Morning Is Broken

No, we’re not talking about the good ol’ Yusef Islam (nee’ Cat Stevens) tune of a similar name. Today the topic is why you’ve already wasted half your day when you could have been writing. It’s because your morning – the time that you could use to do great things – is broken.

A common lament among people who want to be writers goes something like this: “I have a full-time job, kids, PTO, and yard work to do. How the hell am I ever going to find time to loose upon the world my literary vision of sparkly, sexy vampire aliens who attack earth with non-stop tentacle porn and demands from their leader (who looks remarkably like Oprah) to turn over all basset hounds under the age of three to our new rulers?”

Everyone who has ever wanted to write and simultaneously eat and have a roof over his head has asked the same (OK, maybe not exactly the same) question. And it’s a really good question. How do you find the time to bang out 250 pages of brilliant prose when time seems in short supply.

Recently, I was up earlier than honest people should be (about 4:30 a.m. – on a Saturday, no less) to drive to a book festival about two hours away. I stopped by my neighborhood Wawa (the Nirvana of convenience stores, for those outside the Northeast corridor/Philadelphia metro area) to get much needed coffee and some breakfast, and there was a guy standing outside the store showered, shaved and fully dressed in office clothes, on his cell phone already taking care of business. After I got my purchases, I watched him wrap up his call and drive away in his very expensive car.

This man reminded me that a lot gets done in this world before most everyone is already awake. The people who truly bust their asses are all up before first light and likely on the job before the rest of us hit the snooze the fourth time. My wife, a nurse practitioner, is one of them. When I worked at an afternoon newspaper (with a noon deadline) I was one of them, too. And when I was determined to finish my novel Immaculate Deception, I became one of them again.

Here’s how it works: You get up early, write for an hour or so, then get on with your normal life. Rinse and repeat for eight months to a year and you’ll have a completed manuscript.

Naturally, it’s not quite that easy. There are zillions of places you can get time management advice that will increase your productivity throughout the day. What I’m going to talk about here is some help for those of you who want to carve out time from your  busy life to write, but don’t know where to start. So here’s a little primer based on my own personal experiences, assuming you have a typical 9-5 job and an otherwise busy life.

  • First of all, commit. If you’re going to whine about shifting your hours around to accomplish this tremendous and admirable goal you’ve set for yourself, look somewhere else. Consider this as a second job, and work at it accordingly.
  • The night before – Assess your evening routine. Are you addicted to Letterman or The Daily Show or anything else that keeps you up until or past midnight? If so, either break the addiction or DVR everything to watch the following evening (at a decent hour).
  • Also regarding TV – Consider what you’re watching between 10 and 11 p.m. If it’s just some dreck that you’re using to pass the time until the news/late-night bloc kicks in, eliminate it and make 10 p.m. your new bedtime.
  • In the morning – ease your wake-up time backwards 15 minutes each day for a week, until you reach the desired wake-up time (I like 5:30 a.m. – early, but not too early). Once you’re there, DO NOT HIT THE SNOOZE.
  • To ease the waking and working routine, have a reward ready. If you drink coffee, get a timed brewer that can have your Joe ready when you stagger to the kitchen. Get an insulated cup to pour it into so it will stay hot and you won’t spill it, then head to the computer.
  • DO NOT get online. Don’t even open the browser. Just don’t. This is crucial, since you’re not up at this ungodly hour to check Facebook or personal e-mails. Save that for during breakfast or at work (don’t tell your boss I said that).
  • Use a kitchen timer or the timer function on your smartphone (I have a great app called Timers4You on my Droid that has three different timers built in) and set it for the desired amount of time you need to work.
  • Open your word processing program, open your file, scroll down to where you finished the day before and … GO!
  • DO NOT STOP until your timer goes off.
  • When the timer rings, stop. Save the file, close it and get on with your day. Save reviews and edits for your lunch hour (you do use your lunch hour, right?). Note: If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where you have a good public transit system, use it. Your laptop plus a half-hour or 45-minute train commute equal even more working time automatically built into your day.  While I was finishing Immaculate Deception, my 45-minute train ride to my job in Philadelphia was gold – no family interruptions, no phone, no idle conversation – just work.

Follow these simple suggestions, and here’s what it gets you: if you have to be at work by 9 a.m. and want time for a shower, quick breakfast and a half-hour commute, a 5:30 a.m. wake-up – shazam! –  gets you about an hour and a half to two hours of work every day. Assuming you have even a partially formed concept going in, this will get you a completed manuscript in a year or less.

Naturally, no one will tell you that it’s guaranteed to be a good manuscript, but you will at least have a complete first draft to hone and craft to face-melting excellence. That is the difference between telling people you’re writing a book and actually getting the book written.

P.S. Here’s a little musical bonus, hoping that with these new found hours to your day, your soul will indeed be psychadelicized.

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