Write first thing in the morning? Are you crazy?

Back in November 2011 I wrote a post about why I’ve been getting up at 6 a.m. to write. It’s something I often encourage writers to try, especially those that are struggling with resistance and / or struggling to find time to write.

Recently in my Writer’s Circle, one of our writers found a study showing that your optimal creative time may actually be the opposite of your peak cognitive time. It’s sparked quite the discussion and has inspired some of our members to give morning writing a try. I have it in my mind to write a guide to morning writing, and I thought I’d start off with an article about it first.

The basic principle

The basic principle of writing first thing in the morning is that it’s about doing the hardest work first.

And by hardest, we don’t necessarily mean the most difficult, though it may match up.

We’re talking about doing the work that triggers the most resistance at your first available opportunity.

What does first available opportunity mean?

When I first started writing daily with my Writer’s Circle, my routine was that I would take my son to preschool, get back to my desk around 9 a.m. — my theoretically first available opportunity — and then start writing. Except not. Because I kept getting sucked into email and work. It was, after all, during work hours, and I felt hard pressed not to be focused on income-generating activities.

At least that was the story I told myself.

The deeper truth is that once I was awake for that many hours, my fear — as represented by my inner critic — was a heck of a lot louder by that point in the day when I was fully awake.

So I decide to try the morning writing gig and see how it felt. As an experiment.

Why it’s advantageous to write first thing in the morning

I first came to the notion of morning writing after reading about several writers that swore by it. Since they were pros, I figured they most know something that I didn’t. So I thought I’d give it a whirl and see how it went.

Here’s what I found:

  • The longer I’m awake, the more opportunities I have to procrastinate. Writing first thing helps me circumvent my natural tendency to avoid the very work I’m called to do.
  • My inner critic is much, much more quiet first thing in the morning. I don’t have to work so hard to keep those gremlins at bay when I’m still sleepy.
  • Because I’m writing regularly, it doesn’t take more than a minute to find my place in my work from the previous day and start writing again.
  • I spend the rest of the day in a greater state of calm because I’ve met my goal for the day. It doesn’t hang over my head, nag at me, or make me feel guilty if I haven’t done it yet.
  • I’m wasting a lot less time doing meaningless things at night because I’ve adjusted my sleep schedule to get up earlier.

Common objections to writing in the morning

Whenever I mention this idea to writers — usually the ones struggling most with resistance and procrastination or time management — the most common objection I hear from people is that they are not “morning people.” And it does seem like people have natural rhythms that they are naturally drawn to.

The funny thing is that I can tell you truly, I am not a morning person. When I first started my coaching practice, I was delighted to realize I could start my days whenever I wanted to — which was late. I loved the fact that I didn’t have to set an alarm clock and that I could schedule my first clients at noon. I loved sleeping in late and staying up late. It fit with my natural rhythm.

Now, however, I find myself loving being up earlier in the day.

I love the fact that I can get so much done before 10 a.m. and feel like I have the whole day ahead of me.

I also love going to bed earlier (lights out by 9:30 is the target), because I use my awake hours much more wisely. (And by the way, I suspect there wouldn’t be so many night owls if we weren’t “biased” by electric lights.)

Things to keep in mind as you shift your schedule

If you do decide to give morning writing a go, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • You may want to start by setting an alarm clock for 30 minutes earlier than your standard wake up time, then push it 20 to 30 minutes earlier each day until you hit your target.
  • Also give some thought to how much writing you want to do each day. You’ll be able to gauge how early you want to get up depending on your writing goals for the day (and remember, as we teach in my Writer’s Circle, it’s perfectly okay to work in small increments — even 5 to 15 minutes a day is great, especially as you’re building the habit.)
  • I’ve found that it’s easier just to be tired for the first few days and to go to bed early those nights to help myself make the shift. At least for me, it just prolongs the discomfort if I decide to sleep in a few days, take naps, or otherwise try to make the adjustment gradual.
  • Be clear that you will need to go to bed earlier to make this work. I’ve seen other writers still trying to burn the midnight oil AND get up at dawn. That’s ultimately a drain on your creative well, and you won’t be able to run on empty for long. So determine how many hours of sleep you need, and do the math so you know what time you need to go to bed.
  • Give yourself about one to two weeks to get used to the change. It doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s a grand experiment

As you embark on this, think of it as an experiment. See what you notice about how you feel about your work and what you notice about your stress levels during the day after you’ve done your writing. You won’t really know if it works for you or not until you give it a try.

