Between five and seven a.m., my mind is different. Life looks different. I have access to longer, sustained focus. I’m more likely to feel the miracle of the world, and well up with tears from it.
Between seven and eight, I’ve still got a shot at writing, but there’s more resistance, more mundane stuff tempting me.
After 8:30 or so, if I haven’t written, the appointments I know are coming in a couple hours start to crowd into my mind, the noise of the world gets louder, and it’s likely to be one of those days when all kinds of emails and logistics get done, but very little writing, very little deep creative work.
I’m not certain why the early morning hours have the power they do for me. I think it has something to do with the quiet of the world at this hour, the stillness I see when I look out the window and that I can feel in the air. I really do feel, in those hours, like the world and being alive are glorious secrets, and I get to witness them.
I think it also has something to do with being closer to the realm of sleep and dreams, which is why I always try to write as soon as possible after rising.
Third, I think it’s genetic. I think we all have unique biological rhythms that impact when we have the physical, cognitive, emotional energy to create, and when our spiritual channel is most open. My mother is also an early morning creator, and we both turn off, mentally, at about 9pm.
For all of us, there are “best hours” for whatever important things we do in our lives. There are best hours for creative work. Best hours for the work that requires sharp focus and deep thought. There are best hours for being present to and generous to our loved ones.
For me, the dance is to honor that, and not get too caught up in it.
It is to arrange my life so that I get to do things during their best hours. That means speaking up for my needs, setting boundaries, establishing routines, and often, departing from the herd — doing things on a different schedule than friends or clients, and being okay with that.
But my work is — just as much — to not beat myself up or panic when it I don’t get to do things in their optimal times — when I end up sending emails during my best “big picture thinking” hours, or using my most alert and creatively inspired hour to wait for the repair man, because hey, that’s how things worked out that day. The fearful, ever-panicking part of my brain can turn the simple truth that early morning is best for writing into “TARA, YOU HAVE TO GET WRITING BY SIX A.M. OR YOU HAVE FAILED YOURSELF” or, at 10pm, “IF WE DON’T GO TO BED IN THE NEXT FIFTEEN MINUTES, I WILL BE FOREVER CREATIVELY DOOOOOOOMED. Not so helpful, those thoughts.
But I do know, that I really love to write, and that writing happens for me much more fluidly and easily in the morning. I have the sense that I have access to better material then. So I do what I can to make it possible:
1. I rarely schedule appointments before 10am, because before that is writing time. But sometimes an appointment needs to happen in that window, and if it does, I try not to worry about it too much. When I worked in my previous job in philanthropy and was on a more traditional 9-6 working schedule, for the last year or two I woke up at five, wrote till about 8, and then got dressed and went to work.
2. I do my very best to go to bed by 10pm. This is a fabulous way to practice, everyday, setting boundaries and speaking up for my needs.
Hip person: “Want to meet for a dinner at x hot new restaurant at 9?”
Me: “Well…how about dinner at 6….or tea at 4?”
But sometimes, a big desire to watch a second episode of The Good Wife gets in the way. Or a late dinner with friends that I really do want to go to. Or being wide awake for who knows what reason. But as much as I can make work, I do bed by 10, or even 9:30. I get my best rest when I go to sleep early, and it sets the stage for early morning writing.
3. I “conclude” the day at night, and create space for tomorrow. That could take any of a wide variety of forms: straightening up the home office from the day’s activity so there is a physical “clean slate” for the day, making a to do list for the next day, reviewing the day in my mind and thinking about the significant moments, making a list of things I’m grateful for from the day, saying a prayer.
So the questions for all of us are:
· In whatever activities are most important to you, are there “best hours” for them? If you don’t know, experiment with doing them during different windows and find out.
· What can you do to set up your life so that you get to do those important things during their best hours? (Hint: you will probably need to be courageous in setting boundaries and creative in thinking about how to rearrange things in ways you haven’t previously considered, and that may be unconventional)
· What’s a truly helpful-to-you way to respond when it doesn’t work out — when you don’t get to use best hours the way you’d like? Instead of beating yourself up, how can real and loving curiosity about what happened and what you might do differently help you? What does it look like to respond with lightness of heart?

Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Hi Tara,

    Me, too! I have become a morning person (with years of practice!) and now, I swear by my early-to-rise routine. Like you, my creativity is at its height in the AM and an early bedtime (for me, its between 9 and 9:30 PM) is key.

    Thanks for the excellent coaching questions here. Setting boundaries (and then holding those) can be the hardest part–I encourage readers to loving hold their ground when obstacles arise and the temptation to put themselves aside shows up. Learning how to gently, firmly, say ‘no,’ is essential.

