When people see how chipper I am by 8 am, they generally say something like “Oh, you’re one of those people.” Like being a mornings person is some sort of supernatural power akin to performing miracles or being able to get the shower temperature right on the first try.
People think being a mornings person is just something some people have and some people don’t. Some people are eager and ready to go by 8 am, others if they’re spoken to before they’ve had their first coffee are liable to send you to the emergency room and apologize for it later.
In my experience this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I wasn’t always a morning person. In my teenage years, I was an early morning headhunter as well. Ask my parents. Being a morning person wasn’t something I developed until I was in college. I became a mornings person, and – newsflash! – you can too!
But why would anyone even want to get up in the mornings? you might ask. Well, lots of reasons.
- The mornings are quiet and introspective. I can hear the birds chirping instead of cars driving.
- The mornings are mine. By 8 am, my day is no longer my own. I have to go to work, I have to cook dinner, I have to respond to things that happen throughout my day. Before 8 am, none of this exists. It’s a time for relaxation and and joy meant and progress on the things I really want from life.
- I am more productive on the days I get up earlier. A 2008 study by Harvard biologist Christoph Randler show that early risers are generally more proactive. Morning people are generally also better at anticipating problems and minimizing them. Another 2012 study showed that waking up early could make you happier as an adult.
- Many of the people I respect have made early rising a habit. I want to emulate them in their success, so I try to emulate their habits.
- The mornings are generally a much more creative time than the evenings for me.
One of the things that I’ve consistently done over the time I’ve been a mornings person is write. It began college with the often-talked-about morning pages suggested by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. I’ve also taken the time to work on college papers, write poetry, and read.
Currently, my morning routine doesn’t actually involve writing. My writing is currently done during different times of the day. But over the course of the last 10 years most of my productive writing time has been done in the mornings and odds are that someday it will be re-introduced as a central morning activity.
Are you trying to get up earlier to spend some time writing? Good for you. It will be a productive life change if you can make it work.
And there’s good news. Being a morning person and a morning writer is not a talent you’re born with. There are very specific techniques that can be applied to help you to get up earlier to be productive in writing (or, for that matter, whatever other creative venture you’re going for) starting with things you can do the nights before you’re trying to get up
The Night Before
What you do the night before is arguably more important than what you do the morning of. Instituting good pre-sleep practices will make you feel better, be more creative and productive when you do wake up and sit down to write.
Ask Yourself Why
One of the most important things you can do if you’re trying to get up early to write is ask yourself why am I doing this? People who don’t have a distinct why are going to have a much more difficult time actually getting up earlier.
Are you wanting to work on your memoir? Are you wanting to spend more time being introspective with morning pages? Are you trying to carve out creative time for blogging for your business? Or are you wanting to have some solid, uninterrupted creative time before your day gets away from you? Whatever it is, think about it and write it down. This why will help you not give in when all you want to do is get back into bed and die.
Set A Goal
A dream without goals is just a wish. If you want to get up earlier, you need to set some hard goals for yourself.
Set A Bedtime
Set a bedtime 7 to 8.5 hours before you want to wake up. If you’re wanting to wake up at 6 AM, go to bed between 9:30 and 11 pm.
Set A Wake Time
Are you wanting to get up at 5:30 AM? 6 o’clock? Think about what your morning is going to look like and how much time you will need to successfully accomplish it.
Set A Writing Topic
Some writers plan the topic they’re going to write about the night before they get up. That way they’re thinking about it the night before and even subconsciously as they sleep.
Be Smart About Exercise
Exercise has been shown to increase the quality of your sleep and waking up earlier when done early in the day. Don’t exercise too close to going to bed, though. Pre-sleep exercise can be a hindrance to getting good sleep.
Delegate Some Work
According to A National Sleep Foundation Survey, 12% of adults said that their work schedule was making it difficult to get enough sleep at night. As a creative professional, I can attest that this happens sometimes.
So what do you do? Delegate. If you have too much work on your plate, find somebody else to do some of it for you. Odds are there are people out there who are better at it than you are anyways. This will help you sleep better both because you won’t be working as much and because that work will be in the hands of someone that you trust.
Ditch The Smartphone
Smartphones are the bane of good sleep at night. Artificial screens radiate blue light. Blue light has been proven to decrease melatonin production and keep you awake.
