How to develop a writing schedule without sacrificing something important to me
September 1, 2011 5:23 PM   Subscribe

How do I successfully develop a morning writing routine without giving up my night owl lifestyle? Is this even feasible?

I write best first thing in the morning, but I am a diehard night owl and I don't see myself changing that easily. I can edit and tinker at night sometimes, but there tends to be less raw creative energy available to me then. Over the years, with job and child-rearing requirements, I gradually wrote less and less, and became used to a minimal amount of sleep with occasional catch-up so as to keep up with my daytime duties and responsibilities.

Now I am approaching middle age and I regret not writing more than I have. My kid is a teenager now and my day job situation is less demanding. In recent times while I was still single and I started thinking about writing regularly again, it was much easier to envision gradually converting myself into a full-time morning person in order to support a full-time writing schedule.

But now I suddenly find myself hopelessly in love with a musician, and we are getting married soon. She is a very busy girl and her nights, when not spent with her own two teenagers and with me and mine, are peppered with gigs and music related events that nearly always take place at night. I often attend these in a tag along capacity, but now I find that I'm starting to seriously warm up to her lifestyle and to her friends, and I truly value this time spent with her and our circles.

I would still like to begin writing regularly, but I feel conflicted because the idea of passing on a large percentage of my fiance's events, parties and gigs makes me feel sad and distant from her and our circles. In addition, I have what appear to be a collection of executive functioning and ADHD-like challenges that I haven't yet gotten to the bottom of and mastered, and so I still have a lot of trouble defining and then sticking to schedules, habits and routines on my own without someone else dictating (which in turn I tend to resent and rebel against).

How do other writers in this kind of situation cope? Assuming I can actually manage to come up with and stick to a schedule/routine of some kind (no small feat!) do I support this by training myself to get up at a certain time regardless of how late I was up the night before, and just let a schedule build itself up naturally? Or do I need to make a hard decision and give up something that I cherish? Are there specific, proven strategies that don't involve major compromise that I should study and try to emulate? Alternatively, should I try to develop my nighttime creative powers and build a nighttime writing schedule? How should I tackle this situation? I'm ready to start taking steps, but want to proceed carefully and effectively and with confidence.

I'm sure there are additional questions I've forgotten or haven't yet thought of, and I've probably left something important out, but I'll leave it here for now. Thanks, AskMeFites!
posted by christopherious to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Whatever time you get in the morning, change it to 15-30 minutes earlier and use that time to write.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:40 PM on September 1, 2011

Best answer: I don't think there's any way to answer this without a schedule. The good news is that you can pretty easily answer this by making yourself a schedule of your current activities, and then figuring out which ones will be possible/easiest/best to cut to make room for your writing. So, say for example that your schedule was this:

7 am: Wake up
7-8: Get ready for work
8-9: Commute
9-5: Work
5-6: Commute
6-8: Cook and eat dinner, household chores
8-11: Fiancee's musical activities
11-7: Sleep

Which of these things can you get rid of or make shorter? Do you need as much sleep as you're getting? Can you leave musical events early to get home earlier? If you shifted your work schedule to earlier or later in the day, would you spend less time stuck in traffic and shorten your commute? Could you do household chores or cook big meals with leftovers on the weekends so that you don't need to do that in the evenings? Those are the sorts of decisions that will give you extra time to write. They're also the sorts of decisions that we would need to see your current schedule in order to help you make, but that you're probably better able to make than we are. So, make a schedule, and then see where the push points are.
posted by decathecting at 5:51 PM on September 1, 2011

WHEN you do this works differently for different writers, but I think you have to treat it like a job. And whether that's getting up at 6am and writing for two hours, three days a week, or whatever, you just have to set the alarm and do it. If you really want to write, you will find time. (Kind of like going to the gym.) I do it at night, myself, and I do it on the weekends, and I sometimes find time during the day. Sometimes, if I am on a big deadline, or a real creative roll, I do it all day on both days of the weekends and hole up and don't see anyone. (FWIW, I am a freelance writer as my "day job" and I've published two novels, and I'm talking about the novel writing as far as this all goes.) Sometimes it's fun. A lot of the time it is agony -- what's that saying? "I don't like writing, but I love having written." It takes a lot of discipline.

For me, the crux of the matter is that if it's important to you, you will make time, and something will have to give. Whether that's sleep, or not going out every single time you have the option, that is your choice. But I think if you really want to make any headway on it in a serious fashion, there is no real easy fix. The only specific proven strategy that works for being a writer is sitting down and writing. So you will definitely need to make a schedule of some sort to find the time to do that.

I do think that if you would always truly rather go out and socialize with your friends and gf than write on a regular basis, than maybe that is where your priorities really are right now -- and that's okay. In which case, give yourself permission to just noodle on stuff whenever the mood strikes and enjoy it in a very casual, hobby-like way, and don't stress too much about it.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 5:54 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In The Four-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss claims that a 20-minute nap during the day cuts an hour and 40 minutes off the total amount of sleep you need — instead of sleeping for 8 hours at night, you'd sleep for 6 hours at night and take a 20-minute daytime nap, which would in theory let you use that extra hour and 40 minutes for writing.
posted by Lexica at 6:09 PM on September 1, 2011

Work with your schedule, not against it. I found time to write by turning time I spent doing something else, going to caf├ęs to read and meet people, into writing time. Unlike you, my most creative time is late afternoon and early evening, so that schedule suits me perfectly.

What do you do in the morning? Can you take anything out and replace it with writing?
posted by Kattullus at 7:18 PM on September 1, 2011

Best answer: Given that you are new to the exciting social life you describe, and value it, you might want to consider putting writing on hold for a year (or 6 months, or whatever you think) whilst you enjoy the new stuff. By then you might feel you have got to a place with the socialising where you could cut back a bit without losing your place in the group. You might also have had new experiences that make you think you really want to write about them.

Other than that - do you work full-time? Are there any evenings when you know you're unlikely to be up late where you could write the following morning? If you aren't writing regularly now, even one regularly morning a week would be an improvement.

Or could you work on feeling more creative at other times of the day? You might want to think about what makes you feel more creative in the mornings - is it having rested (in wch case would a nap help?) or recent access to imagination in the shape of dreams (in wch case would meditation or imaginative exercises or writing exercises help?)?
posted by paduasoy at 1:18 PM on September 2, 2011

You could also try joining Health Month and putting writing every day (or every x day) as a goal.
posted by paduasoy at 1:20 PM on September 2, 2011

Response by poster: Sensible suggestions and advice all around. I feel a little better about the options/strategies available to me now and feel encouraged in knowing that I don't necessarily have to make a difficult sacrifice.

Paduasoy and Countless Sandwich, I hadn't thought about the idea of deliberately putting the writing idea back on hold to enjoy the new lifestyle a little longer but you made me realize that in a way, this is where I was leaning when I first told myself that I wanted to write again. Yes, I work full-time but there is flexibility and perhaps I can squeeze in some mid-day writing during breaks or something. And yes, there are evenings where I could conceivably impose an early bedtime to better support an early wake-up time -- provided I can make myself fall asleep at the right time.

I am going to give getting up early enough to write for an hour a try. Maybe just a few days a week in the beginning with a weekly instead of daily quota (I expect there to be occasional misses). Failing that, I'll explore the midday writing idea, and then if that doesn't work make a decision about what compromises make the most sense and/or feel most comfortable.
posted by christopherious at 2:36 PM on September 2, 2011

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