If anyone had told me when I was younger that getting up early would become one of my most important habits, I would have laughed at them.
In the not too distant past, I never rose earlier than absolutely necessary. The only exception was if I were excited about something, like going on a vacation. A few years back I took a big step in changing that mentality. The alteration happened because I was making my first attempt to create a serious writing habit. In my quest to grow as a writer, I had begun to study the lives of successful authors. I noticed that a high percentage of authors were early risers. I dreaded the idea of getting up earlier, but I decided to give it a shot.
For the first time in probably years, I willingly got up while it was still dark outside. I staggered to the kitchen and made some coffee, then staggered to my computer to write. A couple of hours later, I had made a legitimate stab at a book chapter. I was elated.
In the months following, I became consistent at this routine. Granted, it was easier for me to start than many people. I was only employed part time. My wife was working full time and we had no children. My whole morning was open, and I had a lot of flexibility. (Wow, I can hardly remember what that was like!) So creating this ritual was easier than it might have been. I wasn’t dealing with sleep deprivation, for example, or a conflicted schedule. I was able to continue in this vein for several months and I completed the rough draft of a novel. (It still needs revision--on my list!)
Not long after that, I enrolled full time in graduate school. The writing ritual was lost in the busyness of commuting, classes, and a combination of jobs. Later, a baby and a full-time job stood in the way. Then another baby. I spent the better part of six years looking back at those mornings with my coffee and novel writing and realizing that had been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. I figured there was no way to go back.
A few months ago, I reached a point of mental and physical exhaustion. I was unhappy, too. I remembered the years when I'd had more time to engage in writing, and I realized a couple of things:
1. Engaging in a regular writing habit makes me happier.
2. Any habit, including writing, only happens because I make time for it.
These two realizations convinced me that I needed to resume writing, even though I didn’t feel like I had the time or energy for it. Many of the things I’ll be posting about are strategies that I’ve discovered to help me cope with the lack of time and energy. I do want to be completely honest and admit that it’s still a struggle. I haven’t nailed it. What I can say with absolute certainty, however, is that every day I write, I am happier.
So I resurrected the early morning routine from years before. It’s been harder this time around. I need to get up even earlier, sometimes as early as 3:30am. (Not a joke.) I have a long commute and an early start to my day job, so this is necessary. I have to go to bed earlier than some elementary school kids, and I don’t get as many hours of sleep as I’d like to, but here’s the key thing: I am much more fulfilled on the days I follow my morning routine.
Yesterday was a skip day. I slept in rather than following my ritual. No joke—the whole day felt like a disaster. I was lacking energy, unfocused, and irritable. The day before, I'd thoroughly engaged in my morning routine. The benefits followed me through the day: energy, enthusiasm, cheerfulness. And of course, there was the benefit of having actually written something.
So I'm striving to get into the flow of doing the routine every morning, even on weekends. I find that if I skip, it throws off my consistency completely. I've also found that if I'm undisciplined in this area, I tend to be unsuccessful in my other goals.
I realize that many people hate mornings. I also understand that some people thrive working at night, when I'm rarely good at much more than a movie and popcorn. All the same, I encourage anyone serious about improving their writing habit to take a look at their morning routine. I was very surprised when I discovered that the mornings were my best time for writing.
Also, even if you don't utilize the morning for writing, consider that the way you start your day has a profound impact on how the rest of your day unfolds. I used to wait until the last possible minute to get out of bed every day. I'd throw on some clothes and grab the simplest thing to eat I could find before running out the door. I constantly felt tired, distracted, and unfulfilled. Now that I get up earlier and follow a set of morning rituals, I am much happier, calmer, and more focused. So, I encourage you, look into ways to optimize your morning, even if you don't utilize that time for writing.
In a future post, I'll share specifics about my morning habits, as well as how I approach my writing time. What about you? I'd love to hear some comments about how you start your day.