Today is the 179th day I’ve got up to write at 5am. I can tell you that it was the hardest and the easiest of every single one of the previous 178 days because I got it wrong.
The alarm went off, I stopped it, wished to all the sweet love in the world that I could please just turn over – and then found that it was 1am.
I triple-triple checked that.
It was 1am and moreover, there hadn’t been an alarm, I hadn’t switched anything off. I had entirely dreamt that whole thing.
Please picture me at 1:01am punching the air and being asleep again before my hand came down.
And four gorgeous hours of fraught nightmares later, it really is 5am and here I am talking to you. That made it easy: the four-hour lie-in was great, but the boon was the certainty that I’d be writing to you. I’m not going to go all Hallmark-Card-ish over our little chats, though secretly I do all the time, but it’s also the harsh practicality that I knew for certain this was the very first thing I would do today so I will do it very first thing and it will set my day off well.
To be clear, I say 5am but, you know, there is the business of the bathroom, the fastest shower in history and the mandatory giant mug of tea. I can get to my keyboard by around 5:15am at a push, and I do push, and it’s great to just start immediately. (It’s also great to be able to start immediately. If I had to wait while a PC switched on, I’d make breakfast as well as tea. This could be the big Windows advantage: as I’ve got a Mac, I postpone breakfast to around 8am or 9am. After a longer, proper-er shower.)
But the reason I wanted to say this to you today is that I’ve learnt getting up early is worthless if you don’t have something specific, really specific to get up to do.
For it is hard to get up this early and yet it is very easy to waste the time when you do. I wrote about this 5am start in my book, The Blank Screen, and it was meant to be an example of how you should search for the extra moments that you are able to write. You don’t need to get up at stupid o’clock, you do need to find when you work best. With utterly bitter bile, I found I happen to write best this early in the morning, even though that goes against every late-night-jazz bone in my head. So I don’t like getting up, I really don’t like going to bed, and I’m not very keen on how tired I get by the end of the day, but the work I do is better. And, face it, it’s also more. I do more work and it is better. What’s not to love?
But that’s about all the book said. I do talk in that about my particularly brutal way of making myself get up but that was as much about habit-forming and self-immolation as it was anything else.
And what I have really learnt since finishing the book is this business that you have to have something to do. Get up at 5am or whenever you like, but do not spend any time at all then planning what to do. Go to the keys and be writing immediately or you won’t do any writing.
It just occurs to me that this is a lot like people who lay out their clothes the night before. I have not once done that. Suddenly I see why they do it. I vow to you that I’m going to do that too, except I know I’m lying and, hey, I do enough with the making myself get up this early, enough already.
Maybe a better example is the type of novelist who ends the day by writing the first line of the next chapter. So in the morning, there’s line 1 already done. I can vividly understand that now.
It’s almost never that I’m lacking for a job to do. There was one time, back around the 150th day, that I’d finished a huge project and genuinely wasn’t sure what to get to next, genuinely wasn’t sure whether I shouldn’t instead breathe out for a bit. But usually there are plates spinning aplenty and it does take some figuring out to decide which is the most urgent or which is the most important. Fine. Just don’t do it at 5am.
There is almost always something you really want to do or that you really dread doing. The night before the morning after, write that down somewhere. That one thing. Don’t bother studying your To Do list and if your best writing time is 5am, you can probably ignore your calendar too because there’ll always be time for that after you’ve done your first writing. So just write down that one thing and when you get to the keys in the morning, start writing that one thing.
I do have several somethings I dread plus I also have a truncated day as friends are coming round and I’m noodling about what to cook them. Hmm. Noodles. That was easy. Thanks.
It’s 05:47. I’ll send this to you then I’ll check my calendar, I’ll whack through some emails that are on my mind, then I’ll take a gander through my OmniFocus list for the day.
And tonight when I go to bed, I will take just a moment to realise that it’s Friday and I can lie in tomorrow. A bit. But then on Sunday night, I’ll send a few moments figuring out the shape of Monday. So that I can go straight to the keys at 5am on day 180 and begin writing.
It doesn’t have to be some big project, it doesn’t have to be much at all, it just has to be something you need to do and when you do it, you’re igniting the rest of the day. That’s a bit Positive City Management Speak but while I’m half throwing the term around and half wondering how in the world it popped into my head, let me say thanks: you’re today’s ignition.
Now. Next crisis?