Writers! Write to your own body rhythm

When my late mother met my then-boyfriend, she shared some maternal advice.

“She’s a pure devil in the mornings,” she said, nodding toward me (I thought all devils were impure, but … anyway).  Then, my mother proceeded to describe those childhood breakfasts when I sat at the table, bleary-eyed and speechless. Sometimes, I nodded back to sleep over my bowl of porridge.

I’ve never been a morning person.  I doubt I ever will. But that boyfriend married me anyway (we celebrate 25 years of mornings next week).

Over the years, I’ve gotten better at obeying that damn alarm clock, but it still takes my brain an hour or more to fully wake up. For those morning meetings at work, I have to stoke myself with extra, extra-strength coffee (there’s a *strict* no-porridge policy in the boardroom) just to be marginally coherent.

And those vacation bed and breakfasts places? Yuck. Chattery, all-guest breakfasts around the frilly dining-room table are my idea of hell.

This past spring, I really needed to increase my weekly writing output. So I began setting my morning alarm clock for an hour earlier. Also, determined to bypass the downstairs kitchen distractions (cat, husband, newspaper, brown-bag lunch prep), I bought myself a small red Thermos.

IMG_20130803_094639_788At night, I fill my Thermos with coffee, then set it next to my laptop on a small desk in an attic room in our house. As well as providing that instant morning eye opener, this nightly Thermos ritual creates the anticipation of morning writing.  

Once that alarm goes off, I roll out of bed, climb the attic stairs, turn on the laptop and unscrew my Thermos cap–all while still half asleep. 

Four or six-hundred words later, I’m still not really awake. But I’m done with that day’s writing. I’m ready to get ready for my day job.

I adore this morning solitude.  It makes my whole day go better. And, even more than extending my daily writing quota, this sleep-writing shtick has had an unexpected payout:  With my left-brain still on dimmer switch,  I have neither the urge nor the acuity to read back through what I’ve written to nitpick and change things.

Now, it’s late summer and I have an entire 70-plus pages of my book. Oh, yes, on weekend afternoons and on my days off, I’ve read through and nitpicked–and nitpicked.  But there would be little or nothing to edit if it weren’t for those early-morning, unfettered drafts. When it’s a challenge just to keep your eyes open, you just keep writing.

This article in The Wall Street Journal, “The Peak Time for Everything,” cites a growing body of research that suggests that, according to our individual body clocks, we have our own optimal times for certain tasks. And that these rhythms, not our actual schedules, should dictate when we do them.

My only question: I knew this before. Didn’t I? So why, oh why didn’t I capitalize on it? 

Have you found an unprecedented but perfect match between your daily schedule and your writing needs? Share in the comments below. 

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About Aine Greaney

I'm an Irish writer living in greater Boston. I've published four books--two novels, a small collection of short stories and a how-to writing book, "Writer with a Day Job" (Writers Digest Books). I've also published lots of short stories, essays and feature articles. My latest project, "What Brought You Here" is a non-fiction narrative about being an expatriate in America. Find me on Twitter @ainegreaney. Or at my author web page, www.ainegreaney.com. As well as creative writing, I am the communications director for a healthcare non-profit. I also lead creative writing workshops at various libraries, schools and arts programs. At my workshops, I've been inspired by lots of wonderful writers--most of whom work a day job!
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11 Responses to Writers! Write to your own body rhythm

  1. Jennifer K says:

    This is so true, Aine! I find I do some my best writing in the morning (and I also enjoy the a.m. solitude!) By the time I get home from my day job, my brain has been pulled in so many directions, trying to focus on writing is difficult. Even on the weekend, I prefer to do my writing in the morning before the day’s tasks get in the way.

  2. Lisa Rizzo says:

    Aine – Coming back from the AROHO retreat at Ghost Ranch today, Barbara Yoder and I decided we were going to start morning routines. We even decided to become accountability buddies, checking up on each other each week to make sure we keep our promises. And then I read your post! I had already decided to keep tea in my room overnight – a thermos of coffee is an even better idea! How great to hear your story. It gives me encouragement. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  3. Aine Greaney says:

    Hi Lisa, I’m glad you had a good time at the Ghost Ranch. I would have loved to have gone. What a coincidence that you had tea plans anyway. Happy writing.

    • Aine, I’ve been meaning to read this post ever since I got back from AROHO, but it’s taken me all this time to wake up! ;^) I so appreciate your wisdom. Lisa Rizzo is doing a much better job than I am of getting up early in the morning to write.

      Anie, I love your thermos trick. I’m going to figure out a ritual for myself, and it’s certainly going to involve coffee, to help me get going in the A.M.

  4. Lisa Romeo says:

    The older I get, the more I find the body knows what it can do and when and how it functions best. The trick is being able to listen to it, separating the signals about need / ability / how from the want / wish / if-only thinking!

  5. Not a morning person, either, I write my blog, in bed, while I drink my first cup of tea of the day and my thoughts are random and appear on the page more-or-less uncensored. My real writing, the stuff I’m paid for, I do in the afternoons when I feel as if I have a little more control and maybe, just maybe, I’m worth paying.

    Great blog, by the way.

    • Aine Greaney says:

      Thanks, Nicola, for stopping by. I work 4 days per week, so I also kick in on that in the afternoons. Thanks for your kind words about the blog. i always feel badly that I don’t post often enough.

  6. Janel says:

    I have always hated mornings, but I need to get up with my kids for school-so a morning person I am now. I do get quite a bit of writing done after I’ve taken them to school and the house is quiet. So I guess I’ve fallen into the morning writing routine too.

    • Aine Greaney says:

      Janel,
      Lovely of you to visit and comment. I don’t have children, but I can imagine that’s it’s an auto schedule because of their school schedules, etc. I do have a writer friend who even writers at her kids’ soccer practices. Glad you stopped by.

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