Here are my five rules for effective morning writing–how to get myself to the page and into the zone of writing without fail.
One: Prep my coffee maker the night before.
I wake up to the earthy scent of freshly brewed coffee. At 5:45 a.m., I walk into the kitchen, pour rich, brown coffee into my cup, add half and half, and stir. Morning coffee is a central part of my routine with or without writing, but coffee is an ally as a morning writer, bringing me warmth, comfort, and a jolt of energy to dive in.
Two: Find a group of people to write with over Zoom.
I’ve been trying for months to get up and write. Before I found my write-in group through The Narrative Project, I’d get that cup of coffee and read…the news (I have to stay informed during a pandemic, don’t I?), a self-help book (usually about how to get my butt in the chair and write), or fiction (I can’t write if I don’t read). But when I started with the write-in group, I stepped into old, familiar skin. Writing with other people keeps me from checking email or surfing the net. Instead, I inhabit my Writer-Self.
Three: Connect with my main character.
Whether writing memoir or fiction, I close my eyes, think of a character, and imagine myself slipping into their skin, the way I’ve seen ghosts glide into a host body in the movies. After a few beats of breathing as this character, I wait for the scene to emerge—whatever scene I that needs to be written that day. I trust the character will support me to describe the scene, evoke feelings, share inner thoughts, and pull in a thread of two that runs through the book.
Four: Write Messy.
About ten years ago I attended a day-long writing workshop with Tara Mohr, a few years before she started her Playing Big program. While at her workshop, I discovered that I write like I cook. When I cook, I clean as I go. I put dirty dishes in the sink and put away left-over ingredients, spice jars, olive oil, or utensils that have served their purpose. While the meal is cooking, I clean the dishes. I like to write the same way: tidy. I don’t like the squiggly red line under misspelled words, unfinished thoughts, or re-reading an awkward sentence, even if it conveyed the message it needed to. I discovered this tendency to clean up and edit as I go is timewaster and bumps me out of my flow. Now, I allow my writing to be messy. There’s plenty of time to clean it up later.
Five: Trust the Process.
I’ve worked hard at being a Planner, but I’m a Panster by nature. Writing to my outline is all well and good, but I trust whatever my character gives me. If I veer away from my outline, I trust that I need to write that. The other day I was stuck in my morning writing. I closed my eyes and asked my character for help. He told me we needed to have a conversation. I opened a bank sheet of paper and talked to him—on the page. At the end of the conversation, he outlined three new scenes he thought I should add to my outline. When I say “trust the process,” I’m really saying Trust Myself. After all, that’s where all this is coming from, isn’t it?
The Narrative Project coach, Colleen Haggerty, is the author of A Leg to Stand On, An Amputee’s Walk Into Motherhood. She is also a contributor to four anthologies: The Spirit of a Woman, He Said What, Dancing at the Shame Prom, and Beyond Belief. She is a motivational speaker who presented at TEDxBellingham. You can read her blog at www.colleenhaggerty.com.