I’m so pleased to introduce you to first-time guest, Keivon Liburd! Keivon is an author, children’s pastor, and educator in Austin, Texas. Married with two boys, Keivon writes so that underrepresented kids, especially young Black boys and girls, can see themselves in every type of story imaginable. He is also the co-founder of HitPitch, a up and coming tool that matches writers to beta-readers, agents, and more!
This is a post Therese asked Keivon to write for WU after he tweeted about steps he’d taken to successfully forge the wake-early-to-write habit. With life’s lines blurring so drastically right now–working from home, working with kids at home, etc–it might be more important than ever to consider establishing an untouchable set of minutes on the daily for your writing. And we’ve heard how magic the morning hours can be, so let’s consider it!
7 Ways to Make Early Morning Writing a Reality
Early Morning? You’ve got to be kidding me? Now, I know that’s what many of you are saying, but hear me out. This can work for you. Everyone wants to finish their next novel, but talking about finishing is so much easier than actually finishing. This was my issue.
The date was December 1, 2018. I was one day removed from participating in NaNoWriMo. I started a new manuscript called Chasing Lincoln, and was really excited about this fresh endeavor. Although I didn’t hit my 50K word goal for the month, I did get to 38K or so. In my mind, I could keep pushing through and be done by December 31st or maybe late January 2019 at the latest.
***Spoiler Alert: I wasn’t done by January.
Actually I wasn’t done by March, May, or even December 2019. Sometimes, life simply gets in the way. But you know what? That’s reality for most of us. We have jobs, we have friends, we have kids, we have pets, we have a lot of life outside of writing. Yet we love writing so much!
I tried to write at night but I can’t tell you how many times my wife nudged me after seeing a trail of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzs on my laptop. I tried writing at lunchtime, but I never got into a good flow in between bites of leftover spaghetti. December 2019 spilled into January 2020, and although I was determined to finish this book, I just couldn’t find the time.
Then I got an email from my good friend, Daron K. Roberts. He writes weekly “Life Letters” that inspire people to follow after their dreams and goals. This one was titled, “Write the Damn Book Already.” Well that got my attention. Daron writes non-fiction and said that he completed his book by getting up at 4 am every morning and going to a 24-hour coffee shop where he put pen to paper 6 days a week.
For some reason, this hit me square in the jaw. I have to get up early to get this book done. I realized that early mornings were the only times that were truly mine. A time where my family was in dreamland and I had no responsibilities. The only time where I wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel. My only problem: I was already up way past my bedtime. At the rate I was going, I was getting to bed at 11:59pm. There was no way I could get up at 5:30… so then I thought, Maybe I can start in two days.
But everyone with a plan knows it doesn’t work like that. If you can make an excuse for one day you can make it for the next. So, I decided right then and there that I was waking up the next morning at 5:15 – no matter what. Consequences be damned. And you know what? The next day I got up, and the day after that, and the day after that.
How did I do it? I’m glad you asked because guess what? You can do it too.
- Get accountability. That first night, I told my wife that I was going to get up in the morning, no matter what. You can tell your spouse, your partner, your best friend, or the #writingcommunity on social media—there’s a #5amwritersclub hashtag on Twitter. I have found that people not only hold you accountable, many times they will join in as well. (True story, three people joined me over Twitter early the next day.)
- Set alarms for the entire week. I immediately set my alarm for Monday through Friday at 5:15am with a backup alarm at 5:20. I knew that I wasn’t going to get a lot of sleep but I needed to be prepared to go to bed earlier the rest of the week. This would help me stay on track.
- Set up your writing space. You have to remove every excuse at 5 am. If you have to go look for your laptop or change a lightbulb or find your power cable, it can mess up your morning. Some of us have a place where we love to write. Make that your everyday spot. It’s ok to move around a few times to get it right, but create a place where you regularly go to get inspired. Alternatively, some people like to go somewhere else to minimize distractions. If you feel like you’ll be distracted at home, get out the house. Guys, I have to admit that I failed this one. I thought that I would get up and go to Starbucks and work. When I got up in the morning, my body pushed back on the idea of driving somewhere, but I was determined to not go back to bed. So, I went to my guest room. All we had in it was a bed and a chair. I slumped into that chair and started writing. This was going to be my new spot. The next day my wife and I moved a small desk into that room and it became my writing home.
- Adjust your sleep schedule. Getting to bed at the right time is crucial. I suggest getting into a routine for the same time each night. I know that I need around 7 hours of sleep, so 10:30 is the absolute last moment that I want my head hitting the pillow. And that’s with the lights out and going to sleep, not lying in bed watching Netflix. I went to bed late that first night but that was enough motivation to fix my bedtime for the rest of the week.
- Heed the bell(s). When your alarm goes off, get out of bed. Do not hit snooze, do not roll over, do not tell yourself you are getting more sleep. Immediately get up and walk to your bathroom, wash your face, take a shower—do whatever you’ve got to do to get your body moving. As soon as I turn off my alarm, I swing my feet over the edge of my bed and get to it. There have been a handful of times in the past year where I hit my alarm and haven’t gotten up. That’s what the backup is for. If, somehow, I blow past 5:15, the 5:20 alarm will let me know that I have to immediately get out of bed.
- Don’t look at your phone. This may seem impossible but it’s a part of getting to your writing. Do. Not. Check. Your. Phone. Once you start looking, you’ll get bombarded by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and LinkedIn. Just stay away until you have at least typed out your first sentence. Trust me on this one!
- Sink into your chair, grab that laptop—or yellow legal pad if you’re old school—and start writing. As usual, it doesn’t matter if it’s good or not. Your job is to get started and create a habit. For day one, aim for an hour of writing and see if you can extend it as you get better at waking up. As you go about your day, you will feel more accomplished and ready to tackle what’s ahead of you. Plus, I have found that starting off my day with my manuscript keeps it alive all day. Throughout the day, I’ll have fits of inspiration that are a direct result of working on my book earlier in the day. Waking up early has also boosted my confidence and helped me finish my second manuscript, which now has an agent. But I would have never finished it without this routine.
Bonus tip: You will have a day where you will fail. Don’t beat yourself up. You’ll hit that alarm. You’ll roll over, you’ll listen to all the reasons why you shouldn’t get up. That’s fine. Just commit to never letting it happen two days in a row. If you get right back on that horse, you’ll never feel defeated.
Feel free to hit me up for more tips and advice at @AuthorKLBurd on Twitter. I’m looking forward to seeing you at 5am.
Morning writers, how did you make your habit stick?
Have a different routine that works for you, with tips you’d like to share? The floor is yours.