write first

A couple of days ago, I started in on my "write first" project.

The primary goal is to write when I'm fresh, to get at least an hour's worth of work each day that comes before anything else. Writing's what I like doing most, after all. Errands and other responsibilities sometimes intrude, but it's never impossible to carve out an hour in the morning. (If you're prepared to either sacrifice sleep — which I wouldn't recommend long-term — or go to bed a little earlier, anyway.) The goal is also to stop myself getting into the mindset of stopping at target — because I've noticed, if I leave my writing until last, I crank out the bare minimum of words only. Not good enough. I used to be able to write at about 1,000 words an hour on a good day, 500 on a slow day. I'm hoping that by writing first (and by writing for the entire hour no matter when in that hour I hit the daily target) I'll retrain myself out of the habit of stopping at target.

In practice, the idea's pretty simple: instead of coming home from work tired and scattered and wanting only to sleep, I write before going to work. Since I start at 8, this involves getting up quite early to get an hour's worth of writing in. The current plan is to be up and showered and at the desk by 6. So far I've always beat that by at least 5 minutes, but it was 20 minutes this morning.

I stick my iPod earphones in so my music doesn't disturb anyone, which also has the added bonus of keeping the world out. I keep the main light in the room off, and only have my desktop lamp on — that way I'm in a little island of light, cocooned by whatever playlist I've chosen, just me and the computer screen.

I don't have chat programs installed on my computer, but I do have FastCheck and SharpReader, to monitor my email account and my RSS feeds respectively. But I turn both of those off the night before, so that they're not blinking at me with things to read and check up on when I sit down to start writing in the morning. I'm just too easily distracted otherwise.

So far it's been going well: my body got used to the early start quickly enough and as soon as I sit down I'm into the writing. (Of course, the schedule went to hell in a handbasket with the trip to pick up the kittens, and I found myself writing later and later in the day and then, finally, running out of time on the very last day, too busy with caring for the travelling kitten. But I'm back into the routine as of this morning.)

Also, I've remembered something with this new schedule: I'm not a morning person, precisely, but neither is it when I'm at my lowest. My lowest is always afternoons, usually between 3 and 7 (but it can bleed out longer either side). I'm always wiped and lethargic, slow and best suited to methodical work rather than anything requiring brain juice. Those sorts of tasks are better left for morning, evening or night.

It really shouldn't be a surprise to me that you should structure a schedule around your own strengths, and yet it's one I manage to forget quite frequently anyway.

15 thoughts on “write first

  1. I noticed pikchoors of kitties. Max is such an adorable, I want to glomp him.

    On my 7am starts, I actually wake up about 11. At about 8, I have a hard time keeping my eyes open.

    On my 3pm starts, about 8pm I start getting bored…

    And on my days off, despite not getting to sleep till 3 the previous night, I wake up when everyone else gets up and can't get back to sleep. Evah.

  2. Yes, the kitty pics are up, I just haven't actually announced it officially. He's even cuter and more playful now that his brother is not around to push him away all the time.

    As soon as I saw the comment by you I remembered writing something about it being easy to carve out an hour in the morning and thought… well, except if you're on shiftwork like Tess, I suppose. Hey, congrats on the promotion too!

  3. Well done, Deb!

    I started the "write first" routine last week. It's a miracle really because I am not a morning person. But I was finding that I never had the energy to write at night plus I was so much more easily distracted (by the internet).

    So, I've got committed, am getting up around 6am. I'm starting about 6:15-6:25. I decided the word goal was a problem for me that was putting too much pressure on me and stressing me.

    Consequently I have a time goal. One hour. That's working much better for me. I know on a good day I can write 1000 words an hour (of fiction). But some days I only get 300-500.

    But the number isn't important to me. It's that I spent an hour dedicated to writing and am developing the writing habit.

    I have found that I have to go to bed earlier, but that don't matter, since I'm still up the same number of hours. And I'm productive one hour extra per day!

    What made me, a night person, think I could get up early? Daylight savings. Last October I was tired and messed up for a week or so when daylight savings started. It FINALLY dawned on me last week that the body really will adjust if I start getting up an hour earlier.

    My corner is the kitchen table, armed with a slice of toast and a coffee. Some mornings I've gone back to bed for 1/2 hr after writing. Currently I'm also writing longhand simply because I don't have a computer there. I also keep writing when the kids get up because I want to learn to write with distractions.

    I don't think the writing has been overly flash, but I'll fix that up in the second draft.

    All the best Deb, I'll be with you in spirit at 6am from now on.

