Creating the Judgment-Free Zone

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A year ago I decided to write morning pages. I’d read a blog post that guaranteed my writing would change if I started this simple practice. The post recommended writing three pages a day, front and back, handwritten. No cross-outs. No going back and fixing what you’ve written. I added one more rule for myself: I couldn’t write about what I planned to do (in other words, no “I need to remember to write that post for my She Writes blog.”) Everything else was permitted.

I’ll admit to picking out a really tiny journal to make sure that I would make my goal. And while another must-do for the magic formula was to write these three pages first thing in the morning before doing anything else, as the mother of three children and two cats, that would never be a realistic goal unless I was away on a writing retreat. My compromise was that the writing had to happen sometime between when waking and sleeping and it had to be done before I began my “real” writing—the work that I am consciously shaping and revising.

Usually new writing habits are difficult to integrate but once I realized that my writing didn’t have to be coherent, topical, or even legible, the practice was surprisingly easy to incorporate.

I wrote every day, three pages front and back, except on Christmas (I only managed a page and a half). After a year I’d filled up sixteen journals.

“What do you get out of this?” a friend gently asked.

It took me a moment to figure out the answer.

Sometimes I mull over a question or theme that I’ll write about during my actual writing time. (How did my husband react when they told him our newborn babies would need surgery? What does it feel like to dance on stage?) Even though I never refer back to my journal, just jotting down stream-of-consciousness thoughts helps me organize them later.

Sometimes I play with ideas that I’d never tackle seriously. Like science fiction worlds in which aliens invade our bodies and give us the ability to go back in time. For example, back to November 8th. It’s mostly silly stuff. But the point isn’t to write compelling fiction. The point is to write three pages front and back.

Some of my sentences aren’t even grammatically correct because I’ve started writing before the thought is fully formed. That’s okay. I keep writing. Or I start over mid-sentence without correcting. The point isn’t to write well. The point is to write.

And while sometimes I do find a turn of phrase that I’ll use later or conjure up a poignant memory, the biggest advantage is that for three pages, I write without hesitation or second-guessing.

There are other pieces that I write, revise, and incorporate feedback. For example, my memoir SPINNING: Choreography for Coming Home, which I’ll self-publish in the fall through Moxie Road Productions, just went out to a seventh pair of eyes.

But my daily three pages are a 100% judgment-free zone. It’s not writing that will ever be evaluated or improved. It’s like my version of a sand painting.

It’s completely freeing to write knowing that the goal isn’t to be better. The goal is simply to do. As long as I write my three pages, mission accomplished.