I have a rule in my house that we don’t bring our phones into the bedroom with us when we go to sleep. We have a real alarm clock, and we set it every night before we go to sleep. I also make a habit of trying to turn off all my
screens about an hour or two before bed and do other more tactile things. Some things I sometimes do before bed are…
- Work on an art project
- Read my Bible
- Do a devotional
- Read A Book
- Write Thank-You cards to people I’ve worked with throughout the day
Create A Bedtime Ritual
The human mind craves repetition. Studies have shown that some of our most creative moments comes out of repetition. Repetition also prepares us for sleep. My bedtime ritual is generally something like:
- Turn off screens
- Have a cup of tea
- Get into bed
- Read for 15 minutes
It varies from time to time. But the important thing is is that there’s some consistency. And I rarely have a hard time falling asleep after my evening ritual.
Prepare For Waking Before Sleeping
Many people prepare for their writing or other morning activity before they actually go to bed the previous night. Some examples of this can include…
- Lay out your clothes
- Set your coffee pot to automatically brew
- Lay out your favorite book or yoga mat
- Open up your word-processing document
You can also do the research for your writing the previous day. This not only helps you to be in the mood overnight for whatever it is you’re writing, it also prevents you from going onto the Internet and being tempted by all the digital titillations that are offered therewith.
Put Your Alarm Across The Room
If your alarm is right next to you, you’ll do like I do and hit the snooze button more times then Jesus said to forgive our enemies. Put your alarm as far away from your bed as you can. And once you’re up, stay up.
Use An App
The one exception to the rule of no phones in the bedroom is if you’re actively using an app to help you wake up. Personally, I don’t use any apps to get me up in the morning, but there are plenty out there and other people swear by them. Some of those include…
The Alarmy App is probably the most annoying thing that you’ll ever have wake you up, but people say it works. Some of the things it requires you to do to turn it off are shaking it vigorously, completing math problems, or taking a picture of something that you set the night before (e.g. your coffee pot). Another of these types of apps is the Step Out! app that requires you to take 30 steps to turn it off.
A dawn simulator alarm is an app that takes the exact opposite approach. Instead of waking you up with the gentility of a bucket of water to the face, it wakes you gradually using quiet alarms and a built-in sunrise simulator. The Gentle Wake Up app is an example of this type.
Another type of alarm you can use is based on your circadian rhythms. These types of alarms wake you up you should be ready based on your sleep cycles. Like any other alarm, you set the time that you need to get up. But instead of waking you up at that exact time, it tracks your movements over the course of the night and wakes you up at the optimal time. So instead of waking you at 8 it wakes you at 7:47 with your circadian rhythms.
And Speaking of Circadian Rhythms…
You need to take into account your circadian rhythm when setting your alarm. According to Tuck Sleep, when your body temperature drops, it’s easier to get to sleep. When it rises, we wake up. Your circadian rhythm generally runs in about 90 minute cycles. The goal is to wake up at the end of one of them. That means if you’re going to go to bed at 11, set your alarm for 5:00 or 6:30. This will be at the end of one of your rhythms and will be the optimal time for you to wake feeling refreshed.
Say Your Mantras
Many people worry about whether or not they’re going to be able to wake up the next morning as they’re trying to sleep. In The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod suggests doing mental affirmations or “mantras” as you go to sleep. These can include thanking God for the time you have to sleep, thanking him for the morning to come, or doing other positive affirmations.
Another method that might be helpful if you’re having difficulty falling asleep is to close your eyes, get comfortable, then slowly mentally go through the things you did that day. I turned off my alarm. I slept for 15 more minutes. I turned off the alarm again. I got out of bed. Replay your morning in as much detail as possible. Doing this, some people say, will help your mind to settle down and slip right into sleep.
When You Wake
Congratulations! You prepared yourself for bed, got everything ready for tomorrow’s writing practice, went to sleep, and now your alarm clock has gone off! Now what?
Get Out Of Bed Fast
Don’t hit the snooze button. Get up, get going. Some people even suggest jumping out of bed with enthusiasm, spreading your arms wide, and saying something like, “Yes! I am alive! I’m ready to tackle this world with arms in the gusto of a maniac!”
Use caution when implementing this technique. If you have a spouse who sleeps later than you, do it in your head. Personally, I have never spread my arms and screamed anything when I got out of bed. If I did, my wife would stab me in the throat.
I also currently do use the snooze button, though when I was first starting to get up early I did not. It’s good to get your body into the mental paradigm of having power over the snooze button and not the other way around.
Drink Water Immediately
When you’re sleeping, your body is healing. Healing requires water, and when we wake up generally we are dehydrated from our night’s rest and healing.
One of the best things to do to move through the post sleep grogginess is to down a half a cup or a cup of water. This will jumpstart your brain and loosen up your body so that you feel better and are more ready to move into whatever it is you’re doing.
I get this through a cup of Earl Gray tea. I have in the past, though, downed a glass of water like a dwarf with a pint to get myself going on particularly rough mornings.
