Do Not Break the Chain

janav Productivity, Time Management, Writing

I’ve become a big promoter of the advantages of getting up early to write – I’m a reformed writing night owl, if you will, although just last night I woke up at 3:45 a.m. with an Awesome Idea I just had to get down…

But it can be difficult to change. I’ve worked on different strategies to build the morning writing habit over the years, and I’ve come up with a few ideas that might help if you’re struggling:

Review what you wrote that day before you go to bed, and maybe make some short notes about the next scene. Then your unconscious can percolate over that while you sleep, and in any case, you’ll wake up the next morning without the dread of the blank page, because you have an idea of what you’re going to write.

Or, start your day with the re-reading and note-taking, rather than plunging straight into writing. This allows your brain to ease into the work again. It can also help to write down your intention for the day: “I will write 1000 words today.” “I will revise the first scene in chapter ten.” “I will spend an hour working on character sketches.”

Set a trigger to inform your brain that it’s time to write. For me, it’s the smell of coffee wafting from my kitchen. (The programmable coffee pot is the best investment I’ve made in my writing since my M.F.A.). You might set your notebook and pen on the bedside table so they are the last things you see before you sleep and the first things you see when you wake up. (That way, they’re also handy if you do get that middle of the night can’t-miss-it idea.)

Make sure you give yourself a reward after you write. This is especially important in the beginning, when you need a little extra motivation. It doesn’t have to be anything big – it might be depositing a dollar in a “special treats” jar to save up for something you really want. It might be unblocking your internet so you can check your email or play a quick game.

You will have to train your brain to orient in the direction of writing first thing, and like any habit, it will take a while to acquire. You are literally forming a new neural pathway in your brain. Like all construction projects, it’s susceptible to delays, blocks, and unexpected backsliding, but once you know how good it feels to do it, you will do it often enough that it becomes automatic. The more you do it, the more likely you are to continue.

Another way to encourage your new habit is what’s become known as the “Seinfeld method”: Do Not Break the Chain. Take a calendar and mark a big red X on every day you write, and soon you will have a visible record that you do not want to break. Make sure it is visible, and not just on your phone or somewhere you can’t see the whole chain easily. Commit to every day, or 5 days a week, or whatever feels do-able to you (you can always ramp up later, but better to start with something that seems manageable).

Let me know how it goes in the comments below!

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