Join us for the ongoing journey

Join the Writer's CircleThe next session of the Writer’s Circle starts soon. The Circle is a bit like a giant sandbox where you get to experiment with your writing habit, see what works, see what doesn’t, and end your isolation as a writer by writing alongside other writers committed to showing up and doing the work. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com

Your turn

I always love to hear from you. Have you ever tried writing (or working) first thing in the morning like this? What did you discover?

Warmly,

 Jenna

 

 

 

Comments

  1. I have been waking up early to go to the gym many days but I still haven’t made the jump to writing that early. This has got to stop! I think gym + writing in the morning will give me that peace you talked about, knowing that you got something big done first thing.

    I’m looking forward to making the jump. I find it’s been helpful to put everything on a calendar and mark what I’ve been accomplishing.

    Thanks for this post Jenna!

    • Awesome, Jeff! I’m glad this connected those dots for you. 4 days a week I head to the gym right after I drop off my son. Then I go to work. The 5th day I do Pilates. But writing always comes first in the day. Enjoy! And let me know how it goes.

  2. Hi Jenna,
    Love the advice you are giving. :)
    This might sound silly but do you eat breakfast first thing too? I find it difficult to eat first thing as I enjoy dawdling over coffee first. Do you think this will affect my writing ability in the morning if I stop and take a break to eat after about an hour?

    • Hi Jennifer, it’s not silly at all. The details is what makes this all work — or not.

      I definitely don’t eat before I write (or have coffee for that matter). I get up and make a trip to the bathroom, put on any clothes I need to be warm enough to concentrate, and put in my contact lenses. That’s it. Then I start writing, either in my bed with my laptop or downstairs at my desktop. And always with a timer.

      When I’m done with my first writing session for the day, then I’ll eat and do the other things I want to do (like have tea or coffee) and need to do (like get my son to school). After that I go to the gym, then come back and get to work — often with another writing sprint for my non-fiction writing.

      My reason for not stopping to get a beverage first is that I find I’m too easily sidetracked. Everyone is different though. Find what works best for you.

  3. Jenna,

    congrats on four writer’s circles! that’s fantastic news.

    writing in the morning – sometimes I write in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes at night, but usually when the words come bubbling up. that may be driving in my car! at 3 am, during a conversation with friends. usually when i’m not prepared to write is when the ideas to write happen.

    i’ve written great stuff throughout the day. I see what you mean about doing it first thing since all the others things can start to overwhelm. Whatever works for folks.

    For me, it’s a spark that ignites my ideas and honestly I never know what that spark will be.

    I’m “trying” to clean up my bedroom, which looks like a literary war zone – books everywhere, strewn notebooks, ripped out of magazine articles, the remains of half written essays. Got a plastic container filled with notebooks and ideas. Am taking them out to peruse in search of material for collage essays.

    I clearly need to find a place for my creativity center. Got the entire library in my home waiting for space. Will concentrate on that in the next few months.

    And congrats on all your screenplays, sci-fi writings. Wonderful. The movies could use some good stories. Too much prequels and sequels instead of new stuff.

    G.

    • Hi G, It’s so great that you write at all times of day. I find that works really well for writers who have a regular pattern of writing going. So many times people wait for the spark but their fear squelches it and they never get around to writing. And the “waiting for the muse” can be a real trap for some writers — it can become an excuse not to write that can last for years. Many writers find their muse comes when they show up to do the work, not the other way around. It’s cool that it’s different for you — everyone has different strengths and challenges.

  4. Creative writing and mornings do not mix for me. Taking care of emails, statistics and other office tasks fit better into my mornings. Physical tasks are easier to execute in the afternoon. I started my novels while working full-time so there wasn’t much freedom regarding when to write.

    Ideas and inspiration strike all the time. Developing the ideas tends to be a task best saved for evenings and the odd late night. However, when traveling through different time zones I learned there’s a measure of self-control in choosing your best writing time.

  5. I have always been described as a ‘night owl’, although, honestly, I do enjoy waking up early these days. However, my unhealthy relationship with food – aka an eating disorder – has me fearful about rising before the sun. I am afraid I will eat too much, binge and screw up my day!

    Clearly, I need to sort out a bigger problem before taking advantage of those gorgeous moments of solitude before the birds start chirping and my pup decides to become too active :P hehe

    Thanks Jenna

    Kitto

    • I definitely encourage you to get support around the eating disorder so that you can fully enjoy and take advantage of those lovely morning hours! Thanks so much for posting, Kitto.

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  1. […] I read this blog post by Jenna Avery, this one, and this one. And I thought, “why the fuck not?” And I started writing on the novel for 15 […]

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