How I Write: Why I Wake Up at 5:30 AM and Talk to My Studio Walls

Writers love quotes about writing like rappers love singing about opulence. Here's another one of my favorites:

"I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp." - Somerset Maugham

There's a debate on who that quote should be credited to, either Faulkner or Maugham, but the sentiment is what to focus on. In order to find the muse, we need to have the proper rituals. Tim Ferriss refers to his rituals as his "launch sequence." To get the rocket in to orbit, to win the day, you need to have a routine to follow otherwise you"ll just wander life hoping for the best. The path to success is paved with discipline. 

Here's my routine:

The Prep (5:30 AM - 6:30 AM)

5:30 AM – My alarm chimes. I use this dedicated alarm clock because if you rely on your phone to wake you up, you’re likely to check your texts, social media, and emails – all the things you’ll have plenty of time to be weighed down by later in the day. Sleep studies also show that the harmful waves coming off your phone can affect your REM.

5:30 AM – 5:40 AM – Turn on my lights. Brush my teeth. Light three candles (a mix from Target and Anthropologie). Make a cup of tea (either earl grey or green). Open my laptop. My wi-fi is on a digital timer so it shuts itself off at night and doesn’t turn back on until 10:00 AM. The internet is a distraction and another wireless signal that affects your sleep patterns.

5:40 AM – 6:10 AM – Write a daily entry in my Day One Journal similar to the “morning pages” mentioned by Julia Cameron in “The Artist’s Way.” I do a thought dump to clear my mind of the neurosis du jour. I get the words flowing out of me so I can “hit the ground running” when it comes time to write. My journal includes my daily schedule, positive affirmations, five things that I’m grateful for, and a visualization technique.

6:10 AM - 6:30 AM – Meditate using either Buddhify or a guided meditation from Tara Brach (as recommended by Maria Popova from Brain Pickings).

The Writing (6:30 AM - 9:45 AM)

6:30 AM – 6:45 AM – I put on a pot of coffee and if I'm writing my western novel, I light this candle that I first purchased in Jackson, Wyoming. While I'm waiting for the coffee to brew, I talk to my muse. This is the abstract part. Keep in mind that I’m not a religious man. The muse isn’t inside of you. You listening Kanye? The muse is a being, an entity, that helps you create and you have to pay homage to her every day. If you want to know more, watch my favorite TED Talk from Elizabeth Gilbert called “Your Elusive Creative Genius.”

On my chalkboard wall, I have scribbled “The Invocation of the Muse.” I read this out loud. This is the same prayer to the angels that Steven Pressfield mentioned in my favorite book on writing, that I recommend for all creatives, “The War of Art.” If I'm writing my novel, then I talk to my muse about where I am in the book and ask where she thinks the story should go next. If I get a response, I go with it -- even if I don't think it's going to work. I just write it.

6:45 AM – 9:45 AM  - Now I write. I write in highly focused 45-minute intervals as policed by this red timerThen I take a brief break, but not long enough to mess up my rhythm. You’re never more efficient/focused than when you’re on the clock as demonstrated by The Pomodoro Technique. If I need to scribble notes analog, I have my favorite brand of pen handy. A writer needs the proper pen like a samurai needs his sword. While writing I play Claude Debussy's "Clair De Lune" on repeat.

9:45 AM - I'm done. Time to make breakfast. Even if what I wrote that morning was rubbish or brilliant, I don’t dwell on it, because I did my part. I showed up. And I know that tomorrow morning will be another battle.

I have no sympathy for anyone that says "I don't have time to write." The same goes for people that say "I don't have time to date" or "I don't have time to go to the gym." We all have the same hours in the day and you will make time for things that you make a priority. I've beaten NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month challenge, three separate times. I discovered that it was the easiest to beat, when I was working as a full-time paramedic, because I was forced to be efficient. I woke up at 4 AM to write, because I made it my priority to do so, and I don't let anything or anyone jeopardize what's important to me.

"Be ruthless about protecting your writing days." - JK Rowling

My muse wakes up at 5:30 in the morning no matter what I did the night before, so I better be ready for her. I do this routine five times a week and I still fail at it constantly. But sitting down and doing it 80% of the time is better than never writing at all. One foot in front of the other and you’ll eventually make it to the top of the mountain. Now sit down and write.