“I wasted my time!” my kid said last night before breaking down into a (thankfully) minor tantrum. This was in response to the somehow unexpected news that, immediately following his evening ablutions, it was his bedtime. He just couldn’t bear the thought that he spent his last few waking moments doing anything—brushing his teeth or picking up his Legos from the living room floor—anything at all other than playing.
This is kind of how my experiment with becoming a morning person went. I did try, for a solid week. But when I actually fell asleep sitting up, and spilled coffee all over myself, I decided it was time to reconsider. When I look back at all the writing I accomplished during the early morning experiment, I’m amazed by how little of it is in any way useful. Mostly, it’s just bitching and obsessing about all the crap I had to do each day. More journaling than anything else, with very few nuggets of goodness, and nothing I could translate to decent fiction. Absolutely nothing on the two stories I’ve been incubating.
I even tried to motivate myself with the promise of coffee shop time first thing in the morning. I gave myself the first 30 minutes of being awake to bitch and moan on the page, in my car, parked in the garage (I didn’t want to be that person waiting outside the coffee shop, like an addict, for someone to come open the door, even though that is basically exactly who I am). Then, once I got to the shop at 5:35, I started in with the fiction. But my mind wandered. I just looked around the shop, listened to the employees, stared into space. I might concentrate for fifteen minutes, but then something else—another customer, traffic outside, the sunrise, a disturbing work e-mail from the evening before—would interrupt and I was powerless to resist.
It appears, after all, that I did waste some time. I think there are two main reasons I was unsuccessful:
- I was not able to concentrate on anything because my brain just does not work efficiently that early in the morning.
- I was not happy; I was grumpy. Perhaps my psyche was just pissed I was trying to impose such rigid controls that were so contrary to my nature. Apparently, my psyche believes that discipline is for suckers.
Sometimes, wasting time is okay—maybe even essential to our happiness. But because I simply don’t have that much time available to invest in writing, the time I do spend needs to be productive in some way. And just complaining on the page is self-indulgent crybaby bullshit, nothing more. And that is, apparently, the extent of my intellectual capacity first thing in the morning. For some reason, two and a half hours make a significant difference in my ability to be productive. That’s why I can go to the coffee shop at 7:30 Saturday morning, place my order, start being productive by 8:00, and write for a solid three hours before losing steam. But that’s a weekend luxury.
When I was working a full-time job and taking a full load of classes, I could live off of three or four hours of sleep. But those days are long gone. I need a solid six hours of sleep, preferably seven, so it’s a delicate balance. But I think the key is to just recognize my limitations and, finally, celebrate my true nature. I don’t like things to follow predictable patterns. I revel in the messy chaos of my life. So I’ve come up with a new plan: no real plan at all, except that I will still chase that sacred two hours of writing time each day.
During the work week, I will schedule each day individually. No pressure, psyche. Relax. Here are the only two rules I’m going to impose on myself because, apparently, I have become averse to most forms of self-discipline:
- If something gets in the way of the writing time I scheduled in the morning, I’ll figure out how I’m going to compensate before I go to bed. If I have to wedge writing in between a conference call and sitting down to supper (pasta again), that’s what I’ll do. If I have to give up evening fun time (e.g., reading, watching something on Netflix before bed), I will do it because I don’t have a ridiculous wakeup time—I’m returning to the much more sane 6:30 a.m.
- I won’t let more than twenty-four hours lapse between writing sessions. Even if I have to learn to employ Dubus’s method of fifteen minutes sitting in the car, in my garage or the parking lot of the grocery store, I will do it. Because even if I break the first rule by only writing for fifteen minutes, I will have at least written something. And there’s a pretty good chance it will be better than the drivel I came up with last week.
I’m taking my kid’s approach to playing, and translating it into the context of my writing life. There are a lot of other things I could and probably need to be doing instead of writing fiction. But I’ve just decided that sometimes, especially if I’ve missed my scheduled writing session, anything else is a waste of time. Showing up at the page is, after all, what matters. It doesn’t matter what time of day.