Make Your Bed
Making your bed makes your room look cleaner and makes you feel more accomplished in the morning. It also makes you less likely to get back into it if you’ve taken the time to make it and make it nicely.
That being said, this is still not enough incentive for some people. One blogger recommended to go farther than this and actively make your bed uncomfortable to sleep in by piling books on it. This may work for some people. However for most – like me – this also may result in jugular laceration by an unhappy spouse. And for a bibliophile like me, even sleeping on books might not be incentive enough not to go back to sleep.
Figure out what works for you. And don’t get stabbed.
Saying yes to some things means saying no to to others. Remember, you’re waking up to write. That means there’s a whole laundry list of things that you’re not waking up to do including…
- Check your email
- Check your social media
- Watch College Humor Videos
- Look at the news
- Send texts or Facebook messages
Resist the urge to do these things in the morning. In the words of one blogger, email and social media first thing in the morning starts your day off with other people’s lives and priorities. Mornings are about focusing on you, your routines, and your writing goals.
Develop A Pre-Writing Routine
Just because you wake up to right doesn’t mean that writing is the first thing you have to do. Many people including myself find that having a pre-writing routine that improves the quality and joy of the writing process. You can mix and match as you see fit to develop your own routine.
Drink a glass of coffee or tea or lemon water.
For me this looks like a nice hot cup of Earl Gray sitting in my writing chair with just enough caffeine to take the edge off. Don’t feel ashamed to drink coffee especially starting off. I drank coffee for years to help me feel better and enjoy my mornings before I had to quit for health reasons, but maybe you won’t.
Take A Shower
A shower is a great way to get yourself moving before your writing practice begins. Some people prefer the gradual wake-up of a warm shower. Other people prefer a cold shower to shock themselves into a state of high alert. Some people recommend somewhere in the middle: a cool shower can help you to get the benefits of the cold-bucket technique without the serious emotional trauma of a cold shower.
The benefits of exercise in the mornings are extensive. Personally before my day begins I do a 10 minute calisthenics exercise set just to get my body moving. And that’s plenty enough to engage my focus and creativity for my 8 am start time.
I recently started a 10 minute prayer session when I wake up. It’s been one of the best ways to get me through the first 10 minutes blissfully. What’s the closest thing to sleeping you can do without going back to bed? Sitting still. It’s great. So take 5, 10, or 30 minutes and practice meditation or contemplative prayer before you jump into your writing practice.
I don’t like to eat breakfast until after my morning routine, but some people swear by it. Starting the morning (before or after writing) with a nutritious meal can jump start your body and mind.
Don’t want to eat a full meal? Have a snack. A banana, a handful of nuts, or an apple are excellent options for a pre-writing snack that will get you going and stave off the hunger grumbles so that you can get to work.
I lied. What’s the closest thing to sleeping without actually going back to bed? Doing nothing. Before I instituted my meditation practice, my first five minutes in the morning would consist of sitting in my chair, drinking my coffee or tea and doing… nothing. The first ten minutes out of bed are the worst. Make them easier on yourself by doing the easiest thing in the world: nothing.
Whatever your morning routine is, stick to it and adapt to find out what works. Your mornings will quickly become easier and more productive and if you simply did whatever for however long differently on a day-to-day basis.
When You Write
Congratulations! You’re out of bed, through your morning routine, seated at your desk, and ready to write! Or are you? The actual moment of beginning writing can be scary and difficult! But here’s a few techniques to get you going anyways.
Start With An Outline
You’re staring at a white page. And you’re terrified.
Relax. Take a sip of tea, take a deep breath. Now start with an outline. The pressure is less for it to be good quality, and will give you something go back to if you get lost during your writing process.
You can also start with a page of stream-of-consciousness free-writing as well. This will “open up the pipes” per-say and loosen up your fingers for when you start writing about whatever your subject is.
Give Yourself Rewards Periodically
After an hour, allow yourself to check your email or social media. Take a break after 50 minutes, step outside, and take a deep breath of the morning sun. Make small accomplishments pleasurable for yourself. That way you’ll subconsciously want to accomplish more of them.
Don’t Use Your Entire Morning For Writing
Writing is great, but there’s more to life than writing. Even if you’re actively trying to start a writing practice in the morning, it’s good to do other things as well when you get up early.
After you’ve written for an hour, stop writing. Read a book. Do yoga. Go for a jog. Do something else equally as pleasurable and give your morning variety to keep you in the mood for getting up early again and again.
Enjoy Your Writing
Joy is the glue that holds good habits together. The more joy you have in doing an activity the more likely it is to become a habit. So whatever you need to do to make yourself enjoy this process, do it, whether it’s on this list or not. If you enjoy the process, you want to do it again. And that’s the ultimate goal. Consistency.
