A few years ago I attended a writers conference at which I heard two wonderful speakers: Kimberly Newton Fusco and Judith St. George. The former spoke of how she had revised the first page of her award-winning Tending to Grace somewhere around 50 times. Her "secrets," she said, were a willingness to revise and the discipline of getting up at 5 o'clock every morning to write, no matter what.
Judith St. George stood before the podium a few minutes later, a wry smile on her face. "Well," she said. "Kimberly beat me in one area. I've never revised a first page 50 times. But I get up everyday at 4:30."
Throughout the rest of the conference (and, in fact, quite consistently in the years following), I discovered that this habit of getting up before the rest of the world (or at least, the rest of your family) seemed to be a mark of most successful writers.
The spiritual writer Josemaria Escriva wrote a thoughtful consideration on getting up in the morning, which I find extremely helpful: "The heroic minute," he wrote in The Way. "It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation: a supernatural reflection and . . . up. The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body. If, with God's help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. It's so discouraging to find oneself beaten at the first skirmish."
Heroic... conquer...skirmish. Maybe it's because I grew up a "military brat," but this is language I understand and love. Creating great art is a battle; anyone who's ever tried it can attest to that fact. Discouragement, sloth, fatigue, depression, distractions--such are the enemies at the front lines. But if you can win that one first, little battle--that heroic minute--the rest of the battles fall into perspective.
I know not everyone can write early in the morning, and if writing later works for you, great. But if you're finding it difficult to produce good writing, I suggest you try setting your alarm clock just a little earlier. Believe me, I'm no morning person. I sit at the computer fighting to keep my eyelids from gluing themselves shut. I feel like I'm hammering random keys on the keyboard. Writing crap. For about 7 minutes. Then, suddenly, I'm back in the story. I get an idea. The words carry me away and I type them out as quickly as I can, aware that I'm stealing time from the day that I won't get back. By the time my girls wake up, I'm wondering why on earth I thought this was going to be hard. The rest of the day goes by more smoothly, ideas continue to present themselves and my notebook gets countless ideas or phrases jotted down during the cracks of time between my daily obligations.
If only I could set my alarm to play reveille, blaring bugle blasts to remind me that I'm about to enter a battle. That would be pretty awesome...