Lately I’ve been feeling I can only write at 5:30 in the morning. Well, sometimes on these long summer days when we stay up with the sun late into the evening and the rest of the house sleeps until 8:00, I hit the snooze and don’t get out of bed until closer to 6. But I do love the quiet early morning house and starting the day putting words on a blank computer screen. I feel I’ve accomplished something in my bathrobe, before showering and breakfast. Before the day has really begun. The house is cold in the morning, and that is helpful too. It keeps me alert and slightly uncomfortable. With just a cup of tea slowly filling my belly, my brain is sharper, less hindered by the things that will fill it as the hours of the day go by.
I started this habit of waking up at 5:30 to write months ago—last fall or early winter, when the mornings were dark, and I worried that my kids would see the light on in my office and decide that it was time for them to wake up too. But now there’s enough light coming in at the window that I don’t need to flip the switch. And there’s something about the morning time, about the way the hours of the day stretch in front of me, that makes it easier to generate a draft. There is still so much time left in the day to fix it up. This is how I’ve written most of the Northern Lights columns for The American Scholar.
But a habit can become a rut, and I don’t want to be someone who can only write at 5:30 in the morning. It’s fine being up that early in the spring and summer when the robins and charter boats are already up and out. Come winter, 5:30 will once again feel like the middle of the night, and I’m just not sure whether I’ll be able hack it.
I remember a graduate school professor talking about starting out in her own career writing book reviews for The New Yorker. She was raising two kids. “I could write anywhere,” she said. No special time, no special place, no special pen or notebook. She wrote on the subway and everywhere else. Habits can be useful, but it’s helpful not to get too precious about how you do your work.
For now, I’ll keep getting up at 5:30 in the morning. It’s easy and it’s cheap. No childcare needed when the kids are asleep. And it works. The results are pages and pages of writing. Just like this one.
Miranda Weiss is a science and nature writer who lives in Homer. Her natural history memoir, Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska, was a bestseller in the Pacific Northwest. Her Northern Lights column about life in and around Homer appears weekly on the website of The American Scholar. In addition, her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Economist, Alaska Dispatch News, and elsewhere.