Writing In the Morning: How to Create Perfect Routine

Discover the benefits of writing in the morning and how to create the perfect daily routine.

Would you like to wake up early? For years, I was a night owl. I wrote in the evening or late at night. I enjoyed the idea of writing into the wee small hours with only Frank Sinatra, the moon, and the blank page for company.

But, a job and the demands of family life make it difficult to write at the end of the day or late at night. For me, it wasn’t practical to write past midnight and then get up the next day, go to work at my full-time job, and function with a family.

I struggled with rising early and wondered if I’d ever become a morning person. Then, I read about the daily routines of many creatives I admire. I found many of them like waking up early, including the composer Ludwig Van Beethoven, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and authors like Haruki Murakami, Ernest Hemingway and Kurt Vonnegut.

Haruki Murakami
I found many of them like waking up early, including Haruki Murakami

Famous Early Morning Writers

Ernest Hemingway

Well-known early morning writers include Ernest Hemingway, Dan Brown and Kurt Vonnegut. A few years ago, I attended an event where Dan Brown spoke about his daily routine. He said he gets up at four am every morning to write his thrillers and fiction because that time of the day is free of distractions. Vonnegut and Hemingway both rose around five to five thirty am most days to work on their novels. Hemingway said about his early morning writing:

“When I am working on a book or a story, I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.”

Julia Cameron famously advocates for rising early to engage in long-form stream of consciousness writing in her book The Miracle of Morning Pages. She writes:

“Each morning, as we face the page, we meet ourselves. The pages give us a place to vent and a place to dream. They are intended for no eyes but our own.”

The American philosopher and psychologist William James was another advocate of a consistent routine. He said:

“The great thing, then, in all education, is to make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and to guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the plague.”

1. Write Down Your Ideal Morning Writing Routine

Thinking through an ideal morning on paper will help you visualize your day and increase your chances of avoiding procrastination first thing

Here’s mine: meditate for twenty minutes, brew coffee, engage in a writing session for at least one hour, and record ten ideas. After that, I make breakfast and get the kids up for school.

Although your ideal morning routine may not look like this, it’s useful to consider what you want to accomplish after waking. Do you want to engage in brainstorming, write some early morning pages, edit an article, outline a book chapter or simply engage in writing practice?

The good news is it’s easier to make time for writing at the start of the day as you’re less likely to become distracted by email, social media, the news, work and other distractions. If you need help, consider free writing about your early morning routine.

2. Prepare Your Writing the Night Before

Before bed, consider what you want to write the next morning. Read through the previous day’s work. Leave your notes, drafts and other writing tools. Open up your writing app and queue the day’s music. I sometimes also like leaving a Post-It note on my keyboard containing a prompt about creative work or what to write first.

When you get up, starting a writing session is much easier if everything is in front of you. Writing down what you will write the next day primes your subconsciousness to work on the idea even when you’re asleep. If you need some inspiration for your morning routine, check out the blog My Morning Routine.

3. Pick A Target Time for Waking Up Early

If you set your alarm clock for four AM tomorrow morning, you may get up, but you’ll be exhausted and unlikely to repeat this heroic feat of endurance the following day.

It’s not much fun getting up at dawn and then fumbling through the day with only four or five hours of sleep. Instead, set your alarm clock for half an hour earlier than your normal time. The following day, set your alarm for 45 minutes earlier than your normal rising time. And so on.

Like pennies gradually filling a jar, these small incremental gains will help you reach your desired rising time and become an early riser. 

Pick an ideal time to wake up based on work and family commitments. For example, if you work a nine to five job, rising at five am or six could work. However, if you work shifts, you may need to adapt to this rising time.

My ideal rising time is half five. If I rise any earlier, I’m too exhausted to function during the day. If I wake any later than six AM, I’m running behind, or I don’t have enough time to write before the working day begins. My target rising time enables me to make time for distractions and interruptions.

4 . Create Your Sleep Schedule

You set an alarm clock for getting up, so why not one for going to bed? You can easily create the ideal sleep schedule with various apps including the inbuilt clock app on the Apple iPhone and Android phones. They’ll determine what time you should go to bed at to achieve the optimal amount of sleep, based on your target rising time.

I set an alarm clock for 21.30. Once this alarm clock goes off, I stop checking emails, using my computer, drinking caffeine, and doing anything else that will keep me up late. The clock app on Apple iPhone includes a setting that will give an ideal bedtime based on waking up early.

I also recommend using a sleep tracker, like a Garmin Watch, Whoop, or Fitbit, so that you can track your sleep cycle for a few weeks.

5. Follow a Wind-Down Ritual

It’s hard for night-owls to get into the habit of falling asleep at an earlier time of day than usual. That’s where a good wind-down or nighttime routine can help.

When you receive a notification about going to bed, it’s time to reduce exposure to screens, avoid heavy meals and engage in relaxing activities like meditation or reading.

