If the thought of rising early to write has you automatically hitting the snooze button, you’re not alone. I once balked at getting up before the sun to pursue my literary dreams. I’d much rather stay warm, wrapped up in blankets than trudge to my writing desk, and work on something bleary-eyed.
But then things changed. One reason was that my writing friend, Belinda Grant, kept posting about how much she loved writing at 6am with the #6amAusWriters on Twitter. And two, I wasn’t making progress during the day when I was out of bed and trying to write non-bleary-eyed at my desk.
Writing when the rest of the world is up usually means distractions. There are work responsibilities, emails, phone calls, notifications, pets, kids, school runs, groceries, appointments, and all the other things that happen once everyone else has risen with their alarm and gone about their day.
When it’s just you awake in a sleeping house, those interruptions are few—at least for a brief stretch of time—meaning you can get books written and edited.
How To Be An Early Morning Writer
While you might think you can’t get up early, it is an easy habit to get into (and fall out of if you’re not careful).
As I said, my friend, Belinda had been posting for months about being up early to write and I always used to say, “Good for you. I could never do that.” Turns out that I could.
6am really isn’t as early as I’d convinced myself it was, and once I did set that alarm and start getting up regularly, the book I’d been trying to write actually got written (shocking, I know!).
The steady progress and the support from the rest of the #6amAusWriters (started by the awesome Emily Wrayburn) convinced me to keep going and it’s now been 17 months of early morning starts during the week (weekends are for sleeping in) and now I can’t imagine not getting up to write first thing.
If you want to try it, here are the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way.
Ease Into It
If you really aren’t an early riser, ease into it by getting up five minutes early, then ten, fifteen, and so on until you’re waking up as early as your body and sanity will allow. You may also want to try just one or two days a week until you’re used to it.
Forcing yourself awake every day when you’re hating it gives you an excuse to opt-out. If you’re easing into the change, you’re more likely to stick to it until your body clock gets on board and you’re springing out of bed and racing to your desk to get things done (don’t think it won’t happen, because it will!).
Don’t Ignore Your Alarm
Obviously, setting an alarm is a must-do, but don’t allow it to be put on snooze. Trust me, if you wake up, ignore your alarm and go back to sleep, you’ll miss your writing window. I’ve done it too many times to count and have always regretted it. Commit to getting up once that alarm goes off!
Get Yourself Some Accountability Friends
If I was getting up to write with only myself for accountability, I would have stopped early morning writing a long time ago. We all know that writing is a solo endeavor, but doing your solo writing at the same time as other writers is a revelation.
If you get stuck on a sentence, you’ve got someone to ask about it. If you’re having a writing session full of doubt, you’ve got people to vent to who understand. If you’re thinking of hitting the snooze button, knowing there are other writers waiting for you is motivation enough to get out of bed. If you want to stick with early morning writing, accountability friends are the key.
Have A Plan
You may have already worked out that having a to-do list that says “write chapter 3” instead of “write” is always a more productive way of getting things done, and it couldn’t be truer of early morning writing.
If you’re rising early to write, chances are it’s due to a day job, or kids to look after or get off to school in the later hours of the morning. This slice of early morning writing time might be your only chance to get anything substantial done. You don’t want to waste that, especially if you’ve got limited time.
Have a plan of what you’re specifically going to work on for the half-hour or hour that you have to write and try to get through as much as you can. Knowing what to work on really makes a difference and keeps you focused and on task.
Some people need coffee to get going in the morning, others a hot cup of tea, or a nice big glass of water. You may like to eat a simple breakfast before sitting at your desk. Either way, if you need fuel to get yourself going, fuel up with something quick and then get writing.
Check-In But Stay Away From The Rabbit Holes
The point of having accountability friends or being part of a social media group like the #6amAusWriters or any of the #5am, #6am, or #7am groups on Twitter is that you have other writers to check-in with.
The trouble with checking in on social media first is that it sucks you into an Internet rabbit hole. One minute you’re posting about being up to write your latest action scene, and the next you’ve spent 40 minutes watching people cut into everyday objects to reveal that it’s really cake.
The key to staying on your early morning writing track is to check-in and then get out. Don’t read the comments and threads until after you’ve written.
Accept That Some Mornings It Just Won’t Happen
Once you’ve been early morning writing for long enough to know the benefits, it’s addictive. You’re happy to get up because you know how much progress you’ll make, and you’ve become accustomed to working in the quiet of the house and seeing some gorgeous sunrises as you type your chapters. Then there are mornings that are a complete write off.
You may have stayed up late binge-watching Netflix and your brain just isn’t functioning on such little sleep. The cat may have woken you up at 3am for the third day in a row to steal your pillow, or the kids have decided that 6am is suddenly their new wake up time and they don’t care that you’ve been using it as the one sliver of the day that you get to yourself.
Some mornings, early writing just won’t happen. All you can do is accept it and try again the next day.
To finish, some members of the #6amAusWriters have shared what is the key to early morning writing for them. If you’re awake at 6am AEST, join us. We keep each other inspired, supported, and our gif check-in game is on point.
There’s also an official Twitter account to follow here if you like writing threads and goal setting. Right now we’re doing a #NotQuiteNano event and sharing our writing goals for November.
Helen Edward’s advice is to learn to “love the best things about mornings-the dawn, birdsong, having the house to yourself, that first cup of tea or coffee, and the deliciousness of getting your words down.”
Anna Whateley suggests getting your “sensory environment in order for early morning writing and using smells, sounds, and textures to get you in the headspace.”
The best advice from KD Kells is to “set aside some time to wake up. I like to give myself 10-15 minutes to check my social media and the news while my brain is cranking into gear, but once that time is up, the phone goes away (or I’ll end up scrolling on it for the whole hour!). My other tip is to sneak some exercise in! I love going for a run after my morning writing session because it gives time for my brain to work through all the problems I’ve had with the scene for the morning. I’ve often had the best ideas come to me in the middle of my run!”
Naomi Lisa Shippen advises you to “go to bed early.”
V. E. Patton says the key is “having a goal and a plan to get there. Having a clear destination makes the journey so much more enjoyable and efficient. 80% of people have no goals. 16% of people think of goals, but don’t write them down. 3% write down their goals but never review them. Only 1% have written goals that are reviewed regularly – these are among the highest achievers.”
Belinda Grant’s tip is to “remember the reason you are doing it. Sometimes it can be hard to motivate yourself to get up when sleep is at its most appealing and the bed is so warm. I find the most helpful thing is to remind myself why I’m getting up in the first place. One reason is because this is my dream! Being an author is what I’ve always wanted to do and isn’t it worth the early mornings to get closer to that goal. I often tell myself as I’m sitting down to write (particularly when it’s hard or I’m unmotivated)- I’m starting every day by working towards my dream, and what better thing could I be doing than that. But on other days, when my dreams seem a million miles away, I remind myself that writing is what I love. I get to escape into my wonderful worlds and see my imagination slowly forming on the screen. It’s a magical thing I do and remembering that as I open my eyes and the alarm beeps helps me put my feet in my Ugg boots and get to work.”
Are you a morning, day, or night writer, and why? Let us know in the comments!
— K.M. Allan