Morning Person – NOT – Body Rhythms Writing Myths, Realities, and Morning Pages
We all have our ideal morning, right? We wake up refreshed, get right to our keyboard, or morning pages journal and favorite pen, with a steaming mug of our favorite caffeinated beverage. The house is quiet. We have been good and not peeked at messages or emails. We commence writing something worthy, something all our own.
Morning is wonderful. Its only drawback is that it comes at such an inconvenient time of day.
― Glen Cook, Sweet Silver Blues
It used to be that my favorite time of day was the hour or so before I go to sleep, work and chores done, curled in bed with a book. Now, however, or for the last two weeks at least, I have conquered my natural body rhythms (sleep, and then well, some more sleep) and have woken up with the sunrise. I have stolen at least an hour each morning before my work day for writing. Am I kidding myself? When will I revert to my natural sleep-in-as-long-as-possible rhythm? Is there even such a thing as a body clock? Or are these merely habits to reinforce or break? Yes, gasp, I think I may be becoming a morning person.
Body Rhythm Myths & Realities
So, to reinforce this habit, how are we to reinvent our routines to accommodate our modern realities? While our bodies may be naturally tuned to wake at sunrise and wind down at sunset, most of us no longer keep traditional farmer schedules. In 1959, Dr. Franz Halberg coined this natural rhythm of sleep and wakefulness, the circadian rhythm. Circadian comes from the Latin meaning, “about a day.”
Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
According to the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, circadian rhythms are about 24-hour cycles regulated by control centers in the middle of the brain called, the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN). The circadian rhythm reaches the most sleepiness in the middle of the night, reaches the least at awakening, while slight drowsiness then returns mid-afternoon. Indeed, besides sleep, there are about 100 known body functions that oscillate from high to low in a 24-hour period. With these built-in functions in mind, perhaps we should clue-in and work with them instead of against them.
Keep a small can of WD-40 on your desk—away from any open flames—to remind yourself that if you don’t write daily, you will get rusty.
Listen to Your Mother
My writing life has suffered from my need for sleep. If I don’t get 8 to 9 hours a night, I feel groggy, and by the end of the week, if I remain at a cumulative deficit, I can even become ill. Then a good chunk of my weekend is lost to catching up on sleep…then Sunday night it is hard to get to sleep and of course, Monday morning, well, sucks. But, of course, my mother, who is always right, is right and if I force myself to get up at the same time EVERY morning, then I do sleep deeper and need less sleep. I am trying this logic again; it is working for now. I am happy, I am rested, and I am writing.
A Place to Start
If you need some new tool incentives (or a fresh smelling journal), one of the first early morning writing evangelists was Julia Cameron. Her The Artist's Way book and its subsequent offshoots are a good place to begin if you want some structure around your writing morning efforts. While certainly not the inventor of the practice, she coined the term, morning pages.
The bedrock tool of a creative recovery is a daily practice called Morning Pages. – Julia Cameron
I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.
While modernity, with its productive extended hours of electric light, technology, and gadgets of every sort has extended our abilities beyond nature’s boundaries, we are still tied, body and mind to the earth’s rotation and the sun’s cycles. If we remember to honor circadian rhythms in our daily schedule and activities, Hypnos, the Greek God of sleep will reward us with more deep slumber and all its benefits, including early bird writing.
Please share what your morning writing routine is like, what has helped, or your morning person (or not) experiences.
A Simple System for Blog Topics and Writing Ideas
When you only have an hour to write, that hour is precious. When that hour comes early, early in the morning (as in, before the rest of the family wakes up) that hour is a precious metal beyond name or price. The last thing you want is to squander that hour thinking about what blog topics to write about, or worse, floundering on the Internet for ideas. Some mornings I’m ready to go with an idea before I get out of bed. Others, like today, I’ve got nothing, nada. So, from now on, I will have a pre-made list with many juicy possibilities.
With that preamble, here is a simple system for you and me to create a list of interesting blog topics or article ideas that will be ready to go the next morning.
Categories or Themes
Create categories or themes that tie-in with your blog or website theme or purpose. If you don’t have a theme or purpose, well, nothing like the present. If you don’t like making lists, use mind-mapping software, a white board, or simple pencil and paper if you don’t already have a clear notion of what your themes are (or what you would like them to be). One of my favorite mind-mapping tools is Mind Meister. It is also collaborative if you work with a team.
One simple way to do mind-mapping is to put your category in the center of your page or whiteboard, draw a circle around it. Then go to the next step below (Word Association) and add the word associations around the category with connecting lines or however you want to creatively designate their connections. The idea with mind-mapping is to give your brain (or body/brain) a different way of making connections.
