A friend and fellow blogger/writer who knows I get up early to write recently asked me, “What time do you go to bed and how do you motivate yourself not to hit the snooze button?”
I thought I’d outline some of my writing practices and tell you a bit of my writing story.
First of all, I am a morning person. For some reason, my body is wired to go to sleep early and wake up early. In college, I was in SGA (Student Government Association), and we would have meetings every Monday at 10 pm. Guess what SGA award I won at the end of the year? Most Likely to Fall Asleep During an SGA Meeting. Yep, even as a college student, I couldn’t pull it together and stay up late.
From 2007 to 2010, I worked on an MFA in Creative Writing. It was a low residency program, so I only had to be on Murray State’s campus a couple of weeks a year. Most of my work was done at home. I was reading and writing regularly, but that was because I constantly had a deadline. I was teaching full-time back then, too, but since I had a baby and a toddler who somehow ALWAYS knew when Mommy was up early, I read and wrote late at night. (FYI – I also gained about 25 pounds during those years because I ate and drank to help me stay up late.)
After I graduated in 2010, I didn’t write anything for two years. Nothing substantial, anyway. A poem here and there. The beginnings of what has become my book. But nothing much at all. I didn’t write anything because I didn’t make writing a regular habit. The momentum I’d had as a grad student with deadlines came to a halt once I became a graduate with more free time than I was used to.
It wasn’t until summer/fall of 2012 that I got serious. I decided that I had not spent 3 years and $30,000 to NOT write. If I was seriously going to be a writer, I had to carve out time every day to write. And since I can usually be found falling asleep on the couch by 7:30 pm, the best time for me seemed to be early in the morning. I was already getting up at 5 or 5:15, so getting up even earlier was very hard. But I wanted to try. So I began getting up at 4 am to write.
Here is how it goes: I go to bed around 9:00. Sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later. My body naturally gets tired early, so it works for me. My iPhone alarm is set for 4:00 and 4:10. That way if I fall back asleep accidentally (or accidentally-on-purpose), there will be another alarm to wake me up. The first thing I do when I get downstairs is make a cup of coffee. There is no way I could do this early morning thing without my cup of coffee. Seriously, that cup of coffee is like my best friend now. Think Wilson from the movie Castaway.
Anyway, I still end up sleeping until 5 at least one morning a week. But on the days that I follow through and get up, it is worth it. I say that, and at the same time, I tell you that about 50% of the time I don’t write anything at all – or anything good – in that hour. What? you may be asking. Then why the hell do you get up early if you don’t write?
Because it is the only time of the day that I can sit in silence and listen to my heart. I know. That sounds like a line from an 80s song. But it’s true. I have found that silence and absence can be enormous opportunities for creation. (This is what my latest essay is about, actually.) When I can’t think of anything to write, I sit and look around me. I read the quotes on my memo board. I might read something I’ve already written, or pull out a book of poetry. But mostly I just sit and wait until something comes to me.
Writing is really just a whole lot of waiting.
Yet it is in those moments of waiting, those moments of silence and contemplation, that the words are somehow forming in my soul – words that will eventually spill out because I can’t keep them contained.
My 4 am writing hour has been happening – on and off – for over a year now. While I still don’t have a book published and still am not a big name anywhere, I have seen progress. In the past year and a half, I have published nine essays and four poems. I have even had an essay accepted for an anthology. I have written over 60,000 words of a book. Before that, I had only published a handful of poems and that’s all.
4 am doesn’t work for everyone. I get that. If late nights work better for you, then make your writing hour from 10-11 each night. Set aside one day a week where you leave the kids with the spouse for 2 hours and hole up at Starbucks to write. Write on your lunch break twice a week. All I know is that all the great writers give two pieces of advice: Read a lot. Write every day. And that’s what I’m trying to do.