The Case for Morning Writing

I know everyone isn’t a morning person. I wasn’t always a morning writer. I used to be a mid-day writer, believing I was like a flower that fully bloomed when the sun was high in the sky. But in the last few years I’ve changed my tune. I’ve started to brave the dark cold morning hours away from my cozy bed. It isn’t easy. Who wants to give up those precious hours and minutes of sleep before the day begins? But I gave it a shot, and I’ve discovered I’m a lot more productive as a result.

I know morning writing won’t work for everyone. But I want to share a few of the ideas that influenced me to give it a try. Finding a process that works for you is essential to being a successful writer. For me, morning writing has become a staple of my process. It affects both my productivity and the quality of my work. Who knows, maybe it will work for you too.

Three reasons to consider writing in the morning:

1) It Helps You Find “The Zone”

One of the most inspirational reasons I started writing in the morning comes from Robert Olen Butler’s craft book From Where You Dream. Butler argues that to write you must enter a dream-space away from your intellectual thinking brain. This dream-space is a “zone” that lets you tap into the unconscious, which is where true creation comes from. Writing from the unconscious allows “a work of art to become an organic thing, where every detail organically resonates with every other detail.”

Tapping into this space is not an easy thing to do. Butler suggests writing in the morning because it helps you to find “a way to clear your sensibility of abstract uses of language,” which is important for helping you get into the zone. The problem, according to Butler, “is that we naturally use language in so many non-sensual ways all through the day. It’s helpful, then, to buffer those hours in which you necessarily use language in those analytical ways from the hours in which you dive into your unconscious and seek language in quite another way. One obvious way to do that is to put your night’s sleep in between. You go to your writing space straight from another dream state and go to language before you’ve had a chance for all those other uses of language to intrude on you. So after you wake up, don’t read the newspaper, don’t watch CNN; if you have to pee don’t pick up the back issue of The New Yorker in the basket nearby. You go to your fiction without letting any conceptual language into your head.”

Of course, there are different philosophies on writing. I was pretty skeptical of Butler’s “unconscious dreaming” concept. But I’d never tried it before. I’d intellectually talked myself out of its benefits before giving it a whirl. I’m a convert now. My writing has new depth because I write in the morning and I’m able to tap into that dream-zone.

For more information on this writing process, I highly suggest reading Butler’s craft book From Where You Dream. 

2) It Creates a Sense of Accomplishment

Admiral McRaven’s gave a commencement address to the University of Texas earlier this year in which he said, “if you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” That may sound odd, but consider his outlook: “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

Morning writing works in the same way as making your bed in the morning. Many of us say writing is a priority in our lives and yet we struggle to find time for it. If you start off your day by writing, then this important priority has been accomplished first. Now you can meet the rest of your day without guilt because you’ve already accomplished your writing goals.

3) Don’t Check Your Email

Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Work Week suggests you never check your email before noon. He makes a strong case, pointing out the importance of making room for the tasks you need to get done before you open your email and see what the rest of the world wants from you. Sid Savara adds to the conversation with his 7 reasons you shouldn’t check email in the morning. Both authors point out that checking your email first thing in the morning makes your day about someone else’s to-do list, not yours. Write first! Resist the temptation to check your email and put your priorities first.

Anyone else out there a morning writer like me? Have you found it beneficial? Please share in the comments!

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10 responses to “The Case for Morning Writing”

  1. I’ve never tried writing first thing in the morning, but you might have convinced me to try it. When my youngest child was still napping, I would nap with her for twenty minutes and then write for an hour or two while she was still asleep. This was an incredibly productive strategy in spite of the fact that I’m completely useless in afternoons without a nap. Of course, a large cup of coffee also helped.

  2. gabe says:

    I’ve made morning writing a habit. Even when I have a busy (non-writing) day planned, and I only get a few hundred words down, I feel successful.

    Also, I agree with the idea of being less intellectual about the writing first thing in the morning. It flows from a deeper place. Will check out Butler’s book.

    The no-email-before-noon rule is a wise habit to form…still struggling with that one. 🙂

  3. Brianna Soloski says:

    I may have to try this. I struggle to make time to write on a daily basis so maybe writing in the morning will help. I’m also a huge proponent of making the bed. It’s the first thing I do before I even leave my room to shower. I can’t sleep in a bed that hasn’t been properly made.

  4. Ellar Cooper says:

    I am a total convert to morning writing. I’m still not a morning person (seriously, don’t talk to me for at least an hour), but my writing does well then. And I’ve definitely found that as soon as I open the internet or turn on my phone, the productivity ends, so I’ve trained people in my life to accept that I’m just not reachable until at least ten o’clock. 🙂

  5. artrosch says:

    I write frequently in the morning. I’m at my most depressed before I get out and exercise, but still I’ll find myself writing before doing anything else. It just happens. As for email, though I may have two hundred messages in the in-box 99.9 % is not really for me, just quasi-spam that I delete, so opening my email isn’t that attractive. Guess I’m not very popular.

  6. I love this idea and I need to start fighting for that time. It’s my favorite time to put pen to paper. And I also approve of not checking email (or Twitter or FB) before noon.

  7. Julie Grasso says:

    Yes, totally agree. I write at 5 am using dragon dictate. My brain is so active the moment I wake. Later in the day, the fatigue of parenting takes away my muse.

  8. I think writing has to be done when you’re chemical up. At least for me. The 4 to 6 pm time plan has me crabby, tired and dysfunctional. I think a routine that fits your style. If a morning person then write when you are at your sharpest, mornings. Etc.

    Heck some people wake up around noon.

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