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How do you find time to write?

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The first time I joined the 5am Club

The very first time I joined the 5am club, I did it in reverse. Our son was a baby and I can remember being up for most of one particular night and thinking ‘Once I get to 5 o’clock, I can think of that as morning. The night will be over.’ I had never considered 5am to be morning before. I had thought it the preserve of farmers and milkmen and felt sorry for them. Psychologically, it worked. If morning starts at 5am, at 3.30 (which had always been the middle of the night up to that point) morning was only an hour and a half away. We could get up. We could do morning things. I could drink tea and put Cloud Babies on TV.

Morning 2.0

I got so used to these early mornings that I can remember going out for a walk that summer with our son in his buggy and feeling grumpy that the shop I wanted wasn’t open (it was about 7.45am I think). At that point I realised that there are two mornings. Around 5am to 9am (there’s always an ‘ish’) and around 9am to 12am. What I had been thinking of previously as ‘morning’ turned out to be morning 2.0 and is actually shorter than morning 1.0. The feeling of victory when I got to morning 2.0 (i.e. 9am) was palpable. If you’re a nurse or a shift worker, you’re probably laughing at me right now – I apologise.

OK, so this was my way of coping with lack of sleep when we had a baby. But through it I learnt of the existence of a strange new land: very early morning. What’s more, I learnt of it from the ‘wrong’ direction – by approaching it, bleary-eyed, from 3.30am. It was a goal, an Eldorado – if we got to 5am, everything was going to be ok.

The second time I joined the 5am Club

After those early years, I found I was programmed to wake up at 5ish. Why lie there with my eyes open staring at the ceiling in the dark? Why not get out of bed and make use of morning 1.0? (I would never have contemplated this had I not recently experienced the arrival of 5am as a joy, as the herald of a new day.) So I started getting up to write early. If I had a time machine and went back to my 30-year-old-self and told her I would be regularly getting up at 5, I think she would have choked on her coffee.

At the same time, I read a couple of books about getting a good night’s sleep. It’s an ongoing process, but I realised that ‘getting less sleep’ was not a long-term solution to finding time to write. I worked out how much sleep I needed and adjusted my bedtime accordingly. This meant we started going to bed at about 9. (Cue my 30-year-old-self holding her hands up in horror.) In practice, we were swapping our evenings for early mornings.

Why early mornings?

The most important thing about this early morning session is that:

  1. it’s quiet enough to focus and
  2. there’s nothing else to do.

Aside from the ability to focus and the lack of extra responsibilities, there’s nothing intrinsic about it being early morning that makes this time good for writing. You could replicate this last thing at night too. In fact, as long as you aim for a time when you can focus, and lack of extra responsibilities, you could carve out some writing time at any point during the day. Getting enough sleep is just as important though.

Rejoining the 5am club

Over the last year or so, 5am turned into 6am or 6.30am and bedtime has turned into 10pm or 10.30pm. This was ok, because for most of the year school has been out, not much getting ready needed, so I had until about 8am to write until I was needed for breakfast and homeschool. What I learnt from this migration was that the time I actually got up didn’t matter – it was the amount of quiet I got that was important. Two hours, for me, was ideal.

But now I want to write another novel, I’m going to be homeschooling again and working in my part-time teaching job as well as building online courses. I’m not complaining, but I need to reorganise my day again so that I have enough time for my writing. All of that means I’m going to rejoin the 5am club. I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m not going to lie, it’s definitely harder to do in the winter when it’s dark outside.

How to get up at 5 to write

First off, why choose 5am? If 6am would give you some time to write, do that first. It’s less extreme and easier to adjust to, sleep-wise. That said, the key to getting up at 5 is to get enough sleep. I’ve read tonnes of research showing how important the right amount of sleep is for your health. So if you want to give it a go, I suggest going to bed 15-30 mins earlier each evening and winding down for at least 30 mins beforehand.

The other important consideration is space: do you have somewhere to turn up to? How will you avoid waking people up? How will you encourage yourself to sit down and do it? I come downstairs and feed the cats (who now expect to be fed early) and I make tea in my favourite mug. In the winter I go back to bed with my iPad or a notebook. (I’m lucky that my wife gets up early too.) In the summer I go out to my writing shed.

You can’t find more time

We’ve all got 24 hours in a day and 168 hours in a week (some of them for sleep) – it isn’t actually possible to ‘find’ more time somewhere, as if someone was keeping it in a drawer! But you can reorganise your time, so you use it differently. You might have to stop doing something else. In my case it was evenings on the sofa. I never actually decided to give up my evenings on the sofa, but I decided to continue to swap them for early mornings once I realised I had a choice – it was probably easier that way.

I’m building a course at the moment called Your Writing Plan for 2021, all about planning your writing year. If you want to find out more, join my author mailing list.

More soon, until then, happy writing,

Louise xx

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