why I’m getting up at 4am

business-suited man, flying, next to the words, 'leap into the void'This blog entry has been waiting for three days for me to post it — I get up and do other writing, focus on this book that I’m growing, that I’m, what, that I’m finding the seeds for, letting coalesce through short writes, shitty first drafts (yes thank you Anne Lamott). I’m aware that much of what I’m writing now won’t be in any final draft. That’s ok. May be much of it is groundwork, backstory, allowing me to learn the characters and their lives. They are introducing themselves to me. This is a kind of intimacy.

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Don’t forget that the early bird registration (a 30% discount) for the fall writing workshops (Write Whole and Declaring Our Erotic) ends tomorrow, 9/1! Sign up and join us!

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It’s a quiet Monday morning here where I am, except for some strange mechanical noise that just started up outside. This morning when the alarm went off at 4:10, I woke up alert, and have had about two hours just for writing. It’s amazing, this forefronting of the writing work.

A friend, when I told him about my new schedule, rising at 4 or close to, going to bed by 9, he reminded me of what Natalie Goldberg said about committing to writing: “Know that you will eventually have to leave everything behind; the writing will demand it of you. Bareboned, you are on the path with no markers, only the skulls of those who never made it back – over and over again.”

The quote is from Thunder and Lightning, her book that helps folks who have been using a freewriting practice for many years learn to harness and direct that energy. I’m rereading it now, because what I’m doing now with this morning writing practice is different from any regular writing routine I’ve ever had. I wake up each day, brush my teeth, make my tea, turn on the computer, open up the book I’m working on, reread the previous days’ writings, and then begin again on the next or another section of that same book.

This wasn’t something I thought I had the capacity to do. For all the years that I’ve been writing, I’ve put myself in front of my notebook and let whatever wants to come out, come out. Sometimes I have an idea of what I want to work on, a story for a particular call for submissions or something I’ve been asked to write, but the vast majority of the time, I have no direction. I spent all those years just learning to trust my writing voice, learning to pay attention to what wants to get written. Now I’m asking my writing practice to be more consistently directed —

What motivated me to start this new schedule, though, was re-reading “5:00 AM: Writing as Ritual” in Judith Ortiz Cofer’s The Latin Deli (you can preview the chapter at that link, but you should buy your own copy!)

She writes:

An act of will that changed my life from that of a frustrated artist, waiting to have a room of my own and an independent income before getting down to business, to that of working writer: I decided to get up two hours before my usual time, to set my alarm for 5:00 AM.

In this short chapter,  Cofer describes her morning quiet time, sipping her coffee while waiting for the computer to boot up, reareading the previous day’s work and then diving into the next section, all in the quiet dark before her family awoke and she was presented with the needs of the day. She put her writing, her writing work, first. I read this earlier in the month and thought, Yes, please.

That’s why I’m getting up at 4AM these days.

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Is there some dream that has been on your backburner for years, simmering and patient? Want to write about that this morning? Give yourself 10 minutes, write out what it would look like to let that dream take center stage, take a big and important chunk of your day. How would you change? How would your days change? Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go!

Thanks for your patience, your persistence, your joy. Thank you, always, for your words-

2 responses to “why I’m getting up at 4am

  1. so inspiring, Jen! your language around the characters introducing themselves really resonates. thank you for your words (:

  2. Jen- thanks for sharing this important work you are doing in such a way that we who read your words can pay attention and be inspired and see each step you take. And congratulations for doing it!
    <3