October 25th, 2017

Waking Up Early to Write

Jamie Raintree

There has been one goal I’ve spent my entire writing life trying to accomplish and failing miserably at: waking up early to write.

Over the years, many challenges have played a role in keeping me from mastering this habit. First, it was simply not having a reason to get up that early. I’ve worked at home for myself for most of my life, so I didn’t have anyone waiting on me and have often taken full advantage of that. Then, it was being up most of the night with my girls when they were babies and toddlers and, let’s face it, even still sometimes. And then, unfortunately, a decline in health which I have since mostly recovered from.

These days, as a published author, business owner, and someone who wants to live a life of intention, my desire to set a calm and productive tone for the day outweighs any obstacles and I’m proud to say that the habit is finally starting to stick and it has transformed my approach to the day, as well as how smoothly my writing goes.

WHY WAKE UP EARLY?

The tactic of waking up early is becoming widely shared amongst professionals and those who strive for optimal health, productivity, and progress toward their goals. In fact, there’s an entire book written about the importance of waking up early, how to use that time effectively, and techniques for making it happen, called The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, which I highly recommend.

There is one major reason to wake up early and it is this: you set the tone for your day with purpose and intention.

Too often, we let others set the tone for us when we wake up to the alarm clock (or maybe even after hitting snooze a few times) and immediately rush out of bed to get to work or to get the kids to school on time. Be honest…is your first thought of the day, ughhhhhhh? Is your first emotion panic or anxiety? It’s hard to have an enthusiastic, joyful, and productive day when you begin the day in reactive mode. Reactive mode always leads to overwhelm and negativity.

When you start the day on your terms, not only do you have more control over your day, you’re also more likely to have positive emotions at the beginning of the day and by extension, the rest of the day. Both of these benefits will have an extremely positive influence on your writing.

WHAT TIME, EXACTLY, ARE WE TALKING HERE?

Your first instinct might be to either get up half an hour early and try in vain to be productive during that time, which will very unlikely happen, or to get up two hours early and spend that entire time writing. I would caution against either approach. In the first instance, a half hour will fly by in the blink of an eye and you’ll end up stressed anyway, trying to fit writing into such a short amount of time. In the second, when you spend the entire time writing, you’re more concerned with checking something off your to-do list than setting the tone for the day. I’ve tried and learned from both.

What has been successful for me is to wake up 1 – 2 hours before you need to do anything for anyone else, and before you need to get ready to leave the house. This may sound painful or maybe impossible, but once you design this time to fulfill all your heart’s needs, and you see the boost it gives your writing, you’ll be hooked.

For me, even though I spend only half an hour writing in the morning and maybe accumulate a few hundred words, it has made my writing time later in the day almost doubly as productive. The first week I got up early consistently, I had my highest word count week for the entire year! I credit my morning routine for getting my head in the story right off the bat, which keeps it in the forefront of my mind all day, instead of coming to the page cold.

TIPS FOR WAKING UP EARLY

For me, the hardest part of waking up early is the getting out of bed part. It’s not that I haven’t gotten enough rest or that I don’t want to get up, it’s that my bed is cozy and sleeping in feels decadent and who doesn’t need more decadence in their life? The trick then is to make getting out of bed more compelling and more decadent than staying in it. Here are a few tactics that have worked well for me:

Use HALF of your morning time for writing.

Listen, we love writing. Obviously. But let’s be honest, it can also be a chore. Getting up to work, isn’t really compelling. (For those of you who do already write early in the morning, you are magical creatures and we scorn you.) Therefore, use the other half of your time to do something that you enjoy, or better yet, that excites you! Read, run, do yoga, watch a TV show, take a bubble bath–doesn’t matter! As long as it makes you WANT to get out of bed and makes you look forward to that time.

The Alarmy App on iPhone and Android.

This is not your ordinary alarm clock that you can hit snooze on and roll back over. In order to turn off the alarm, it forces you to wake up your brain and get your butt out of bed! There are options for shutting off the alarm, such as shaking it vigorously, completing math problems, or my favorite, taking a picture you set the night before. I use a picture of my coffee maker so in order to turn off the sound, I have to go downstairs and line it up perfectly to get the right shot. By the time I’m down there, I’m already up and might as well just get the coffee started. This is probably my #1 tip for making early mornings happen.

Drink water immediately.

This is my #2 most important tip! I have learned a lot about health in my quest for healing but I’ll make this short and sweet: your body heals aggressively while you are sleeping because it is finally relaxed enough to do it. This is why sleep is so important. (And why stress and overworking are so detrimental–your body doesn’t get enough rest to heal during the day, which it also needs.) Healing requires copious amounts of water, which is why you are almost always dehydrated when you wake up whether you realize it or not. If your bladder can handle it, drink water before bed so your body has a head start on proper hydration and then top it off in the morning. I keep a water bottle by the bed and am already drinking from it before I’ve fully opened my eyes. SO. IMPORTANT.

Prepare the night before.

