How To Show Up Every Day: The 5AM Challenge

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.

– Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough For Love

They say the secret to writing – to anything important, really – is to just show up every day. That’s why some advice I came across late last year about forming habits instead of making resolutions made a heap of sense to me. Thus far, I’ve started a daily exercise habit that’s slowly building up my muscles.

That, though, has been the lead up to the habit I really need to form – writing. When it comes to writing, I always seem to have reason to be guilty about being neglectful. If I don’t write, I’m not, you know, writing. I’m neglecting my calling. But if I’m writing, I’m taking time away from housework, from gardening, from Vickie, the woman I love.

Yet I have to find some time to write somewhere, right? I’ve only got so much time in my day, haven’t I? Where can I make some time where I can safely put all the other stuff aside without interruption and let something fall out of the ends of my fingers?

A lot of writers whose blogs I subscribe to reckon they’d found the answer: Get up earlier.

I thought this was nuts. I already get up at around six just to make sure I’m excercised, breakfasted, dressed, packed and ready to be out the door at seven thirty. Besides, if I got up earlier I’d have to make sure I was in bed earlier. How much more time was I going to have to spend away from Vickie?

A few weeks ago, I thought I’d found a better alternative: Changing my commute. Driving to and from work is probably my biggest time sink; for around forty minutes each trip I can’t do anything except maybe listen, and now that my iPod’s car radio adapter is buggered I can’t even listen to writing podcasts any more.

So I started taking the bus. At first, it was great – I get two three-quarters-of-an-hour chunks each day where I can just sit and work on what I need to.

Then school came back in; instead of getting me to work at 8:20, the bus was getting me there at 8:35 – late. Then I put a couple of stints in on the reception desk, where I had to start at eight, so back to the car. Then I took a week’s leave; no bus, no writing. And after laying out for some major garden expenses this week, I’m taking the car again (petrol is ten dollars a week cheaper than bus fares).

Basically, I can’t rely on having those extra chunks of time every day – and maybe I shouldn’t when they’re not the best suited to writing anyway. I have enough trouble opening the proverbial vein when I’m not in a noisy can making hard turns through the back streets of the Cairns southern suburbs (which means I spend half the time making sure my netbook doesn’t go all over the place).

(Side note: Will I go back to driving? Probably not – noisy and uncomfy though the bus is, it’s a good chance to either brainstorm or even read. That late-start issue is a problem, though.)

And I want to rely on having that time, time where I can axe the excuses and not worry about interruptions (especially ones I should be paying attention to, like the woman I love wanting to talk with me) and write. I want to trust that I’ll keep showing up every day to create something that wasn’t there yesterday.

So on Sunday night, I bit the bullet and set my alarm for 5AM. To my surprise I didn’t just re-set it for six when it went off on Monday morning; I got up, dragged myself into the front room, turned on my computer and brainstormed a list of blog post ideas for a freelance client. Monday night, I took one of the headlines and created a first draft of a blog post.

I gave the 5AM start another shot on Tuesday. Instead of writing, I listened to an interview I recorded a couple of weeks ago and made some notes on what I needed to do to turn it into the next episode of my podcast.

And on Wednesday, I was up before dawn once again to rattle off the first draft of the blog post you’re reading now.

Things fell over on Thursday; I gave in and re-set my alarm, but only dozed until just before six, when the dogs decided I was to get up and feed them. But today, I resumed the 5AM Challenge by creating the second draft of this post.

I will confess that I neglected my exercise habit today due to the overwhelming urge to Keep Writing, but driving to work gives me two extra twelve-minute walks in my day (another irony – not only is public transport more expensive but I get less exercise) so I’m not going to stress.

Tomorrow brings the weekend on, though. Do I continue the habit on with the extra benefit of more writing time before Vickie getus up? Will getting up at, say, six instead be enough of a shift to make 5AM starts next week more of a hassle?

I’ll let you know how I do. So far, though, I’m enjoying the productivity boost that The 5AM Challenge is giving me – and my evenings with Vickie don’t seem to have suffered as a result.

But what about you?

Have you already started your own 5AM Challenge? What do you do in your extra time?

If you haven’t:

  • How do you make sure you do what you need to every day, especially if you’re working on something outside the bounds of your day job?
  • What would you do with another hour in your day?