoored. They’re streamed from conception to reality with little gap or ponder time.

This is why I prefer handwriting my journal entries. Sure, I can’t get out all my thoughts as fast but by slowing down, I’m able to really consider what I’m writing. There’s something humbling about such a human constraint. I’m forced to linger on the words, thoughts and ideas I’m thinking about. That’s what morning pages are for me. They allow me to go deeper with ideas as I write them. I process my insights differently.

It makes sense. There’s a reason why studies have found that students who hand wrote their notes were able to perform better on answering conceptual questions. When you go from mind to page and seamlessly port the information, you don’t give yourself enough time to actually process what you’re writing. When you slow down, you force yourself to rephrase or reconsider ways to note the things you’re trying to say in a more effective way. This is only possible with deeper consideration of the thoughts you have. That’s what makes journaling and writing morning pages interesting.

I can’t just rush through the forest of my thoughts to get to some predetermined end point every time. It’s physically impossible. I can, however, take a few moments to admire the saplings I stopped to plant last week.

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Thanks to Joe and Cullin for beta-testing this essay.