With each category named, for each one do some word or free association and quickly write down a word that first comes to mind. Don’t over-think this, just brainstorm. Try to come up with 2 to 3 words for each category. (You can thank Freud later…)
Word to Phrase Expansion
Now that you have 1 to 3, or more words per category, you have some choices. Depending on the time and energy that you can spend on this exercise, you can try to expand each word in each category into a phrase, sentence, or larger idea. Or, if your time is limited for the day, pick one category and expand each word in that category only. Now you should be seeing at least one or two worthy ideas to write about for your blog topics the next few mornings. Of course, if you have more time, you can map out blog topics for your entire week, or longer. Be mindful, however, that if you map out too many for the future when it comes time to write about them, you may have forgotten your intent or the idea may lose its energy or focus.
If you can do the above exercise once a day, perhaps working with one category or even one category sentence at a time, you will go a long way to greasing the wheels of your unconscious to work on the idea even further while you sleep. Don’t spend more than 30 minutes on this planning, and try to do it close to bedtime. You will be amazed what your dream time can spin. And, yes, I have a rooster.
While this simple exercise may seem obvious (now that I’ve explained it, duh) and not very sexy, I think you will find it helpful not only for article or blog topics, but also to discover your blog or website overall theme(s). For myself, I like a certain amount of freedom to discover my themes and to have the flexibility to change them. But there does come a time when it is beneficial to develop a focus. This allows you to not only target, or find a more specific audience, it also affords you the magic to begin to dig deeper into your niche and area(s) of expertise. And you might surprise yourself.
What is Today’s Little House on the Prairie?
Frontier Urban Sprawl
Recently I was horrified to watch 200-year-old to 300-year old Cottonwood trees cut down along with the demolition of a historic homestead, little house on the prairie, to make way for a new housing development. The quaint farming town of Parker, Colorado is no longer quaint, with no doubt few farmers remaining. Parker has become just another victim of Denver Metro front-range urban sprawl. When my family moved to Colorado in 1976, Parker was little more than a wide place in a 2-lane road with a mom and pop feed store (which is still hanging on).
Yes, I am part of the problem too. My family bought a home in Aurora, Colorado at its then most eastern border. Aurora too was once a small outcropping of Denver and it is now its third most populace city. Our eastern Aurora home is probably now more in its center.
Big Wide-Open Little Prairie
We have since moved much further east and south even to the point of escaping most city light pollution. Yes, we can actually see the Milky Way in the dense midnight sky. It is quiet, it is peaceful, it is rural. It is our own Little House on the Prairie. Which brings me to my long-winded point. My mother grew up reading the Little Women series of books by Louisa May Alcott. And I grew up watching the 1974-1982 TV series and reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie.
Nostalgia or Irrelevance, or?
While other than the news, I don’t watch much TV these days, which leaves me wondering, is there a similar series of new books or shows for a new generation? What will introduce my grandchildren to the historic American long-gone frontier? Or, is that time now so long gone and so irrelevant that any books or shows about it will simply have no market or audience? Has this nostalgia or interest in our history gone along with the little prairie homestead and its Cottonwoods? Please let me know your thoughts and if there are some new books on an old topic that I may be missing.
Piano Lessons for an Old Spinet and a New Yamaha Keyboard
It’s never too late – lessons from an old dog learning new piano lessons tricks…
Our little Lowry spinet piano was born the same year of my birth and was brought home to its young family the same month of J. F. Kennedy’s assassination. From its origins in Kansas City, it traveled with us to Maryland, and then to Colorado. It now resides more than 50 years later in our great room at our Colorado ranch.
As a child in the 1960s and 1970s, my mother’s soaring soprano voice filled our living room. She accompanied herself on that spinet, playing everything from Handel’s Messiah, to Christmas carols, to simple folk songs. I was always in awe by her ability to both sing and play as if it was as easy as breathing.
I requested piano lessons. Dutifully, I walked a mile twice a week to our pastor’s house in Maryland, where his wife gave me lessons. Hugging my new shiny lesson book, I skipped home and practiced. I learned my right-hand notes and learned to recognize them on the treble staff. By the time we got to learning the left-hand, however, either it became too difficult for me, or learning the piano lost its appeal. It was hard work after all, and there were trees to climb and friends playing outside.
Fast-forward to Colorado. When we moved to Colorado in 1976, the piano came with us, but my parents had stopped going to church. My mother stopped playing and singing. My brother took up playing and did a good job of keeping the dust from the keys, but after a few years, this also came to a stop. The spinet now suffered from a lack of tuning and the dry climate.