The blue light glare of a computer screen stimulates the brain and makes it harder to fall asleep. If you must work late in front of a screen, consider investing in a pair of blue light glasses. According to a 2017 study by The University of Houston, they can increase melatonin production by 58%.

I also like leaving an alarm in a different bedroom from where I sleep. When an alarm goes off first thing, I have to get out of bed and go into the other room to turn it off. The act of moving makes it harder to press the snooze button or roll over and go back to sleep. The simple act of moving will mitigate feeling groggy too.

I sometimes set a second quieter alarm clock in the bedroom to avoid waking others up. After a few days, your body will begin to adjust to this new routine and it should become easier to fall asleep and wake up in the morning.

6. Use Caffeine… Sparingly

A cup of coffee in the morning can jumpstart your day better than any energy drink. It’s tempting to start consuming more coffee when you first start waking early. However, avoid drinking multiple cups of coffee throughout the day, as you’ll find it harder to sleep.

If you drink coffee in the afternoon, trace amounts of caffeine will stay in your system until well into the late night and impact sleep quality. Switch to low-caffeine or caffeine-free drinks after mid-day. If you need to restore energy levels, take a 20-minute nap at lunch, at least until your body adapts.

7. Get Into a State of Creative Flow

Investing in a set of noise-cancelling headphones is a fantastic way of enjoying a writing session, particularly one at dawn. You can use it to listen to ambient or lyric-free music, which will help you get into a state of creative flow faster. In that state, all sense of time and effort fades away and it becomes easier to write a difficult first draft. You’re far more likely to do your best writing in this mental state.

For help finding this type of lyric-free music, check out the Flow State Substaack newsletter. Headphones (or earplugs if you’re on a budget) will also block out distractions like other people getting up and going about their day.

8. Track Your Progress

It’s easier to create a good habit if you know what works and doesn’t and how close you are to realizing this habit. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day on your new early morning schedule.

For the first few weeks, I recorded when I got up, how long I slept, and when I went to bed. I found out that checking email and social media late at night is bad because I find it hard to sleep afterwards.

I recommend using Jerry Seinfeld’s Don’t Break the Chain system. It’s a good habit formation strategy that anyone can easily apply. Each day you wake up early, mark an X through today’s date. Your job is to build a chain of Xs and avoid breaking this chain. For more, check out our writing productivity guide.

The Final Word On Early Morning Writing Habit

Many writers wake up early because their mornings are usually distraction-free and quiet. These hours are also ideal for working on creative projects like a book, a blog or writing morning pages.

You don’t need to be an early bird to start waking up at dawn. It takes practice and some self-discipline. Maintaining consistent circadian rhythms helps. A circadian rhythm refers to your sleeping and waking cycle. Consistent early morning risers go to bed and rise at the same time every day, including at the weekends.

My morning routine varies. I don’t get up early every day, 365 days a year. I sleep late at least one day at the weekend, and there are times when it’s not possible or practical to get up at six AM because of the demands of the previous day.

I accept these days for what they are (a time to rest or sleep) instead of seeing them as setbacks on my journey towards creating an ideal morning writing routine. It takes a little time to shift a sleep cycle from working and rising late to rising early.

I told a friend once when you find writing time in the morning, “you give the best of yourself to yourself.” He laughed. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it’s harder to work on what matters if you’re feeling physically and mentally exhausted from work or day-to-day life.

But what if you are more creative at night? If you’re happy with your late-night writing process, stick with what works. Tharp sums this up in her book, The Creative Habit.

“In the end, there is no ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself.”

Writing in the Morning FAQs

How can I force myself to wake up early?

During the day avoid caffeine. Stop working in front of a screen after your evening meal. If possible, go to bed at a reasonable hour and read for a little bit, ideally a paperback. Lay out your clothes and set an alarm in a different room from where you sleep. The first morning will feel challenging, but rising early will become more natural after a few days.

Is it good to wake up early?

If you want more time to work, meditate, exercise, write or work on personal projects that cultivate your well-being, waking up early is a good habit to create. You’ll have more free time to work on what matters rather than other people’s priorities. Waking up early also means you’re more likely to feel energised and fresh.

Is writing in the morning good?

Writing in the morning is good because that time of the day is usually quieter and free of distractions. Prolific early morning writers often say they can get their best work done before lunch as they have more physical and mental energy. It’s also an ideal writing time if you’re balancing the creative process with a full-time job.

What should I write every morning?

Deciding what to write every morning depends on whether you’re a blogger, podcaster, author, or freelance writer. Usually, it’s a good idea to work on your most important creative project and hit a target word count or milestone for the day. That way, you’ll accomplish the hardest task of the day first thing. You could also try writing early morning pages, whereby you engage in long-form stream of consciousness writing by hand.

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