Little kids the world over and from time immemorial have been graced with the wise advice of their elders. When it comes to getting ahead in life, the counsel usually goes something like: “The early bird gets the worm!“.
It’s trite and overused and yet … we still hear this advice all the time.
Not only is this nugget nestled into just about every productivity post and book, but we have actual living, breathing examples of people who get up early and are extremely productive.
Early Rising — Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
A 2016 article at Business Insider lists 21 of these go-getters. Among them are Michelle Obama, Richard Branson, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, and scads of other tycoons and luminaries.
And writers looking to squeeze in as many words as possible are constantly told to wake up early and write before the rest of the world can wreck their days.
I’d love to be a contrarian here and tell you the advice is bunk. That you can sleep in all you want and not forfeit a golden opportunity to boost your word count.
I’d love to tell you that because I’d love to cuddle into my blankets for an hour or two longer each morning.
But I can’t say that because, in my experience, early morning really is an almost magical time for writers.
Why Waking Up Early to Write Is So Awesome
If you’ve never tried waking up early to write, you might not know that …
- The house is really quiet at 5 am. That means you can concentrate — completely — on what you’re doing.
- There’s nothing else scheduled at 5 am. That means you don’t have to scrape to keep your time safe from the ravages of interruptions — that time is all yours.
- No one cares what you look like at 5 am. Write in your pajamas or grease-stained sweats a 5 am. No one is going to see you.
- When you finish your writing early, you don’t have to worry about it later. You can attack the rest of your day with peace of mind and without the anxiety of wondering whether you’ll get time to write later on.
- Your mind is calm at 5 am. Unless you have a bad dream or something really stressful happening in your life, chances are you’ll be at your most peaceful when you wake up. The weight of the day hasn’t had a chance to frazzle your nerves.
- Early risers are more productive and more proactive. In a 2010 study at the University of Education in Heidelberg, Germany, Professor Christoph Randler found a positive correlation between waking up early every day and proactivity/productivity. Causation is not clear, but here is a definite relationship.
Of course, 5 am is just an example. Some go-getters rise at 3 am or before, and 6 am is still pretty early for most folks.
So you have some semantic leeway if you want to try the early-bird routine. It’s not for everyone, though, and there are …
Drawbacks to Waking Up Early to Write
You can’t just blindly jump into any new habit without considering the downside. In the case of rising early to write, you should know that …
- You need your winks. Sleep deprivation packs a serious bad-health punch, and no book or writing project is worth sacrificing your well-being.
- You might disturb your family or housemates. They’ll probably get over it, though.
- You might not want to stop writing. Seriously, when you get rolling in a writing session, it’s hard to stop. Bad news if you have to go to work.
- You might not be able to stay awake late. Not a big deal for most, and you DO need your sleep (see first point above). But if you have to stay up late for some reason, consistently waking up early can be a real drag.
- You might run out of things to write. Ha! Just kidding … your next inspiration is always just a funny cat video away, right?
Should YOU Wake Up Early to Write?
So there you have them … the cases for and against early-morning writing.
Is it for you?
You’re a good candidate for pre-dawn scribing if …
- You can’t write as much as you want during the week.
- You’ve tried early writing before and found it to be helpful but didn’t stick with it.
- You’ve never tried early writing.
- You have big writing goals but not enough time — normally — to pull them off.
- You have a stressful job or home situation that breaks you down as the day wears on.
You may not be a good candidate for waking up early to write if …
- You’re already getting up early … can you really wake up earlier?
- You’re already short on sleep.
- You’re getting done all the writing you want to get done.
- Writing is a not all that important to you, so however much you get done is cool with you.
- You need or like to stay up late on a consistent basis.
The choice is yours, but most writers would be well-served to try early-morning writing at least once in their lives.