I’ve finally faced up the reality of my History of the Medieval World deadline, May 1. Which means I’ve now admitted that there’s very little chance I’m going to have a finished manuscript in another five weeks.

After an eerily complicated exchange of emails with my editor (for some reason I have lost the ability to make myself understood in everyday matters–maybe it’s a side effect of reducing medieval theological debates into straightforward prose–the obfuscation pops back out in another place, like a balloon squeezed in the middle), we have decided that as long as I finish the manuscript by the end of the summer, the book can still come out on schedule.

I’m pretty sure I can finish it in August. Not sure in a really absolutely CONFIDENT sense, like I sometimes am. (Of course I can cook dinner for twelve at two hours notice! I’ll be happy to check your Latin translations and supervise your brother’s violin practice at the same time! Yes, naturally I’ll call the church square dance, just let me get a couple books out of the library and read up on it!).

No, this is “pretty sure” more in the sense that I might say, “We’re going on family vacation in July.” (Providing that no one throws up or breaks a bone first.) Or, “Yes, we’ll have enough money to replace the tub in the kids’ bathroom this fall.” (Providing that the cars don’t break down and I balance my checkbook correctly.) Or, “We’ll go out and ride Max this afternoon.” (Provided that he’s still in the fence when we get out there and not chowing down on the neighbor’s priceless turf farm.)

However, I’m feeling a little more confident thanks to a schedule change. I’ve started writing from 4 to 10 AM every day except Sunday. Yep, every day.

I’ve heard of writers who do this for their entire working life, although I’d never tried it myself. But I’ve been feeling like I needed to do something totally different to shove myself off dead-center with this manuscript and get some new momentum.

I’ve been following this schedule for about a month now, and it’s having a truly fascinating effect. For one thing, working every single day (before this I was working every other day, for a longer period of time) creates a sort of continuity and flow that’s suddenly advancing me further and further forward. For another, there are NO interruptions. No matter how carefully I guard my writing time during the day, there is always SOMETHING that can’t wait.

At 4 AM, nobody wants to talk to me. It’s phenomenal.

Most of all, by 10 AM I have done my hard creative work for the day. I feel like I’ve finished the most difficult task in front of me, and all the hours to come can just be…fun. I can be with the kids or work on the farm without being preoccupied by undone writing. Even if I’m doing business later in the day, I don’t have that uneasy uncomfortable feeling that I’m taking time away from the original writing that’s the foundation of my professional life.

So it’s been great for my brain.

My body’s having a little more trouble adjusting.

(Ah, the glamour of Eastern Roman history before dawn.)

Showing 16 comments
  • e

    Run off to Germany with me? I’ll be doing research/writing all summer. I’m sure the kids can fend for themselves.

  • Staci in MO

    Four in the morning? Wow. When I started getting up at 5:30, I had one child that still wanted to get up with me. I’ve finally outlasted him, though.

  • Heather

    Wow! Susan, you’re so inspiring! Thanks for sharing so much of yourself. I can’t wait to buy your forthcoming books. Thank you!

  • Lyn

    Are you aiming to adopt Douglas Southall Freeman’s schedule or something? Granted, he wrote some incredible biographies that we have devoured, but he also died kind of young with a heart problem, so please be wise about just how hard you push yourself! We need there to be enough of you left to write those last two volumes. 🙂 (Pretty please!)

  • Lori

    Susan, I just love you. You’re so *real*! I found the same thing while I was writing my NaNo novel in November…things flow better when you work on them some every day, especially at the same time every day.

    Still, make sure you take care of yourself. You’re not much past that bout with the flu, you know.

  • Bonnie in VA

    I’m a homeschooling mom of four also, and I do part-time technical writing from home. My work time is 4 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. every day (except Sunday). I’ve been doing this for almost six years now. It took my body months to adjust to the schedule, much longer than I would have expected. Now, I thoroughly enjoy this uninterrupted time — it is usually the only bit of quiet in my day! I hope the writing continues to go well for you.

  • Phyllis

    Wow. It sounds so exciting to work at that time. But does it mean a nap at 10? Or very early to bed? I think I’d have a hard time giving up late movies with my husband. Bon courage and keep up the good work.

  • Kimber

    Susan, you are inspiring! Good Luck!

  • Meredith

    Susan, this is really exciting! Inspirational stuff. I’ve just hit a wall with my thesis and the university has called in some heavy hitters to ‘inspire’ me (and by ‘inspire’, they mean ‘shame’). A change of schedule might be just the thing. When you’re done with this book, maybe you could whip out a manual for writers — suggestions, schedules, what works, what flops, stuff like that. I’m sure there’s some pale imitation of such a book out there, but not nearly as well-written (ironically) as something you could produce. 🙂

  • Christina

    Wow – you will never have to worry about me checking out the blog at 4am – but my dh is up that early for the ambulance tomorrow! I really love the picture of Max, he is just beautiful and sounds like just a little mischievous 🙂

  • Amy Storms

    Would you mind my asking…what is your homeschool schedule? You mentioned once that you spend a certain day of the week in your office.–My husband teaches on Mondays so I can write, but beyond that I can’t seem to find a workable writing schedule with school. Do you start school at 10, after you finish writing each morning?

  • Jo

    I believe it was Nelly Dean, housekeeper in Wuthering Heights, who disapproved of sleeping late and declared it was her rule to have half her day’s work done by ten in the morning…

  • Susan in TX

    Wow! I’m trying to get up by 5:00 just to read through some of the great books a la The Well-Educated Mind, and that has proven to be tougher than I thought! I would echo Phyllis and Amy with a request for how you schedule the rest of the day — is there a secret “energy boost” in the early afternoon to keep you going? 🙂

    Kudos to you for the discipline!

  • Heather in Virginia

    See now, IF I ever got up that early (which Josh says will never happen) it would be accompanied by falling asleep leaning on walls or going to bed for the night before supper. This reminds me of the two years my parents made me go to Christian School in Lynchburg when we lived in Bedford. I was 10 and I would fall asleep on the floor looking for my shoes nearly every morning.

    So if you are going to get up at 4 a.m. be sure to place your shoes in a convenient location.

  • Lorna

    My mother-in-law always greets us with ‘afternoon’ if we get up after nine in the morning.
    You have joined the realms of the Greats in our old Ladybird biographies. They also studied early in the morning and late at night to complete their life’s work.
    I really hope that it is just the lighting in your photo and that your pretty face isn’t really so skinny and exhausted though. The world needs you healthy and happy too!

  • Kathryn Louis

    I do this, too. Only I have to stop writing by 5:30:( I love this series and can’t wait to read the next one.:)

    Kathryn Louis

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