The Slow Evolution Of A Morning Writing Habit
Despite often mentioning my morning writing habit, I’ve never explained how it evolved. Here’s the story.
I write every morning. Or at least six times a week. It’s my most important creative habit. And central to everything I do.
Before I Had A Morning Writing Habit
In high school, I was good at writing – when I did it. But I was a terrible student, with chaotic habits. I did homework when – if – I remembered. I made it to university but struggled. Studying in order to get a job felt like a terrible deal and playing in bands was a lot more fulfilling.
Returning to full-time study in my mid-twenties, I was a lot more focussed. But my first essays were crap. And their grades reflected that.
Then I started looking at the top students’ writing. Not to copy their work, but to understand how they wrote, structured and formatted their essays. Then I did the same with journal articles.
Academia was just another game. If I could learn to play sports, or guitar, then I could learn to write essays. There’s no magic involved. Literature and poetry are art forms. But the kind of writing required to get High Distinctions or A+ grades doesn’t involve any sorcery.
So, I became a better writer, but my writing habits were still chaotic.
I’d learnt to use a calendar, so I remembered when things were due. Mostly. But I was still writing at all hours of the day and night, often printing essays minutes before they were due to be submitted.
I’d love to say that by the time I was doing my PhD I was much better. But I was late once to an important conference presentation because my computer crashed as I was packing up to go, meaning I lost the paper I’d stayed up all night working on.
It Started With This Blog
I started this blog in 2004 after quitting academia. IL I was looking for a different way to write and a different way to be in the world. It was then that the writing habit started to evolve.
In the early days, I wrote straight into the tiny editing window in WordPress. Sometimes I’d publish, then the connection would drop out, thanks to the dodgy ISDN connection in the farmhouse, and I’d lose a whole unsaved blogpost. My writing habit, if you could call it that, was still sporadic and stressful.
Once my daughter started pre-school, I noticed there was a peaceful moment every morning. We were living in Delhi at the time, and the mornings were often the coolest and calmest time of the day. With my child safely out of the house for a few hours and my wife at work, I had some time I could use any way I wanted. At first it was just a couple of days a week. But taking a hour to write before tackling the rest of the day’s responsibilities quickly became a habit.
For the first time in my life, I started to enjoy writing.
The regular cadence of those morning writing sessions helped me think more clearly about what I wanted to write and how I wanted to write. I wrote with a distraction-free writing app called WriteRoom. Then I migrated to Scrivener and learned the drafting process I use today.
The Writing Habit Takes Shape
By the time we’d swapped the Delhi farmhouse for a Hong Kong high-rise, I was writing most mornings. The blog was starting to attract an audience by then. My daughter’s school bus left at 6.55 am, and we’d take turns walking her to the bus stop. But no shops or cafes were open at that time, and no one I knew (apart from my wife) started work that early. So I would go back to the apartment, open up a document, and start writing. It was an hour until my favorite espresso bar opened, so I’d earn that cup of coffee by putting down some words.
These days, there’s no favourite coffee shop nearby. But I still write every morning. Or at least I try to – as a goal, 100% is easier than 98%. It ends up being six days a week. Enough for 59,041 words so far this year. Almost of them straight after breakfast, before email or social media, and with a fresh cup of coffee as the reward.