I challenged myself to a month of early bird writing – this is what happened next
Words by Yas Floyer
Like many writers, I have to fit my writing into the small pockets of time that happen around Real Life. The Real Life of working a full time job or having to take care of a family. Of having to let go of the ‘perfect conditions’ and just crack on with it in small bursts or late at night once the rest of the household exhales into a restful night’s sleep.
For a while, I have managed to get short stories written within the gaps unoccupied by teaching or my two children. My most recent published story was drafted on one go whilst they were in the shower because I am able to hold a short story in my head, walk around with it, turn it over and look at it before putting it onto the page.
But this won’t do for a novel. I have been carrying around an idea for a novel, have drafted it in fits and starts. If there is a name for the thing that comes before a first draft, then that is the thing that I have produced.
I teach on the days my youngest is at nursery and most evenings, too. I also teach on a Saturday so feel guilty for cutting into family time on Sundays to write, especially when the work I produce is guaranteed to be awful and will no doubt lead to nothing.
If I am being honest, I am held back by the thought that perhaps I am never going to be able to write this book of mine. What if I just can’t do it? In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert says of perfectionism that, '…underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that says, again and again, "I am not good enough and I will never be good enough".'
Gilbert also speaks of showing up for the Muse and making a commitment to your creative project and of the magic that can come from that. So I want to see what happens with my writing if I rise with the lark every day for four weeks.
What if I became an early bird? No word count goals, no deadlines, no pressure to get it right or be perfect, just a commitment to get up early and dedicate that time to my novel draft.
The Snooze Button is Mightier Than The Sword: Week 1
I was ready for this. I had my mug rinsed out waiting by the coffee machine and my laptop fully charged. I got into bed the night before day one thinking that in a few hours time I will wake up at 5.30am refreshed and serene and the muse will descend I will be drafting away.
Here’s what actually happened on days one and two. My alarm went off. I hit snooze. I felt hungover despite the fact that I don’t drink. I asked myself why on earth I thought this was a good idea and closed my eyes.
Tomorrow. I will just get up tomorrow. I didn’t make it out of bed until day 3. I made coffee and thought about my novel for 20 minutes. I felt frustrated that I was not writing straight away but reminded myself that I have no word count goals, just a commitment to be present. Then my usually excellent sleeper son woke at 6.30am shaving half an hour off of my writing time.
I have rebranded the early mornings as Early Bird Sessions since calling it Writing Time is too frustrating when no writing happens.
I have spent this week reacquainting myself with my novel, slipping back into it’s world. Realising how unreasonable it was to expect myself to begin drafting on a project that has been a stranger to me for months.
Can’t Fight The Moonlight: Week 2
Last week I was in denial. I thought I could go about my life like nothing would change and that somehow the laws of cause and effect would not apply to me. For example, I honestly believed that I could stay up and watch Netflix and read and still be an early bird.
I was wrong. Week two and I am tired all the time. I am waking at 5.30am each day am yawning my head off come lunchtime. Adjustments need to be made in my daytime in order to facilitate the early mornings, and I also need to tweak my wakeup time.
I have reset my alarm. 6am is definitely working better for me. It is only an hour and I am not writing all that much, mainly figuring things out and drafting scenes in fragments rather than forcing myself to focus on a prescribed scene. It is too early for me to force myself to do anything other than what comes, and this feels so liberating! I am giving myself weekends off, too – is that cheating?
Muse, Is That You?: Week 3
I don’t know who or what the Muse is, but this is week three and whoever they are may have just paid me a visit.
For the first time, I feel like I am carrying my novel around with me wherever I go. I have a tab open in my head titled ‘Draft’ and whatever I may be doing during the day, that tab remains open. I have been developing ideas and drafting in the small gaps in the day, making notes and writing scenes – still in fragments – but it feels like the book is coming to life now.
"I have learnt to give in to the process of going where the story tells me to. I started this month out with no set word count goal and on my least productive day, I wrote nothing but made a major plot breakthrough."
This week, I fixed a plot issue whilst doing dishes simply because that tab was open. It feels like whatever seeds are sown in the early mornings are splitting during the day, green shoots coming through for me to nurture.
A couple of days this week I have gotten a few paragraphs written in my notebook and have used that to start off my morning writing the following day.
The Final Countdown: Week 4
The final week of my challenge and I have adjusted to the early mornings so well that I find myself waking up and waiting for the alarm to go.
It is really bloody hot and sweaty in London right now so I have been spending a few minutes under a cold shower before sitting at my desk.
I continue to draft in fragments and go wherever my mind wanders. For ages I have had an idea of using a story within a story (something I have done in my short fiction) and this week I figured out how to do it.
This week it seems that the novel is bleeding into my waking life and everything connects to it – from a song I hear to a view I take in on my walk to school.
The early mornings spent meditating on my idea, even when words haven’t come, have opened a tap. Sometimes all it does during the day is drip but one day this week I was at a playdate with a very dear friend and her children and had to take 10 minutes to draft notes on a scene that came to me intact.
I started this month knowing it was going to be tough but the first week hit me harder than I thought.
Once I had let go of the pressure to achieve a set word count and redefined my definition of the 'real work' of writing to include thinking and daydreaming, good things started to happen.
I have learnt to give in to the process of going where the story tells me to. I started this month out with no set word count goal and on my least productive day, I wrote nothing but made a major plot breakthrough.
On my most productive I wrote 2,000 words, 500 of which I started during an early bird session.
This is definitely something I would do again. It was motivating framing the month as a challenge and I came to really relish that time in the morning as it created a virtuous cycle of creativity that produced more writing during the gaps within my day.
The light mornings made waking up that bit easier but I suffer with SAD so am not sure that an early morning would be achievable come the winter.
I have learnt that the most valuable thing these past four weeks has been continuity – and this doesn’t have to happen in the early mornings. Perhaps in the winter I will make another shift: from an early bird, back to a night owl, and see if the Muse still visits.
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