It isn’t so much about shaving thirty seconds off your coffee routine in the morning so much as it is about setting your mind toward the early wake up. As you go through the checklist–make sure the coffee pot has water and grounds, set out yoga mat and yoga clothes, put a favorite book by the couch with a glass of water–you visualize your morning routine and further cement the habit into your brain. Saving yourself a few minutes in the morning is an added bonus.

Is this a habit you think you’d like to try to implement? Have you tried it before–what worked and what didn’t? If you are a magical creature and already have an early morning routine, share your tips!

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About Jaimie


Jamie Raintree is an author and a writing business teacher. She is also a mother of two girls, a wife, a businesswoman, a nature-lover, and a wannabe yogi. Her debut novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, will be released on October 3, 2017 by Graydon House. Subscribe to her newsletter for more writing tips, workshops, and book news. To find out more, visit her website.

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42 comments to Waking Up Early to Write

  • Because my work day is intense, and it’s just noodles in my head by 6:00 pm, I get up at 4:30 am to write. It’s taken a while, but my body is finally there. The secret? Really strong coffee on a timer already brewed when I get up, a writing to-do I made the night before (and am excited about), and alarms that tell me when it’s time to shower, eat, read (I do that separately from my writing), and head out the door to make it to work on time. Out of all that I probably get about a good 1.25 hours of writing and 30 minutes of reading but it’s MY time before anything else demands it, and it adds up!

  • I’m with Brandi – when I started writing, I got up at 3 am to write for two hours before I had to get ready for work. Now I do it because it’s a 20 year habit (well, that and a certain feline from hell named Boomer).

    I do my social media while getting enough coffee onboard where I can think enough to write.

    BUT. I’ve always been a morning person. When I was a CFO, people knew not to come to me after 2 pm, and expect a coherent answer. I am a drag at parties.There are such things as Circadian rhythms. If you don’t know what that is, you can read about it here: http://dld.bz/gpJCH.

    My advice – write when your mind is sharpest, even if that’s midnight. Mine is best in the morning.

  • Not to sound too weird, but when I’m working on a project, my characters tend to wake me long before my alarm. I wake up around 4:00 and hear them chatting with one another as if waiting for me to get myself out of bed and join them in my writing chair. If I resist, I miss out on some good dialouge and great scenes, because they usually don’t linger until lunch time.

    Drinking a large glass of tea wakes me up. Having something lovely beside me, life a candle or some flowers, perks me up.

  • I think that water tip is particularly important! Being dehydrated can feel like fatigue, and you can’t write well from that place of exhaustion. Thanks for the reminder to be more intentional and drink more water! (Headed to get my bottle of water now…)

  • Yup! Love this. I often rise at 4am or 4:30am to write. Wrote my first book this way Monday through Friday and in 7 months had a novel! If you go to bed at 10pm, 6 hours is good enough to have a productive day. I am an early bird (been up since 3:45am today as I just woke up and that was that). BUT others may write better late at night. Everyone has a different cycle that works best for them. I love knowing I’ve written 1000 words before 6am!

  • (Just in time for NaNo)–But no, no, I really do need 8 hours! But I so much at least wanna try leaving earlier and writing in the comfy coffee shop next to work. And not competing with the roomies for the bathroom would make getting out the door faster.
    That would mean leaving at 6:45 am. 10:30 pm lights out max–that’s AFTER reading!
    Those evenings are already so short, but they would lose at least the pressure to write in that time.
    I’ve been planning to try this since spring. It hasn’t happened yet!
    Every time I think about setting the alarm earlier…I feel really sleepy all of a sudden.
    More comments to help motivate me, please.

    • I so understand your struggle, Gabriella! I really do! It feels like the evening time is more guaranteed, I think, so we hold onto that as “our” time, but once you build the habit of doing it in the morning, when you’re more alert, I think you’ll find that “me time” in the morning is so much more rewarding! Give it a shot! Spending the morning at a coffee shop sounds perfect!

  • johntshea

    What is this ‘morning’ that you speak of?

  • Robert Doucette

    There are two 6 o’clock in the day?

    Seriously, this is good advice. I know it is good because it embarrasses me. My wife and I are retired and live in the country. So, no job, no kids, no urban distractions like movies or restaurants or neighbors – but still I find it difficult to sit down and write every day.

    Congratulations to all who work so hard to find the time to do the work. I admire your discipline.

  • colleen

    Great tips, Jamie! The “do something you enjoy” one really works for me–to have something to look forward to that gets me out of bed. Sleep is important too (7-8 hrs recommended) so here’s something I do in case it helps—most of us have a time change coming in a couple weeks. We “fall back,” which gives us an extra hour. Just stick with the same schedule you’ve got now, and you’ll magically be getting up an hour earlier. Voila! :O)

  • LOVE THIS. Seriously, I have done the 2 hours early just to write thing, and it’s painful. I think a 6 AM wakeup, giving me an extra 1.25 hours to start the day and get my head in the game is genius. Going to try the new approach!

