In this week’s podcast, Jason and I talk about how and why we got started as writers. Here’s the deal: writing is tough. And it’s not easy to get started.
Why do so many successful writers insist on writing first thing in the morning? What about us night owls?
For years, I was a night owl. And by night owl, I don’t mean going to bed after Leno, I mean staying up until 4 or 5 a.m. Most of the time, I did important things: I’d write, play guitar, or study (who am I kidding: I played a lot of video games). Still, I got into the habit of staying up way later than what is considered “normal.”
Since then, I’ve had to do many big boy things, like work jobs that required me to be alert from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. I can’t stay up late anymore. My body and my paycheck don’t allow it. Even though my default mode is to do work at night (in fact, I’m writing this blog post in the evening), I’ve had to adopt early bird habits.
But one thing I don’t do is write in the morning. If I have time available, I like to write in the afternoon or in the evening right after dinner. Unfortunately, my work schedule doesn’t allow me to set up a daily afternoon writing habit.
I realized recently that the only time I available to me every single day is at 6 a.m. This is very early for me. If I want to write at the same time every day, I’ll have to get over the early morning thing.
The more I think about it, though, the more I realize how important it is to write first thing in the morning. After all, I believe you should start your day doing your most significant and most rewarding work. If I call myself a writer, shouldn’t I write first thing in the morning? Shouldn’t it be the reason I get out of bed every day?
I’d like to adapt the “morning pages” ritual advocated by writer Julia Cameron and others. Cameron explains the process in this way:
Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.
As a writing teacher, I urge my students to do freewriting exercises when they are planning or brainstorming essays. The morning pages method is like a freewrite: it’s not supposed to be a draft of your next novel (although it might lead you to the next idea). It’s not even writing at the blog post level. It’s just to create the habit and to keep writing.
I’ve decided to try this method. Why not? I’ll have to get over the morning thing, but if it’s truly important to me, I’ll survive.
I can still devote my afternoons and evenings to *real* writing and sort out all the stuff that the morning pages might help me figure out.
Finally, I leave you with a quote about inconsequential writing, in this case journal writing (which is what the morning pages method really is), from Virginia Woolf:
But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink.
[I am grateful to Maria Popova at brainpickings.org for the Virginia Woolf quote.]