What is your morning routine?
My alarm goes off at 5:00am. I know, it’s early. Excessively early.
To be honest, waking up before dawn is tough—I’m not even really a morning person. But my best creative work happens early, when my mind is still floating in and out of consciousness, so I’m always craving that dreamy creative energy I can only get while the rest of the world is asleep. So I have no choice. I set my alarm, and I do it.
First, I meditate for ten minutes. Then I write fiction for about three hours, snuggled under a blanket on the couch, until 8:00am, trying to stay in the fuzzy in between of asleep and awake. I write all of my fiction on my MacBook Air, in Microsoft Word. I also keep a digital log of how many words I write each morning, how I feel the writing session went, and how many hours of sleep I’ve gotten the night before. On a good morning, I’ll write between 1,500 and 2,000 words, but there are definitely a few 300-word mornings on there. (Unsurprisingly, if I’ve gotten fewer than six hours of sleep, my word count is usually lower.)
I’ll then get up and shower, and if it’s nice out, walk the two miles from my apartment in the East Village to my office in New York City, which includes a lovely 10-block walk on the Highline. I’m in the office just before 10, feeling creatively fulfilled, energized, and ready to start my day job.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
There was one year where I really wanted this to be my routine, but I’d get to bed too late, or I’d have a fight with my alarm in the morning and end up sleeping until 6:00 or 7:00am. Then I’d spend the rest of the day feeling awful because I’d cut my writing time short.
Now that it’s become a habit, waking up early and moving through my routine has become almost like brushing my teeth; I don’t even think about it. I’ve been doing it for about two years—now I pop up out of bed at 5:00am most mornings, ready to go.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
I feel way more centered and energized when I exercise in the morning, but in the winter I have to replace my 45-minute walk to and from work with, ugh, a 45-minute subway ride. I have a tough time carving out exercise as regularly when it’s cold outside, and I’m still fine-tuning to find a consistent place to include it.
What time do you go to sleep?
On a good night, 10:30pm. On a not-so-good night (read: at least half the time, who am I kidding?), somewhere between 11:00pm and midnight. I can feel normal on anywhere between six and eight hours, but I try to get at least seven as often as I can.
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
I always pick out what I’m going to wear the night before, otherwise I invariably have some sort of wardrobe-related meltdown ten minutes before I’m supposed to leave the house.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
I use my phone as an alarm, and plug it into the outlet by my desk, which I purposely place as far from my bed as possible. There’s no point in hitting snooze and going back to sleep if you’re already standing up and 15 feet away from the bed.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
I might have mentally willed myself into becoming a morning person, but my body still refuses to digest anything before about 11:00am, so I’ll stick with water and sometimes a cup of black tea before then. Even when I do finally get around to breakfast, it’s usually extremely light. A handful of almonds or an apple—and once or twice a week when the work kitchen is stocked, a bowl of cereal with almond milk.
Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?
I take ten minutes when I first wake up to sit quietly, take slow, deep breaths, and clear my mind. I’m a huge fan of the teachings of Pema Chodron. One of her suggestions is to breathe in a very concentrated version of whatever you’re feeling at that given moment—whether it’s stress or fear or sadness—and let it consume your entire body. After taking ten or so breaths like this, the feeling starts to melt away into a sensation of peace. It sounds counterintuitive, but it really works for me.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
Often, I’ll check my email briefly before I start writing, to make sure nothing urgent has popped up overnight. But I always, always regret it. I only have these three precious hours a day to work on fiction, and I’m on email constantly for the other 14 or so hours I’m awake. So, as tempting as it is to check my phone first thing in the morning, I try to keep it turned off until I leave for work.
I’m working on breaking the habit by giving my phone a “bedtime.” If I make my phone off-limits from 10:00pm to 9:00am, I sleep better and I’m way more productive in the morning.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
I typically drink two glasses of water before I get started on the black tea. (The only time I ever drink coffee is right after lunch, when I start to feel an afternoon slump.)
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
On the weekends, I follow a more relaxed version of my weekday morning routine, for sure. If it were up to me, I’d totally sleep until noon, but sadly I started getting something called “weekend migraines,” which is basically a blinding headache that’s brought on by a deviation in routine. Apparently it’s the release of stress in the body that causes them. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
I usually wake up at around 7:00am on weekends. I’m not as rigid with the morning routine as I am during the week, but I try to devote major blocks of time to writing fiction, promoting my new book (answering emails, visiting bookstores, making graphics, updating my website, etc.), going to the gym, and doing yoga. It’s the only part of my week that isn’t packed with meetings and appointments, so I prefer to keep the late morning and early afternoon as flexible as possible, with built-in time to get brunch with my equally-busy fiancé, get a manicure, or run errands.
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
This is something I’m still working on. I’d love to be one of those people who can adapt to any situation, but I’m not a great traveler and my routine usually falls by the wayside. (I love reading your other interviews for tips on how to hack this!)
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
If I have a late night and it looks like I’m going to get fewer than five hours of sleep, I’ll try to sleep in. But I always regret it—when I do my morning routine, I become the best version of myself.