  4. Oh, there you go being all smart and stuff again.

    I like the idea. I really do. And I can, actually, get up in the mornings. I see the wisdom. But golly…mornings…


    I'm so with you on afternoons. It seems like about 3-6pm I'm a pseudo-zombie. And when, as I have been this week, I have to be taking antihistamines, I'm almost completely dead.

  5. Chris: after last year and all its traumas, I found the idea of a wordcount target a lot of pressure too. I haven't given up on it entirely, but I have scaled it back to something more manageable for the meantime. And I'm also concentrating more on the time target: a minimum of one hour means at the very least that I'm writing every day, and getting back into that habit is the goal for this month. And yeah, it means going to bed earlier and the first few days, before the body has learnt to be tired early enough to actually go to bed on time, can be a little bit of a struggle. But much, much, much easier than trying to find the time to write when I'm jaded and depleted by the day. It's good to know I'm not the only person up at a ridiculous time of day to write! πŸ˜‰

    Greg: yeah, I hear you. Mornings can hurt. But strangely (and remember, I'm not a morning person at all — my clarion flatmates referred to me as the Zombie Queen because they've seen me before I've had my morning shower πŸ˜‰ ), I find they hurt much less than I thought. Writing while it's still dark out and I'm lit by the glow of the lamp and the computer screen, with music in my ears (and a new kitten purring on my lap) is absolutely fantastic.

  6. I never thought of myself as a morning person, either, but I've been doing the early-morning thing for nearly a year now, and it's working out okay. I get up at 5.50am and I'm at the desk by 6. Usually, I do my first drafts on a manual typewriter, so that I don't have the distraction of the damned broadband connect. Like I need better procrastination engines. I have negotiated a later start time at work, so if I'm really cooking I can squeeze in two and a half hours before having to get ready for work. Mostly I don't stick at it that long, though.

  7. Once I wrote for about seven hours, and cranked out 10,000 words. I felt rather burnt out the next few days, though! These days I'm writing at a slower rate, and the longest I can stick at writing without a break is about 4 hours. Any more than that and the 'jigging breaks' get more and more frequent.

  8. A typewriter, Andrew?!! I've been toying with the idea lately. How does it feel? Does it make you feel like a real writer? Do you scan and convert the pages to text?

  9. Check out my typewriter pages for why I love these machines:

    I've also just started an art project in 'typecasting': scanning bits of typewritten ephemera:

    I must confess, there's definitely a romance involved in using the typewriter. It's a different feel to using a computer keyboard, and I find I can build a better rhythm with it. Plus I just love using the machines, I get so much pleasure out of it on a physical level. That in itself is motivation to get out of bed most mornings.

    I re-key into the computer for editing. Computers are great for editing.

  10. Andrew, I got hold of an old manual Brother typewriter and am loving it. I am scanning the pages and OCRing them. Most folks wouldn't understand why I do this double handling, but I know you would. There's something special about using a typewriter – it makes me feel more like a real writer. Plus of course, there's no other programs on it to distract me! πŸ˜€

    Am thinking of getting an electric though, as the print quality of the manual is inconsistent which means more errors when OCRing.

    I am also finding my typing speed has dropped about 25% with the manual (compared to on a computer)

    But I love with the manual, the rhythm of the clacking of the keys and the sense of freedom not being bound to a powerpoint gives.

  11. Glad you liked the pages, and welcome to the typing family! Suffer no more the loveless touch of the computer, nor its electron bombardment. Welcome instead the smell of ink and solvents, and a fresh stack of copy paper on the left.

    The IBM Selectric that I own definitely produces the best type, clean and sharp. I prefer the feel of the manuals, though.

  12. There's something special about seeing your words instantly appear on paper. I think I'm a bit of a Luddite at heart (this despite working in IT for 20 years – or maybe because of it…)

    Selectric? They weigh a tonne don't they? But do have golf ball print heads? When did IBM stop making Selectrics? I remember when they were everywhere and as common in movies as Macs are today.

    I like the manual but am having trouble with the openness of the keyboard – sometimes my fingers miss altogether and lodge between the keys. :mrgreen:

  13. How you going with this Deb? I haven't missed a morning yet… although one or two were 8am. But I find 6am so much better.

    I know I shouldn't be surpriseed, but incredibly, I have made huge inroads into the book I am working on. I've also learnt that – although I like to write freely – I will benefit by planning more.

    anyway, good luck "see" ya at 6am.

  14. Hey Chris! As you can see from the time of this comment, I'm not doing too badly at all πŸ˜‰ Although the new kitten is proving a problematic addition to the routine: he wakes me up at 5 every morning without fail (who needs an alarm clock?), but on the other hand if I'm not careful he keeps me awake quite late into the night as well, so I'm pretty soggy at wake-up.

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