When I was raising young children, I heard about moms who would get up at 5 a.m. to write. They were virtuous, whereas I could never pull myself from the molasses of slumber.
Once everyone was settled, I told myself, I would write. But soon I had a full email box, ringing phones, and someone knocking on the door.
When my husband got a new job that required us to get up earlier, I started doing meditations before I woke the kids, and when the pandemic broke out, I added yoga to my morning routine.
“The most important practice an artist can institute is a morning creativity practice,” psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel said last month in a talk based on his book Fearless Creating.
I used to do my creative work when I had time. But “having time” is constantly in flux. After 3 years of on-and-off work on my memoir, I wondered if I could ever complete it.
Then a series of seemingly unrelated events occurred. I had to give up caffeine when I got a stomach ulcer, but after the withdrawal, I felt more awake than ever. A mentor pushed me to pick a target finish date for the book. Then when we turned the clocks back, I woke up at 5 not 6, and instead of rolling over, I went downstairs. The house was dark and my cat said, What are you doing here?
I lit a fire under the kettle for my lemon and honey, wrapped a blanket around me, and began writing a scene for my book. I got up the next day at 5, and the next day. By the time the sun had risen and it was time to wake the kids, I was practically singing: I had already done the thing that was most important to me.
The confidence I’ve gained with this routine has helped me bracket more book-writing time during my regular day. Resistance is fading because I'm building on a foundation of accomplishment, instead of self-doubt. And if something big takes over my day? It’s okay — I’ve already done my first thing first.
One day it might be a struggle to wake up so early, and I might miss a day or two. But I’m happier, more productive, and self-assured with this habit, so I plan to keep it. I love this time when my inner judge is sleeping, the ink is flowing, and it’s just me and the moon.
If you’d like to try a morning creativity practice for yourself, keep in mind that it can take some time to establish. For me, it took years of incremental life events and “bad luck” to land into this schedule I didn’t think was for me.
Healthy, pleasureful activities in your life might shift. Morning pages are no longer what I do first, and some days I don’t even get to yoga. But after devoting 2 hours to my most meaningful activity, I don’t find I need the other things as much.
Hold off on checking the day's texts, emails, and schedules until after your sacred time. I write long-hand on paper (and dictate later) so real-world concerns can't invade the dreamy peace.
If you want to start right away, try getting up 15 minutes earlier tomorrow for a week and working on a tiny assignment you've set out for yourself the night before. Reflect on what worked and what didn't -- for you -- and keep going towards what feels good for your creative life.