A few years ago, my parents, husband and I moved into our new ranch on the Colorado Eastern Plains. Even though the neglected spinet was 20 years out of tune with some dead key action, it had to come with us. It was a part of my childhood and something with which I could not part.
After watching it gather yet more dust, last week I finally called a tuner. He was booked for two weeks. He thinks he can bring her back to life. We will see. Yet, I was eager to take up playing in the meantime…
After some days of research, I found a Yamaha keyboard with a good entry level price point. I needed something to learn on. I wanted something with keys that felt like the real thing.
The Yamaha YPG-235 76-Key Portable Grand Piano Keyboard is the perfect compromise.
It has lots of nifty “voices” such as organ, a full drum kit, flute (my favorite), a database of songs, and many more options that I’ll probably never use.
To my amazement, I was able to get the midi driver installed on two laptops without any problems.
This was important because I wanted to find some software for lessons. This leads to my next topic…
Researching a few piano lesson software packages, I settled on Piano Marvel. It is free to evaluate.
I went through about 100 piano lessons on a Sunday and got to Level Two. Since I don’t have a tablet to sit on my keyboard music stand, I made a podium for the laptop in front of the keyboard. It is a little clunky with the mouse on the keyboard, but still, I will continue because I found the method and the lessons enjoyable and quality.
Each section of 20 lessons starts with a 5-6 minute video lesson of what will be covered.
I should also mention that installing the Piano Marvel plug-in and getting it working with the Yamaha midi driver was simple.
Rote v. Reading Music
A couple of the Piano Marvel lessons forced me to learn a song by rote. It would be nice to have the option to skip that if you’d like to avoid playing by ear. I want to play by reading music, so playing “off the page” is not a habit I want to encourage. For those who don’t care so much about reading music, in another post, for another day, I will review an online course that does promote the rote learning by ear method.
Whether you are tuning up your acoustic piano or unwrapping a new digital keyboard, we all learn in different ways. I bought a lesson book that I like, but I found that I had trouble getting myself to work through it.
There is something about using software that is more interactive and keeps me not only engaged but looking forward to each new session. And as with writing, showing up and keeping the butt in the chair is more than half the battle.
How to Create a Productive Day
There are many mornings where I have created a productivity schedule in my head before climbing out of bed. And then, before you know it, it is 11:00 am and I am still answering emails or doing other chores completely unrelated to what I intended to get done. If you have this problem also. I hope you will find this infographic and its 5 tips helpful.
Start your day with meditation or a simple exercise
I must say that I have tried this for both meditation and exercise, and usually, I am too anxious to begin my day to focus in this way. What I have been successful at is sitting in a quiet area of the house and reading a few pages of a book. The trick to this is to get up before the rest of the household. Also, I choose a book that is related to writing and one that is really speaking to a current project that I’m working on. My current morning reading is I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory, by Patrica Hampl.
Turn off all distractions
I have found that if I go right to my laptop with my morning tea, I am doomed for the rest of the day. Yes, I tell myself that I will just check my email and then I will get up and go read or write in my “unplugged” area, but this never works. I have to go straight to my table and chair that is a gadget-free zone. When I incorporate this morning routine, my productivity increases exponentially.
Create a checklist of all you want to accomplish
This is an easy one for me – I am the checklist queen. I do this every day and feel good when I cross things off the list. I may not get them all done, but those that I don’t, I add to the next day.
This might be the hardest one to stick to. I have some success with setting milestones, or blocks of time to complete a task. But, I have many distractions from family members and others (husband, mother, mother-in-law, ranch hand, caregivers, deliveries, animals…), so this is something that I will try to incorporate more. Of course, some tasks lend themselves to time limits than others. There is a method for setting time milestones called, the Pomodoro method.
- Decide on the task that you need to do.
- Set the Pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
- Work on the task until the timer rings. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down, but immediately get back on task.
- After the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 1.
- After four Pomodoro, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.
Clear your mind and come back to it
I do like to hyperfocus when I am writing. When I’m in the zone, this might mean I can go for a few hours without getting up from my laptop – not good! Now I wear a wrist pedometer that vibrates when I need to move (yes, I often ignore it). I also try to get my 10,000 steps in a day, so that requires that I walk more between tasks. That is a stronger motivator. I really want to avoid a long treadmill session, so I prefer short walk breaks spread out over the day.
Conclusion to improve productivity
Perhaps you will only use a few of these productivity tips, but even if you use one or two, no doubt you will see some improvement for gaining more creative time in your day for your priorities. Please comment below if you have found any of these ideas helpful, or if you have some of your own to add!