  • I love my morning writing hours! Sometimes I’ll let the entire two hours be devoted to revising a single poem. Sometimes my WIP. I split it between research, reading, and writing, but always focused on whichever project my subconscious deems the target for the day. I find if I do this, I go on thinking about it all day, and can tuck in notes on my phone or even a half hour here or there to move things forward. Drinking water — so important! Even though I don’t get out of bed, I write while still in bed, but sitting. I like Kathy’s tip, of having something beautiful beside you, a flower, a candle. I bought a glass and crystal humminbird to hang on my bedside lamp switch.

  • I’m the opposite, no children, no husband (widowed) and no job to rush off to. I prefer to write late at night. Even when I working from home from the end of June until the end of September, I still wrote at night. Some days I worked from 8:00 am -7:30 pm central time.
    I was exhausted and I would sit and zone out for a while then I would start writing. But, for me I find my best writing time is after I turn the TV off at night. I turn it off after the weather. I have zero interest in the late night talk shows.
    I use my phone for my alarm. Soon, I will be working 12:30-11:00 PM Central time. But those are available hours it will vary what the actual times are. I’ve already slipped back into my late night routine easier than I thought I would. I worked in a convenience store 3-11 and overnight 11:00 pm – 7:00 am. I always hated the day shift. I lived 25 miles away and dragged out of bed to be there by 7:00 am. I told the night person one time Do Not Tell me Good Morning when I walk through that door. Because it isn’t. I’m just not a morning person. I can stay up all night until 5 or 6 or later in the morning, go crash and be fine. I don’t drink coffee, I usually pour two cans of Diet Coke over ice in a mug and that’s my morning drink. I used to hit the vending machine in the laundry mat of the apartments when I lived at home before getting married. I would drink a can of Dr. Pepper on the way to work. If I drink coffee it’s a Frappuccino from Starbucks, not the bottled ones, the actual one from Starbucks. I would take a cup and fill it with milk and sugar and add a little coffee. So, I never developed a taste or need for it. I brag I survived 3 years in the army and 7 years civil service and never developed the coffee drinking habit. I’d rather have my carbonation.
    But for me writing in the evenings and late at night works best. I’m not awake in the morning. As I write this it is 1:00 in the afternoon, I crawled out of bed a little after 11 and have to go run some errands. I will come back, flop on the couch and write later.

  • yes, writing is all about ‘bum on chair’. that’s all it takes 🙂

  • 4:30 AM mornings here. Six days out of the week, I exercise first. That gives me the first little win of the day so that when I sit down to write, I don’t feel guilty about letting my health go to pot. Besides, I’ve found the stamina for exercise has translated well into stamina for writing!

    Great post. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and the sweet little tip about Alarmy. Downloading it now. I hope I don’t start hating my coffee pot. 🙁

  • crbwriter

    It’s so good to hear from everyone about this early wake-up, especially for us non-morning types. I want to go for this again–I’ve done it before for exercise, but I think some early writing success would be an awesome start for the day. The alarms Brandi Willis Scheiber mentioned are an important key for me–I can’t get in a writing groove if I need to check the time every few minutes to make sure I’m not running late for the next thing.

  • I used to get up early and write for about an hour before heading into work. Then I started exercising and gym time replaced my writing time. Both leave me feeling accomplished and intentional about my mornings, but I do miss getting some writing in before the work day drains me. This has inspired me to see if I can’t find a way to fit both into my mornings!

  • When I was in my last year of high school I used to get up at 4:50am, grab a drink of water, go to the toilet, crank up the heater and was ready to hit the books by 5am. I’d study for two hours and then spend half an hour reading the paper and drinking a cup of tea. I’ve always been a morning person, I still go to bed at 9pm, and I found that getting up early made for a better day.

    Then I started Uni and depression made it hard to get out of bed at all, let alone at 5am. By time I got a handle of that, I had a new born, then another and even though they’re older now I’m still often up fighting off their bad dreams and fetching glasses of water. Then, they’re up at 6am most mornings. Which would mean getting up at 4ish. Uhg.

    That said, half an hour on my own to drink a cup of tea and read the paper before being bombarded with “Mum? MUM!” would be awesome.

    • I’ve definitely dealt with similar struggles so I completely understand. Even if you don’t end up writing during your morning time, find a way to steal a half hour for yourself. It will make all the difference in your day!

  • I play with whether to be a morning writer or an evening writer. I think I’m leaning towards mornings (but after the kids have gone to school), because I’m pooped at the end of the day, but I feel this massive guilt to not be able to read, watch a show, or just veg out at night…so I stay up late doing THAT and then drag the next day.

    But if I woke up say, an hour early, and used that time for tea/reading/personal time, I might feel less compelled to use that time at night, which would mean more sleep. Always a good thing! And I’m with you on the water. I always have some by my bed. Half the 24 oz cup before bed, the other half right when I wake. Thankfully I have a bladder of steel.

  • Jamie, For me, it is the prep before going to bed that gets me up and running. It’s VERY good advice even for someone like me. I mean, my time is my own in the mornings, and I live alone. But still, my calendar is always full! I wake early, especially when in the middle of editing/revising. I prepare my plan the night before and pack my laptop with the chapter I’m working on, and the plan for the day. THANKS FOR ALL YOUR GREAT ADVICE. LOVE, Suzi Holland

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