Showing Another Me

A little over a year ago, I literally walked away from a good career, to pursue a life-long ambition of making a living as a writer. Since that time, I’ve published articles on transportation technology, pursued opportunities that didn’t work out well, made significant progress on my novel, and made a commitment to my short fiction.

I have a long way to go to reach my ambition, mostly because I’m still figuring out what I should be doing. But while there’s been a great deal of uncertainty so far in this journey, I have not for one second regretted my decision to take that first step. I wasn’t happy being the person I’d been the first three decades of my professional career, and everything I’ve done since walking away a year ago, even the mistakes, has been positive.

The person I used to be knew exactly where he was, and where he was headed, while the person I’ve been the past year makes things up as he goes along. This other me isn’t content, but he’s happier than the person he replaced.

Two Lessons

In my latest writing workshop, I was assigned to write the story of my writing life. Ten minutes later, I came up with this.

Towards the end of my junior year of high school, my English instructor told me I was not a strong enough student for our school’s senior Honors English class. This was devastating news, as every student in my small rural Maine school knew that Honors English was the key course for getting accepted to any school outside of the state. It was only when the instructor of that class, who had taken a liking to me in her freshman class, overruled my junior class instructor, in her typically brusque manner: “That dumbass is taking my class.”

Three years later, a college composition instructor told me I wrote like a pinball machine, my prose bouncing among topics wildly, propelled by force and gravity rather than logic. This evaluation was equally devastating, as I had decided to abandon my original college major, journalism, and hoped to apply for the school’s program in nonfiction writing. I applied anyway, defying the advice of my instructor, and, in a decision that today seems not at all surprising, was rejected.

These experiences taught me two things: first, never become satisfied with the quality of my prose. Second, and more important, writing was the only thing that really mattered to me. This wasn’t like being bad at sports, or lacking any mechanical ability, or having no clue how to talk to girls — all skills that interested me, but not enough to make me want to overcome my shortcomings in those areas. Having my writing dismissed made me feel like lying down and not getting up again, like a horse with a broken leg. Failing to overcome the problems of my writing would be the death of my spirit.

A year after being rejected to the nonfiction program at my school, I applied again. Taking to heart advice I received from more conscientious instructors, I submitted a more polished piece. And this time, I was accepted.

Reasons for Rising

Writing in the Pointed North blog, Brittany offers some “un-advice” for becoming more of a morning person. Being nocturnal myself, I easily took to waking up when the sun gets warm soon after changing careers last year. Some time around December, I became dissatisfied with my lack of productive writing, and decided to explore whether there was value to be had in getting my ass out of bed earlier. Since then, I have been writing more, and I don’t think that’s an accident.

Yet seeing the benefits of getting up in the dark hasn’t made any one morning any easier. This will always be a struggle, and I’ve had to rely on a few coping mechanisms. For what it’s worth, here’s my list of bromides for getting up early:

You must have a raison pour se réveiller

I don’t know how to pronounce it, but that’s French for “reason for waking,” at least according to my online translator. I’ve found it far easier to get up early when I have an appointment, a task, some commitment that I don’t want to avoid. This needs to be as specific as possible, nothing fungible like “I need to start on chapter 2,” or “I’ll feel better if I get on the exercise bike for 30 minutes.” If you have a gym membership, sign up for a class, preferably one that charges a nominal fee if you skip without cancelling within 24 hours. If you have a favorite place to write, challenge yourself to get there when they open, and reward yourself for making it happen. If you meet with someone regularly, schedule an appointment for breakfast. Make getting up early not something you’d like to do, but something you have to do.

Don’t be afraid of being tired

This was a big hurdle for me, feeling I had to be fully rested in order to be productive. It might be true that my best productivity comes when I’m at my energy peak, but it’s also true that those moments are rare. The math I’m going to perform is probably going to be off, but six hours of 70% productivity beats 3 hours at 95%. (Somebody tell me I didn’t royally eff that one up.) I’m not at my best when I get up early, but I’m getting a lot more done than I would while sleeping.

Treat yourself

“You have to get up every day” is common advice given to night owls seeking to change their ways. For me, though, knowing there’s one day a week where I can indulge myself and get up whenever I damn well feel like it helps me get through the tough mornings in the days before. It will likely screw up my schedule for the following day, but the energy I get from turning off my phone, shutting off the alarm, and telling the family that whatever happens tomorrow morning will just have to wait is enough to carry me through a week of rough days.

I’ve been getting up earlier for four months now, and like I said, it remains a struggle. But what is worthwhile without effort?