By Karin Gillespie
As a creative person, I’m obsessed with time. I’m always seeking ways to squeeze in my writing. And when I’m away from my work for too long, I pine for it the way a new mother pines for the smell of her baby’s freshly washed hair.
Have you ever felt that way?
What if I were to say you could have several daily hours of interrupted time to devote to your work each week? Hours that are quiet and sacred and conducive to engaging and productive work? What if I said you’d be following in the paths of hundreds of creative people like Toni Morrison, Wayne Dyer and Steve Jobs? What if I promised you can have all of this and more?
And you only have to make one small change:
Wake up three hours earlier.
Have I lost you yet?
Six months ago if I’d been reading this article, I’d have quit. Three hours earlier? For me that would be 4 a.m. Insane! Monks wake up then. People who work at Krispy Kreme wake up then.
Not people who flinch at the first ray of daylight or need several minutes to ever-so-gradually emerge from my haven of blankets. Not people who fiercely resist facing reality’s sharp corners, loud noises and jolts.
I’ve never been a morning person. My husband springs out of bed, spry and whistling. For me, getting up in the morning is like being wrenched from a cozy womb with cold forceps, red-faced and screaming in protest.
I used to be a high school special education teacher, and memories of getting up and going to work in complete blackness still plagued me. One of the luxuries of the creative life was that I could get up whenever I damn well wanted.
But, several months ago, I agreed to teach three classes at the university as opposed to my usual one class. I also took on some extra freelance magazine work, and I was preparing for the launch of my seventh novel. My writing time felt as rushed and unsatisfying as a quickie with a stranger.
I was so unhappy.
Not writing fiction was such an unnatural state for me. I’ve been steadily writing novels for over 15 years. Naturally I was looking forward to end of the semester in December. But as soon as my teaching duties were completed, the holidays would swoop in with their obligations and forced march to make merry. I’d be nearly as bogged down as I was during the semester.
But shortly before the semester ended, I stumbled upon an article about the benefits of early rising. This time I was much more motivated.
Four am. Here I come.
And come it did. With frightening speed. The first morning I felt as if I’d just gone to sleep, but I ignored my mental protests and swung my legs out of cozy comfort and into cold blackness.
But by the time I’d gotten the coffee brewed and was sitting in my office, being up early didn’t feel half bad. In fact, it felt good.
It was so quiet and distraction-free The first morning I easily wrote 2,000 words before 7 a.m. Those words seemed to come from a deeper part of myself than those that came in the brightness of daylight.
I also experienced a deep satisfaction of having accomplished so much while the rest of the world slumbered. Did you know that only .1 percent of the people in the United States wake up before 5 a.m.?
Think of it.
If there are any wonderful stray ideas floating around at four a.m. you’ll be the first to grab them by the tail. And it does seem as if the morning air is thick with ideas. Novelist Edna O’Brien said that in the mornings, “One is nearer to the unconscious, the source of inspiration.”
After over a month of waking up early, four a.m. has become my favorite time of the day. I read an inspirational book while I wait for my coffee water to boil. (Currently I’m reading Nothing Special: Living Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck.) In addition to easily getting my creative work done, I now sleep much better than before. (I go to bed between 8:30 and 9:30 or later if I have plans.). Also I’m much less resentful when as I go about the rest of my obligations because the creative beast is no longer hungry; each morning it’s being richly fed.
Finally, I feel a sense of mastery over my life I didn’t before. It’s the same way I felt after quitting smoking or when I incorporated a regular exercise program into my life. Getting up early has increased my personal power.
I plunged into my new habit, but if you’re the sort of person who takes off a Band-Aid, one millimeter at a time, there are articles out there about how you can ease into this new and profound reality. And here are some additional tips:
- Mental tricks help us to win the mind-over-mattress game. Put your alarm clock across the room. Plan a reward for your efforts. (Coffee for me.) Give yourself a suggestion just before you go to sleep. (I will wake up at 4 .a.m. feeling mentally refreshed. Yes. It really does work.)
- Tell yourself that, for every hour earlier you’re waking up in the morning, you receive a net gain of the equivalent of 15 days per year. For instance, I’m waking up three hours earlier each day, so I’m gaining 21 hours each week. Imagine that? The equivalent of a part time job.
- Remind yourself that the most compelling reason for rising early is you no longer have to delay pursuing your big, beautiful, breathless dreams until you have “more time.” (When does that day come?)
Convinced? I hope so.
From now on when the alarm goes off, and we’re tempted to listen to that cunning voice in our heads, trying to convince us to stay cocooned in our warm, cozy covers, we should declare, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Then we’ll make the early morning leap out of the bed into a life where we actually have time to do what we love.
Occasionally, AuthorBytes invites guest bloggers, authors, editors and industry experts to offer their insights to our clients and viewers. We’re excited to have Georgia’s Author of the Year with us. Karin Gillespie is the national-bestselling author of seven novels. She has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post and Writer Magazine. She has an MFA from Converse College and lives in Augusta, Georgia. She writes a book column for the Augusta Chronicle, and a humor column for the Augusta Magazine.