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Should I join the 5am club?

A free extract from Find Time to Write

This is a free extract from Find Time to Write: Time Management Techniques for Writers. Scroll to the bottom to download a PDF.

The first time I joined the 5am Club

The 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. At 5am we could get up. We could do morning things. I could drink tea on the sofa, albeit with bleary eyes.

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. 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) with a small baby 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 exis‐ tence of a strange new land: very early morning. What’s more, I learnt of it from the ‘wrong’ direction, by approaching it 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 younger self and told her I would be regularly getting up at 5, I think she would have choked on her coffee.

Around this time I read Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. Personally I found the book too evangelical, but it was interesting anyway. At the same time, I read a couple of books about getting a good night’s sleep, including Richard Wiseman’s Night School.

It’s an ongoing process, but I realised that ‘getting less sleep’ was definitely 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 younger self holding her hands up in horror. In practice, we were swapping our evenings for early mornings. I say ‘we’ – it helped that my other half is also a writer and was into it too.

What is it about early mornings?

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

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

Psychologically speaking, you’re writing – or doing the thing that’s important to you – before doing anything else. In a sense, your mental load hasn’t kicked in properly yet at this time of day.

Aside from this psychological aspect, there’s nothing intrinsic about it being very early in the morning that makes this time good for writing. You might be able to replicate this sense of quiet focus time and lack of extra responsibilities last thing at night too. (Getting enough sleep is just as important though.)

Joining the 6am club

During the pandemic, 5am turned into 6am or 6.30am and bedtime turned into 10pm or 10.30pm. This was ok, because school was out, meaning we didn’t need much getting ready time, so I had until about 8am to write until I was needed for breakfast and home-schooling. What I learnt from this migration was that the time I actually got up didn’t matter, it was the amount of quiet focus time I got that was important. Two hours, for me, was ideal.

It’s definitely harder to do in the winter when it’s dark outside, but even ‘getting up’ doesn’t matter. Sometimes I put a chapter next to my bed before I go to sleep then I can edit it in bed. (With all the caveats about good sleep hygiene applied of course.) Unless you want it, forget about the ‘jumping out of bed and doing press-ups’ ethos propounded by some 5am club members. If finding time to write is your goal, focus on that.

Concluding thoughts

As I write this updated version of the book, restrictions have been lifted, it’s spring time, our son is more independent and I’m using the 6am slot for editing.

I don’t tell this story because I think you should become an early morning writer. I’m offering it as one suggestion amongst many. If you like early morning writing, Write n Shine could help instead, or you might be able to find (or start) something similar near where you live.

Now we have taken a look at how to fit writing into your day and what might be stopping you, it’s time for your first writing challenge.

This is an extract Find Time To Write: Time Management Techniques for Writers.

Download this free extract as a PDF.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx


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