Every Morning Afterwards
Congratulations! You’ve just completed your first early morning writing session! Did you enjoy yourself? I hope so, because this is just the beginning. This is about habit building. And there are several techniques that you can use to maximize the possibility of getting in the habit.
Wake Up Earlier Gradually
What was the time you set to wake up? Was it 5:30? 6 o’clock? Whatever it was, many people find that waking up gradually in small increments and moving toward that goal works better than doing it all at once. If you’re trying to get up at 5:30, start by waking up at 6:45. Do this for two or three days or even for a week. Then wake up at 6:30. Then do 6:15. And so on. In this way you’ll be more likely to stay in the habit and it will be easier in the process as well.
…Or Just Jump In Two Feet First
That being said, the cold-water-bucket-to-the-face method works better for some people. I’m one of them. If I want to do something, often times I’ll jump in hard and see how the water is. Granted, sometimes I have to scale it back and work my way back up. But that’s what works best for me.
Try both methods, and don’t get discouraged when one or the other doesn’t work. Figure out what works for your mind and body.
Track Your Progress
Habits will stick quicker if you know what is working, what isn’t working, and how close you are to actualizing your goals.
One of the best ways to do this is to keep a sleep journal. In it, record what you did the previous night, how you felt in the morning, and how successful you were in your morning activities. Look back on this journal periodically. If you’ve been trying something new for a week, and it’s making you feel better or worse, adjust your routines accordingly. This isn’t about having it all figured out on the first try. If somethings not working, change it.
Have An Accountability Partner
Human beings are social creatures. We’re motivated by how our actions make other people feel and how others perceive us. There’s no shame in this.
That being said, the benefits of an accountability partner are extensive. Is there someone else in your life also trying to get into a writing practice? Have them hold you accountable. Talk about your successes and your failures. Encourage each other. Read each other’s work. If you have a writers group, tell them about your experiences.
That way when you succeed or fail you’re not the only one that knows about it.
Develop A Weekend Routine
But what about the weekends? What’s the best way of handling the days where I don’t have to be anywhere at any particular time?
Different things work for different people in different situations of life. Some studies have shown that sleeping in on the weekends can actually be detrimental to your circadian rhythm. Many people suggest waking up at the same time on Saturday and Sunday as you would any other day.
Personally, as a somewhat-serious marathoner, I find that I need one day of sleeping in till nine or 10 am to perform at my peak potential during the week. Chris Winfield used to wake up at 5 AM every day of the week. He said that it was helpful for establishing the habit but it also had some negative effects. Since then, he’s adjusted his routine to give himself more flexibility on the weekends to recover sleep.
Listen To Your Body
Your body is going to tell you things. And it’s better not to try and barrel through its warning signals.
Chris Winfield told a story about his experience trying to get up earlier. About four months after he began getting up at 5 am, he started getting sick. Yet he continued to try and wake up at five every day. This resulted in reduced function and prolonging his sickness longer than if he had simply slept in a day or two.
If your body really needs to sleep, give it what it needs. It will return the favor the next day when you’re trying to wake up early again.
Be Graceful With Yourself!
What you’re doing is not easy. You’re working through years of emotional and physiological habits to try and make an adjustment. It will take time.
If you sleep through your alarm, if you hit your snooze button one too many times, if you find yourself struggling to get words onto the page even despite implementing some of these practices, be graceful with yourself. Writing is not so important that you should beat yourself up for not being able to succeed.
Forgive yourself, adjust just your routine, and move forward. In this way you will become closer to actualize your goals then you would have if you let shame keep you feeling discouraged.
Get A Sleep Study
That being said, if you’ve been trying this for quite some time and you’re still not seeing success, there’s a very real possibility that you could have some sort of a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders including sleep apnea, allergies or depression could be decreasing your quality of sleep and making it more difficult for you to get up.
You can find out more about particular sleep disorders online or through getting a sleep study. When I was younger, I had terrible restless leg syndrome. I got a sleep study and ultimately began running to help me deal with it. As a vegetarian, I also have to take an iron supplement to increase to keep my RLS at bay. There is a solution. Don’t despair. Research.
Writing in the morning works for many writers to help them carve out time from their day to get stuff done. For people with full-time jobs and a family, the mornings may be the only time they can work toward that dream of being a full-time writer.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you to get in the habit. But don’t get so focused on writing that you miss out on the morning for mornings’ sake! Some of my most memorable moments on a run or just sitting by my window desk haven’t been while writing.
Enjoy your mornings. Try new things. Have fun and write well.
About The Contributor
My name is William Bowman. I’m a fifteen-year video production expert with a degree in film production and five years of agency video production experience. I’m also the founder and owner of People Project Media.