One challenge when writing your first novel (or completing any major project) is finding the right time to do it. I had the illusion that I’d pop on the ultimate writing playlist, sit on the couch, pour a cup of coffee, and the words would come flooding out. Sounds reasonable, right?

In order to execute a creative project, you have to have at least one ounce of creativity when you get down to it. Most people have a time of the day where they feel most creative. But what happens when your schedule is so packed that you physically can’t take advantage of that time?

I dreaded mornings, and hit the snooze button repeatedly. I’m also notorious for late night story revelations, followed by feverish notebook scribbling. I thrived at night, but my full-time job, responsibilities around the house, and family didn’t lend itself to staying up late (and being a functioning human in the morning.) After a long day, I was typically too burnt out to write consistently. So, I turned back the alarm clock to 5am and started my quest to becoming an inspired, productive, and creative morning person. If I can do it, believe me, you can do it.

The art of habit stacking

The key to being creative in the morning is to find triggers in your routine that typically yield creativity, or put you in a creative mindset, and stack them together. This is a technique called Habit Stacking (pocket this link to a great Ted talk by BJ Fogg, where he explains the power of stacking small habits.) Your goal is to string together these habits that will ultimately form your routines. After I do X, I’ll then do Y.

Stacking habits could look something like this:

After my alarm goes off, I will snooze once.

After I snooze once, I will take a shower.

After I take a shower, I will pick out clothes.

and so forth…

You may find some habits that actually hurt your ability to be creative.

For example:

As soon as I open my computer, I will check Facebook. <- Bad habit.


After I snooze once, I will snooze twice. <- Slippery slope.

Finding your perfect habits, or breaking bad habits, is a bit of an art form that you’ll have to explore as an individual. I’ll share with you my favorite stack hacks that help me stay creative, and hopefully they’ll work some magic for you too.

5 creative habits to add to your morning routine

Ready to start stacking? Here are 5 habits to build into your morning routine and help stimulate some creativity, or at least an environment for getting your best work done. Pick what works best for you, and experiment often.

Take a shower immediately

The snooze button can be a creativity killer. My key to getting up and out of bed by 5am is to stop snoozing and jump into the shower right away. Not only does this help me wake up, but I spend time thinking about the next scene I plan to write in my book. I’ve had characters and scenarios change dramatically due to last minute shower ideas. Some of your greatest projects might originate from the shower.

Believe me on this one…it’s science! Leo Widrich at Buffer wrote an informative post on the science of creativity. Leo found that the combination of being in a relaxed state, full of dopamine (which a shower can trigger,) and attentive to the problems we’re trying to solve, can be conducive to coming up with our most creative ideas. Other routine habitual tasks, like washing the dishes, or going for a run, could be equally effective.

Take a (legal) stimulant

I start every day with a quick cup of coffee. The aroma, taste, and caffeine trigger my creativity. Find the beverage or natural stimulant that will help you maximize your morning. This can be coffee, tea, cappuccino, or something a bit more alternative like a teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar diluted in water, or a natural fruit juice.

Mikael Cho at Crew looked at the creativity benefits of coffee vs. beer. He writes:

The general consensus across caffeine studies is that it can increase quality and performance if the task you are doing seems easy to you and doesn’t require too much abstract thinking.

In other words, after you have an initial idea or a plan laid out, a cup of coffee can help you execute and follow through on your concept faster without compromising quality.

So, if you have your plan and idea already sketched out, caffeine will help you get moving. If you’re in the ideation stage, maybe skip the stimulant.

Studies have also shown that dark chocolate, fruit, and walnuts can help you unlock your creative mind, as well.

Relax and meditate

The mind is easily distracted. When we worry too much about external distractions – work, bills, health, etc., we can prevent our creative mind from exploring. I’ve had great success with 5 minutes of meditation to create an environment for thinking creativity. I stumbled upon this quote (lifted from the Attendly blog) from John Cleese which sums up why stillness and meditation can yield creativity. Cleese says,

Your thoughts need time to settle before your creativity will feel safe and start to emerge.

To be clear, meditation would not be the time allotted to think creatively, but the time allotted to create a mental setting for yielding creativity.

You do not have to take up Yoga or read ancient texts to start dabbling in meditation. Mobile apps like Calm, Buddhify, and Headspace, make meditation easy and accessible for everyone, and will help you stack the habit.

Listen to music

Picture of my Spotify writing playlist.

If you exercise, you know how important music can be to keep you motivated and focused. Runners tout and share their perfect running playlists, designed to keep the pace. Why not emulate and adapt for your creative pursuits?

Studies have shown that listening to listening to ambient noise at a moderate level can yield creativity. Belle Beth Cooper, in the same Fast Company article, also writes that listening to noises at high levels can impair our creativity because our brain is overwhelmed and works to process information.

I’ve had great success listening to instrumental music at low volumes, likely due to the science behind Cooper’s finding. Consider curating playlists that will fit the mood and purpose of your creative work. For example, when writing fiction, I put on a playlist of music that compliments the scene I’m working on. If my characters are in a Spanish convenience store in South Philadelphia, I play a Buena Vista Social Club inspired playlist. The instrumental music doesn’t distract, but puts me in the creative headspace to best serve my story’s characters.

The nerd in me also thrives on instrumental video game music, which I later found out yields proven productivity.

I use Spotify. Experiment and find out what works best for you.

Use a mood board on Pinterest

Picture of my south philly Pinterest board

If all else fails, and you’re struggling to get inspired, consider creating a mood board on Pinterest. Typically when getting into creative mode, I try to avoid social networks altogether, but I’ve found that the perfect Pinterest board can trigger the spark needed to start cookin’.

Similar to how I use music to compliment whatever scene I’m writing, I also like to curate a Pinterest board using pictures and imagery that will help me dive into the setting. For example, if a scene takes place in a dive bar, I’ll pin a bunch of photos of dive bars that capture the feel I’m going for. When I sit down to write, simply pulling up that board for 30 seconds saves me a ton of time stalling and trying to set myself in the bar.

What’s your secret to a super creative and effective morning? Let me know in the comments below.

Have a good morning

The best way to start stacking habits is by achieving small wins. Do not try to do everything at once. If you typically wake up at 7am, but wish to wake up at 6am, consider setting the clock back to 6:45am for a week, then slowly crank it back.

Gradually adding changes to your routine will be key to your success, and will help you have a great morning. Also remember that if you have a day where you can’t get out of bed, or maybe you had a late night and could use the extra sleep, don’t sweat it. Just try to stick with it the next day, and remember the hard work you put into getting to that point. Sleep is important – stay healthy!

I truly hope these tips help you create your best work like they’ve helped me. Go forth and do something awesome!

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