Every morning, I wake up, get the coffee beans ground, get the water heating, and then I sit down and write for an hour. At the end of that session, I check my “session target” bar in Scrivener, and a satisfied warmth suffuses my brain. I’ve discovered a couple of things about writing first thing in the morning. 1) It’s getting easier. 2) It seems to lead to more productive writing in the afternoon.
Becoming a Morning Person
I don’t particularly enjoy getting up at 5 AM every day. It’s a new habit I’m trying to cultivate as part of a synergistic new year resolution I made with my spouse. Get up early, engage in some form of exercise for 20 or 30 minutes, then write for an hour. That’s the goal, and so far I’ve succeeded with only a couple of slip-ups (one of which I fully blame on the Bombogenesis of 2018).
The actual getting up part of this is, slowly, getting easier for me due to some tremendous positive reinforcement (I’ll get to that later). The exercise part of things… ummm, yeah. No. I’m not. I should. But I’m not. Do I feel bad about that? Yep. Am I going to build the working out part back into my morning routine? One day, yes. That day is not close, though.
Regarding physically getting up and getting my day going, though? That’s getting easier.
The neuroscientists reading my blog (hey, they could be) are nodding their heads. There’s plenty of science to back up what I’m experiencing: doing something over and over makes it easier to do. Charles Duhigg wrote a book about it called The Power of Habit. I haven’t read it, but I did read this NPR article: Habits: How They Form and How to Break Them that shilled for his book. I’m glad I did because it made me realize that I’ve accidentally included something into my morning routine that’s pretty clutch when it comes to habit formation: CONCRETE AND IMMEDIATE REWARDS.
In my earlier post, Writing is Like Baseball: You Gotta Swing for the Fences, I talked about the fact that I’m trying to write an entire first draft of a novel by April 9th. Scrivener has allowed me to set a deadline date and a word count goal. As I write, Scrivener calculates how many words I need to write every day to meet my deadline. This, friends, is where I have accidentally been rewarding myself.
Session Targets are My Friend
Take a look at that picture over there on the left. That green bar is pretty, isn’t it? That was my session target bar at 4:23 PM yesterday afternoon. Not too shabby. I try to make sure that I’ve hit my daily word count goal before I head on home to my family after work because when I get home, writing gets really difficult.
Anyway, I have always, always responded well to extrinsic feedback and rewards. I’m terrible at doing things for myself, but I am great at doing them for someone (or something) else. Scrivener is my external motivator. I will write that session target into the green and love every minute of it.
If I’m slogging along in a scene and the words aren’t coming quickly and I feel tempted to just close up shop for the day and quit, I can open up that session target and get re-motivated to push for those last couple hundred words. It works every single time. I’m not saying the words are fabulous. I’m just saying this feature helps keep me writing when I might otherwise stop.
In the mornings, I’ve been writing forward in my current novel project. It’s only an hour, and this is right after I’ve gotten up, remember. I’m not breaking any productivity records here. But check it out: when 6:30 AM rolls around (I have a timer to make sure I don’t fall into the page and get lost), I open up my “Session Target” bar and have a little peek to see how I did.
That sight, that glorious yellow bar reaching more than halfway across the screen, well it just makes me smile. Seriously, I close up my computer and finish my 5:00 AM writing session feeling like a character from the LEGO Movie (everything is awesome!) The kids aren’t even up yet, and I’m already halfway toward achieving my daily word count goal.
If that isn’t a concrete and immediate reward, I don’t know what is.
Write Earlier to Write More Later
Something else happens when I knock off 300 to 400 words first thing. In addition to flooding my brain with dopamine like some literary addict, I also prime my imaginative pump and set myself up for my afternoon writing session.
All day long, I find myself thinking about my story and wanting to get back to it. My morning session takes my project and moves it to the front burner of my mind. Come afternoon, I’m more than ready to sit down and dive back in, and I think that those afternoon sessions are becoming more productive, too. There’s probably some science to support that observation, but I don’t know what it is. I could Google it, I suppose, but really, this post is eating up too much of my time already. It’s 3:15 PM. I’ve got an itch that needs scratching. It’s time to knock out those remaining 332 words and fill that bar with glorious, goal-oriented green.
This whole get-up-early-and-write thing seems to be working out for me so far.
Do you write in the mornings? Have you always? If not, would you ever give it a try?