I Spent A Week Getting Up At 5AM In The Hope That Doing So Would Make Me A Better, More Creative Person
This is my embarrassing secret: I am one of those annoying people, and I hope that I'm not alone in this, who thinks of themselves as a 'writer' despite never having written anything and failing to do simple writer-like things like keeping a journal.
I can actually pinpoint the exact second this delusion started. In my high school English class, deep into a short-lived Greek mythology obsession, I submitted a short story that described Medusa's early life, before she crossed Athena (and yes, it was just as overwrought as you’re probably imagining). I received mild praise from my teacher.
I think she might have said, 'Very descriptive - excellent use of adjectives!' And that was it - all I needed to become a legend in my own mind.
Just to be clear, I am now 28 - I have been sustaining myself on one solitary piece of semi-praise for over a decade. Since then, I have not put any effort at all into creative writing of any kind, even when it's forced upon me: I've signed every birthday card 'Happy Birthday! Hope you have a great day!' for the last ten years.
But here's the thing: I really DO love the idea of setting time aside to write everyday, and I've been meaning to act on this for quite awhile (ten years). However, like most people, there are certain things I have to do everyday, like going to work and reading Internet comments. These are non-negotiable. I realize that this is a common problem and that lots of people balancing kids, second jobs and/or school make time for things they want to do.
Recently, there has been some buzz about the benefits of waking up very early in the morning to increase creativity - specifically for writers, musicians and visual artists, catalogued in a very interesting book called "Daily Rituals" edited by Mason Curry. The idea is both that you're creating a routine which allocates time for creative activities, and that the early morning is conducive to creative thinking because you haven't yet gotten stuck in the small details that can easily fill your day.
I found Curry's book especially revelatory because it doesn't touch at all on the quality of an artist's work, it merely provides hundreds of examples of how people with a lot of other stuff to do carve out time to be creative. A few of the artists' routines involved staying up late to write, or writing whenever they could find a free moment, but the majority of them wrote early in the morning. Most worked for only a few hours and many then went on to their unrelated full-time jobs.
The emphasis was on routine over raw talent, which made me feel hopeful. I decided that before I resigned myself to the fact that I just "don't do mornings," I should experiment with getting up early and see if this was helpful and something I could turn into a consistent routine. At the very least, I might be able to get up early enough to have more than 12 minutes to get ready for work. Maybe I would even be able to show up for work without wet hair for the first time in three years.
So for this experiment, I devised a simple routine: Two hours of writing each morning for five days, from approximately 5 am to 7 am. I started with morning pages and then spent the rest of this time on a NaNoWriMo-style short story. No expectation for it to be good, the only goal was to get it on paper. For the short story, I set myself an arbitrary goal of 5,000 words. I have no idea if this is reasonable.
I decide to start my 'experiment' on Monday. It takes me forever to fall asleep on Sunday night. I wake up several times in a cold sweat terrified that it's time to wake up, but when 5 am arrives I'm awake and feeling excited. I find the morning pages quite hard, but the short story feels pretty natural. I'm able to write almost 1100 words, so obviously I'm feeling very proud of myself.
Later that day, a colleague of mine casually mentions that they wake up every single day at 5 am, and that this is their most productive time. Apparently, it's the best time to pay bills, answer emails and reflect on the day ahead.
Ignoring the voice inside my head telling me that none of those things seem worth getting up at 5 am for, I nod knowingly. Yes, my nodding head indicates, I too enjoy getting up at dawn and strategizing the best way to tackle the day. I am also dynamic and immune to fatigue. These early risers are my people now.
Tuesday is a total bust. First of all, after yesterday's excellent use of adjectives I am overconfident and stay up way too late Monday night. When I wake up Tuesday morning, I feel like someone is trying to bust through my skull (Maybe it's Athena, fully formed and upset with my representation of her, all those years ago?).
I decide to get right to it, and start writing my morning pages without coffee, completely disregarding both my own caffeine addiction and the fact that almost everyone profiled in "Daily Rituals" starts their day with copious amounts of coffee (or amphetamines, but we're not there yet). Without coffee, I find it impossible to even write free verse because I find it impossible to think.
Although I produce the required three handwritten pages, they are filled with just two words, scrawled over and over in an almost catatonic state: 'Forget this.' So.
Surprisingly, my short story does not go any better. I mostly just stare my screen. Eventually I write 850 words, which I type almost entirely with my eyes closed.
When I arrive home from work at 6:30, I engage in another routine. My "Hard Day" routine, which is admittedly less productive than the routine I was trying to cultivate that morning: I immediately change into my favourite grey sweatsuit, slather myself with Vapo-Rub, and start watching Veronica Mars. When my boyfriend gets home he asks me why I am dressed and smell like I have a cold. I respond by refusing to share the entire bag of Doritos I am eating for dinner. I am in bed at 9 pm.
It takes me an agonizing 85 minutes to compose a single paragraph. Then I give up and go to work early. This is all I have to say about Wednesday, which I am hereafter referring to as 'Rock Bottom.'
On Thursday, I am wide awake at 4:45 am, an entire fifteen minutes before my alarm goes off. This is the first day I am able to write in complete sentences. It's also the first day I'm able to write naturally, without frantically trying to think of what comes next. Unfortunately, it turns out that when I'm not thinking about what I'm doing I unconsciously start writing lists of all the things I need to do when I get to work.
When I realize what is happening I am mildly horrified that my most creative unconscious thought is 'Confirm catering for Friday's [work] event'. Since I've already allocated nine hours to think about stuff like this today, I switch over to my short story. I work nonstop for almost ninety minutes, writing enough to make up for the last two days. This might be premature, but I decide to call this day 'Turning Point.'
When I wake up Friday morning I'm immediately overcome with mildly hysterical relief that the week has come to an end, although truthfully I'm feeling just as alert as I did yesterday. By 7:15 I've managed to just barely meet my 5,000 word target. I am ecstatic to have met this small goal I've set for myself. I tentatively decide that this experiment has been a success. This is the most productive I've ever been so early in the morning, the first time I have ever finished writing anything, and has given me tons of extra time to think of funny anecdotes for the next birthday card I sign.
Look. I know that getting up early for five days is not necessarily enough to permanently establish a new routine. But as I once read on a fitspo tumblr while I was eating cookies, "The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step." Now that I'm living this quote, I feel entitled to celebrate. I take the journey of seven steps back to my bed and sleep for 45 more glorious minutes, which gives me exactly 12 minutes to get ready for work and show up with wet hair.