On Writing In the Morning

Putting this one here as a kind of addendum to my last post: it’s time to start bringing the laptop to work and spending my morning writing-shift down in the State Library cafe. With everything being all NOW NOW NOW inside my head in the lead-up to GenreCon, it’s becoming increasingly easy to come into work early and start putting out fires (metaphorically speaking) related to the event.

This isn’t why I come into work early every morning. Much as I like my job, I don’t like it enough that I’m willing to spend an extra hour a day working on it without getting paid (well, I am, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve stayed late to get some urgent stuff done a couple of times in the last month, but I’m not willing to give my job this particular writing hour). 

The morning writing shift has become increasingly sacred to me over the last couple of months, which is weird, ’cause I’m not a morning writer by inclination. I keep having conversations with people who normally follow my progress on twitter and it’s interesting to see their perspectives too: To me it frequently feels like I’m just hanging in there – getting the bare minimum done in order to continue thinking of myself as a writer while working full-time. To others, apparently, the habit of banging out 500 to 700 words every morning makes it seem like I’m storming forward (less so, now that I don’t tweet my wordcount every morning, but you can bet that’ll start again once GenreCon is over and I’m back in the swing of fiction).

All of which has meant that I’m thinking a lot about process of late. My period of full-time employment is just about done – sometime towards the end of the year I’ll be transitioning back to a four-day working week (thank god), and it’s highly likely that I’ll be back to three days a week in 2013 based on my conversations with the new Boss at the centre (which is awesome – three days a week is kinda optimal for me and dayjobs). At the moment I’m looking at a 2013 where there are whole days I can devote to writing, instead of a 50 minute window in the mornings before I start answering email and getting shit done at the dayjob. As they say in Monty Python: LUXURY.

Still, there are advantages to the morning writing shift beyond getting the words down on the page. And, ’cause I’m me, I made a list (the damn dancing monkey posts got me addicted to the damn things).

FOUR REASONS I’M ROCKING THE MORNING WRITING SHIFT AT THE MOMENT

The usual caveats abound on this one – my process is not your process, etcetera and so forth, so if you disagree with any of this and you’re getting shit done, more power to you.

1) IT MAKES WRITING THE FIRST PRIORITY OF THE DAY

Well, not actually the first priority, since that usually involves a combination of urination, showering, and breakfast, but I figure you can catch my drift on this one. I think every productivity guru in the world has advocated this – find the most important thing you have to do in your day and get it done first. If you’re fighting a holding pattern against your dayjob in order to keep yourself writing, there’s an awful lot of power in making the first thing you do every day getting words down on paper. After all, you’ve just made words your priority. It’s the thing that gets done, no matter what, and you can spend the rest of the day doing your other tasks without fretting about when you’re going to find the time to get your wordcount done.

It has to be said – I like that feeling. It’s nice to clock up my 500 words early in the day and spend my working hours secure in the knowledge that I’m a goddamn writer and I am mighty. That nagging thought that you should really get some writing done doesn’t hang around, clogging up your psychic real-estate.

2) GOOD PROCESS OVER BAD INSTINCTS

So here’s one of my dark and terrible writing secrets – I am, by inclination, a binge writer. My natural inclination is to sit down at a keyboard and pound the fucking shit out of it until there are thousands and thousands of words on the screen and I can limp away, weeping and exhausted, with blood seeping through the broken cuticles of my fingernails. I love the adrenal rush of chasing a deadline, living on pizza and fried chicken, pouring litres of cola down my gullet, and I love the post-writing crash that inevitably follows. Not for me is the slow, steady pace of writing X number of words a day and getting things done that way, unless X number of words is so phenomenally crazy that I can tell other people and they’ll step back and be all, like, whoa, this dude’s crazy.

Thing is, that shit isn’t healthy. Let’s set aside the damage all that pizza and cola is doing to my body and look at the utter freakin’ stupidity of embracing a crash-and-burn cycle for something that you’re hoping to make your long-term career. Most of my life has been spent fighting that impulse, embracing the slow and steady progress, and trying to avoid the deadly mistake of tying my word-count to my masculinity (yes, I know, I was young. I’m not proud of it, let’s move on). And it works, that method. Small goals, regular increments, building things piece by piece. I’m a much healthier man, physically and mentally, writing 500 words every morning than I am chasing two or three big writing binges a month.

3) I’M LESS LIKELY TO CANNIBALIZE WRITING TIME FOR OTHER THINGS

I’m a night owl by nature, which means I jam all kinds of shit into my evenings: gaming, reading, tooling around on the internet, the Trashy Tuesday Movie ritual that seems to have become a permanent part of my week for reasons that elude me (American Ninja, btw, totally bad-ass in a god-awful kind of away). Occasionally I’m even inclined to go out and catch up with people, or have dinner/drinks with friends.

Since I spent a damn decade avoiding these things on account of the fact that I was a broke freelance writer/student who couldn’t actually afford to leave the house, I’m kinda bad at saying no to this kind of stuff now that I have a regular income. This means any kind of evening writing ritual is destined to fail. There’s too many interruptions to the process and I’m generally inclined to cannibalise my writing time for other things if there’s no pressing deadlines to keep me on track.

Morning’s, though? No-one wants to do things in the mornings. It’s a total get-up, get-ready-for-work, go-to-work kind of dead space in our culture. The odds of other people planning activities that take place in the morning is rare on weekends and practically non-existent during the working week. This means that all I need to do to earn myself an hour of uninterrupted writing time is get up an hour earlier than usual and ignore the damn internet, and no-one will ask me to give that up (although, note, I’m a single guy without kids; I imagine this is significantly less true should the latter part of that statement be different).

4) IT KEEPS THE WORDCOUNTING OFF THE BLOG

Here’s one of the habits I picked up as part of the morning writing shift ritual: posting the wordcount to twitter’s #AmWriting hashtag. This is because the internet is AWESOME and mutates in increasingly interesting ways – five years ago I would have been posting regular wordcounts to my blog and boring the shit out of people since they’d be the only updates (eight years ago I would have been posting them to my livejournal, but that was a different time, man).

Posting wordcounts is part of the ritual, a means of shutting off the writing brain and telling myself it’s time to go to work now while simultaneously serving as a means of reinforcing and rewarding the writing habit. It’s useful, but it’s dull as hell for people who show up to a blog and don’t really care if I wrote 400 words or 4000 words in a given day (although, if I wrote four thousand words in a day, I’d be shouting about it right here without giving a damn if I bored you or not).

Twitter, though, is the perfect medium for this kind of thing. A fluid, fast-moving social media hub where people are used to conversations flowing past them. Those who want to pay attention can, those who don’t, won’t. Plus, let’s be face it, I’m probably alienating far fewer people by posting wordcounts to twitter than I am bombarding their twitter stream with movie tweets every Tuesday night.

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