Every morning, at 4:40 am, I wake up, get my coffee and sit down at my desk to write. Except my brain is still not quite awake yet, so I scroll through my twitter feed, read some blogs, or the Washington Post as I sip my coffee to ease myself into the day.
At 5:30 am, I force myself to put the phone away on the opposite side of the room, and that's when the writing really happens. I'm a morning person. This is the hour is when my mind feels the sharpest. I'll get steadily stupider as the day goes on, but right then, I feel like I know exactly what I want to say and how to say it.
At 6:40 am, I close my laptop and race around the house to get ready for work, because I really should have stopped at ten minutes earlier if I wanted to avoid getting stuck behind the school bus on my way to work.
It's my routine and it works. I average about 900-1000 words a day, which I'm very happy with, BUT, because I'm descended from puritans, I always feel some lingering guilt because I know I could have been writing since 4:40 and doubled my word count as a result.
It doesn't matter that I really enjoy my coffee/reading time. It doesn't matter that I still get results I'm pleased with. 4:40-5:30 am is still a non-productive segment of my day and I always feel like it's something I need to fix.
So I tried something new this week. Instead of reading my twitter feed and descending into the rabbit hole of longform article links, I left my phone in the bedroom, pounded my coffee, and sat down to meditate. If I needed the time to wake up, then I figured the least I could do was attain inner peace.
I use the Take10 method described in the book, Get Some Headspace, which I reviewed here. You spend 5 minutes doing a mindful check on your body, how you feel, from head to toe. Then you spend the next ~5 minutes clearing your mind by focusing on your breathing.
I really enjoy doing this. It does make me feel more relaxed and chill afterwards. But a funny thing happened after I finished meditating and opened my laptop.
I stared at the screen and not a single word came to mind. I'd left my story in mid-scene from the day before so I knew exactly what should happen next, but for the life of me I could not puts words on the page to make that happen.
And that kind of makes sense, right? I'd just spent the previous 10 minutes pushing thoughts and memories out of my head so I could focus on my present state. I'd made myself go very quiet, and then out of this vacuum I asked myself to verbalize a story. What was I expecting to happen? By 6:40 that day, I'd only eked out a hundred words and that was painful going. Post-meditation, I felt physically and emotionally well, but I also seemed to have forgotten half my vocabulary and how to write a coherent sentence.
So although I recommend meditation if you suffer from busy-brain and constant, low-level anxiety like I do, I cannot recommend you do it just before you write. There might be something to those theories; that an element of self-loathing and craziness may be necessary if you want to write fiction. Maybe the tortured artist cliche is true. Maybe you need strife in order to create fictional conflict.
The next day I went back to my coffee and reading routine, and despite those "wasted" 50 minutes, my word count shot back up to ~1000 when I started writing again.
My need to optimize every minute of the day is partially just who I am, but it's also because there are so many things I want to do and there's never enough time. Even so, I clearly need those mental breaks, and I need to stop feeling guilty for taking them. They're important. It goes against my nature to admit that, but it's true. You have to let your brain wander sometimes. Meditation is good, but I'm not sure clearing my mind of every worry and memory is conducive to writing good fiction.
Do you meditate? Have you noticed any effect, good or bad, on your writing?
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