Finding your 555 by Yvonne Battle-Felton

Today marks just past day number fifty-five of getting up at the crack of something (not quite dawn) in the morning to write from 5:55-6:55 AM every day. Five in the morning. Who would have thought it? Not me. Not a decade, five years, one year, even six months ago. I didn’t think I had the luxury of getting up early, rolling out of bed, stumbling over to my desk, writing from the wee hours of the morning, watching the sunlight stream across the sky as I typed “the end” wistfully prying the slender pages from the typewriter that I don’t have, before putting in another page, clicking, typing, and waiting for the satisfying ding of a bell that will not ring.

Getting up at 5 AM is not a luxury.

I can tell you that as someone who does not do it, not really. I get up between 5:35-5:45 after a convincing discussion with myself about whether I should be up when it’s still this dark out. Then I remember why I’m getting up: to write! And that I’ll be joined by friends and then I get up, tumble out of bed, feed the cats, brush my teeth, and sit down to type.

No, this is not a luxury. It’s a welcomed cup of coffee that breathes a form of serenity into what sometimes feels like days where I am meeting-rich and time-poor. This early-morning commune between the page and I is something I do because this sliver of time is the only one I could find where I was guaranteed not to have a meeting, a train, a scheduled emergency or anything else that could pop in and disrupt. I can’t say enough that this is not a luxury.

Between you and me, I’ve always wanted to be a writer but never aspired to be a crack-of- dawn-early-riser sort of writer. I wanted to be an anytime of day-when-the-mood-strikes me sort of writer. When I was a kid, I wanted to tell stories. Okay, at one point I wanted to be a French fry, a rapper and a psychologist but the most consistent career ambition I had—other than to be rich—was to write. There was something magical about crafting characters whose secrets only I knew. Characters that would be with me long after the kiss of the last page. I wanted to create stories that I and other people could fall into. 

Stories lead me home. Without them, I am rootless, unsettled, creatively unmoored and untethered. Reading brings me closer to people. It connects me. Writing makes me more human, more kind. I do it for you just as much as I do it for me. So, when my days began spiralling into meetings about meetings, I felt this unwind between who I am and who I want to be. How I live my days and how my days live me. I tried to find a time in my day to carve out a niche, a cubby hole where I could settle in and write for the sake of my soul (or something less dramatic). I made and broke appointments with myself. I stood myself up: no call, no text. If I were dating myself, I’d have broken up, changed my  status to #complicated and blocked me.

I don’t think it could have lasted for much longer, this putting off of my own writing in service of something else. I’ve never been that selfless. To be fair, I was part of the problem. Because writing had always been a delight for me, it was the dessert to my day. The thing I did after doing everything else for anyone else. When I ran out of time, it was my time I cut short. I know some writers do not write every day. They don’t need to or they do need to but can’t. I’m not here to tell anyone how to write their write, but I know for me, if I’m not doing something I love every day, I risk not being happy. And if nothing else, I want to be happy.

So, I made a change. I couldn’t get back the hours in my day, but I could take back the way I start my day. I decided to get up early, earlier than I’ve ever wanted to be awake, to write. I can’t do it alone. It’s too easy to talk myself out of doing it. I put out a call on social media inviting anyone who wanted to write with me at 5:55 in the morning to get in touch. There’s something about being a good host, not keeping people waiting, knowing it’s social or something more that makes it easier to get up if I know I’m not doing it alone.

People said yes. We meet online for an hour of writing and then go about our days. There are some people who join in most days or every day and some who come and go. It’s a no commitment sort of group. I don’t really know who’s going to turn up on a daily basis. Well, maybe that’s not quite true. Rain or shine, holiday or not, fog or snow, I’ll be there and so will twenty-year old me who never wanted to get up early to write but understands now what she did not then: that writing early is a necessity.
Whatever time you do it, if you can, find, make, or create time to do the things you love. Maybe that’s the luxury after all.

About the Author

Author of Remembered (Dialogue Books/Blackstone Publishing), Yvonne Battle-Felton is an American author living and writing in the UK. Remembered was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize. Yvonne writes contemporary fiction, historical fiction, personal essays, and adventure and creative nonfiction for children. You can read her writing for children in the Penguin Ladybird series. Yvonne currently lectures in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University.

Twitter: @YBattleFelton


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