Today is the 176th day I’ve got up to write at 5am. I can tell you that it was easier than the 175th because I’ve been awake since 4am trying to work out what to do. And the thing I’ve learnt is that more important than making yourself get up is having something to do the moment you have.
Er. Apart from 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, but it has happened that once I’ve got there, I’ve gone um.
Only a few times. But enough to give me the willies. I’ve had days where I’ve done some emails at that time, I’ve even had one day when I watched some TV that I could call research but, come on.
It is hard to get up this early and 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. How you need to find your schedule. 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 it 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.
Or 4am. I found 4am worse today. The fact that it was 4am was pretty bad all by itself but then I had the sense of pressure that I’d only got an hour before I had to be up and writing… something.
I’ve got meetings and travel I have to do today that are affecting the shape of my day and I have one urgent deadline that you’d think I should be doing right now but it’s a radio review and that means I listen to a play. I’m planning to do that while driving and travelling to these meetings.
I’ve got a lot of chores to do – literal chores around the house but who’s going to do any of those this early? – and I’ve always got lots of financial stuff to avoid.
But then there is the one big editing job that I need to get away today and there is the more creative one that I long to start.
I will get that editing done. I will do that review. I will start that creative project. I know I will because I have the time and I have that time because I made it by getting up at 5am.
But I also have you to talk to and that’s what I knew I’d do. Around 4:15am, I realised that I could do this, that I now had this to tell you about planning ahead, I knew I wanted to talk to you. In all the rush to be productive and edit this, write that, plan the other, we can forget the wanting and it’s important.
So hello. Nice to see you. If it’s 5am where you are, I feel your pain.
And I can help your pain just as much as I can help my own: tonight when I go to bed, I’m going to spend a few moments figuring out the shape of tomorrow. So that I can go straight to the keys at 5am on day 177 and begin writing.