    With love,

    P.S. Joyous gratitude for your Playing Big course–I’m loving it!! 🙂

  • Marcie says:

    Me too – I’m an early riser…but I start my day with time on my mat..or laps in a pool. And then – when my head is clear and I am fully awake..I am ready to focus on the more intuitive creative part of my day. By noon – I’m pretty much done. That part of my brain has turned itself off. Thank-you for this inspiring post. Good to know I’m not the only one!

  • Jenn says:

    This was a wonderful reminder to me to set goals for my writing. I too am an early riser, but I usually lye there, day dreaming…

  • Lyndi says:

    Just recently I have started to reshape my schedule. Getting to bed at a consistent time has done a lot. Means I can be up at a consistent time and utilize my “creative” early day mental time.

  • Jean Burman says:

    Thanks Tara for this timely post 🙂

    I love the part about not beating yourself up. If ever there was an effective way to chase away a creative thought… it would be panic… and pressure… and the demands we make on ourselves to conform to some pre-ordained plan we think we must keep.

    I so relate to going with the flow… within the parameters of the timeframe that suits us best. I love early morning for writing… sometimes even before getting out of bed [grin]

    And then later on… in my favorite coffee shop with the lively buzz of people around. It makes me feel alive and sets me up for the solitariness of painting later on… hopefully before I lose the light [grin]

    I’m not so good at going to bed early… but working on that and trying not to beat myself up too much for the things I don’t get done. It’s life. And it’s work. And it’s fun. And getting the right balance will always be one of the biggest challenges [at least it is for me]

  • Eric says:

    Those sacred morning hours have always been prized and protected in the wisdom traditions. Your mind is different then. Before the engines of distraction and obligation are fully revved – there’s a different level of receptivity and clarity.
    It’s as though the window to the inner domains of dreams, images, and creativity is still slightly ajar. And so, breezes from the deep mind can waft into consciousness. And you can convert them from wisps to words.

  • Hi Tara – I had a smile on my face reading this post. I recently heard the brilliant novelist Sandra Cisneros speak at writers’ conference in Mexico. Of her 10 “lessons,” one was to “Write in your pajamas.” It was metaphor for writing in that safe physical and mental space where the critic,the bossy abuela, the doubter isn’t part of the conversation. Where it’s just your writing and your voice speaking to yourself or to the intimate caring reader you’re trying to reach.

  • Thanks for this, Tara! Such a trust-inducing post – trust in our rhythms, in our ability to set boundaries, in our freedom to deviate confidently from night owls. And I especially love the nuance of not getting too caught up in dualistic thinking about all of this, either.

  • Cathlene Bell says:

    Thank you for an excellent and timely post! I am about to finish my undergrad studies, and am trying hard to pull my Senior Thesis together. Your description of the panicky thoughts is spot on!

    Lately I’m been feeling like a failure because I would have whole days to produce something, and I was sure that I was doing something wrong when the afternoon hours produced nothing.

    While it is difficult to maintain those optimal hours with the classes I take, family responsibilities, and the inherent stress that comes with anything assigned to us, I deeply value your post, and hope to put it into action.

  • Ravi says:

    Thanks for the lovely post emphasizing the need for discipline in one’s life in order to implement thoughts successfully.
    However, i differ on few of the aspects mentioned in your post.Firstly, i feel that one should not make one’s life like watertight compartments. By this i mean that the daily routine guided by clock timings should be flexible and not be followed rigidly each day.Let me give you an example. It will be shear stupidity not to attend my best friend’s wedding anniversary dinner party.If that be the case, i am bound to be up till say, past midnight.Perfectly alright. This means i need to skip my best hours to write because of sleeping late, Therefore, i must reschedule my activities for the day and may get down to my planning and making notes for the next day at night before sleeping at 9 pm.
    Secondly, If one follows a strict clock regulated life,one will become mechanical and unemotional in a period of time because one will seldom interact with others as per their timings. This will result in other people withdrawing from you socially. I firmly believe that to be humane and to be a successful person in life, one must reach out to the people and that can only be done by breaking the clock bound barriers.
    Thirdly, One must prepare ones mind and body to give the best when one needs it, may be even after three sleepless nights.This means that if i need to write down my thoughts or work plan at different times in a day, i should be able to do it. I should control my body and thoughts and not give in to the fatigue of my body.This need mental confidence and practice over prolonged periods.
    Once again, i would like to thank you for penning down your ideas, thoughts and guidelines in a simple and logical manner.
    Would love to interact often on such issues.

  • David says:

    I love all your posts, but this one is like an unexpected gift that arrived just at the right time! Thanks, T!!!

  • Michele says:


    Thank you so much for this post-such a gentle reminder about a topic I have been struggling with-trying to do it all and feeling guilty. Thank you for this post!

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