You wake up and you brush your teeth. You spit and rinse. Why don’t you do the same thing for your mind?

Almost everyone I’ve talked to who makes a living by writing (which consists mostly of scientists) cannot praise enough my habit of writing every morning. I try to spit out 500 words in the morning before I go about my other work, no matter what is pressing. It’s a useful time to write for something, or to write about something, or to simply outline in sentence format, or just let ideas slip out.

The most important part is to keep writing. No self-censorship allowed. This is the most critical part of the process. You can judge it later, and yes, it is a mere first draft, but you can hold a first draft in your hand or see it radiate illuminated before you on a screen. Don’t watch the word count. Check it when thoughts pause. You don’t have to hit 500 every time. But at least type 500. Some things don’t make sense in the morning, so destroy them, especially if they’re illegible.

All of those people you hear about when people in your field talk about ideas, and the people that have them? They write. They get their voice out somehow. And in order for any ideas banging around your dirty brain to come out and get clean, they have to be expunged from it, through your hands.

Spilling your mind in the morning frees the cruft in your head. Sometimes that falls out on the page, too. That’s okay; now you have a clean head for the rest of your day.

Every now and then you’ll dislodge something that has a nice luster to it, something worthy of polish and time. Make a note of those and revisit them.

See, I just checked my word count. It was 381. I have to fill this space somehow.

I used this method to write over 60 pages of very rough stuff for my prelim, a large literature review graduate students write in my department before becoming a dissertator. I hardly used any of it. The actual meat and bones were written in an outliner, facing dozens of open PDFs full of highlights. A messy process. But when I needed an introduction on the day before my deadline, I picked through my tidbits of morning writing and found one. I dropped it in and tweaked it slightly, and everything was fine. I now have a body of work to pull from.

Speaking of bodies of work: we write so much in college. Reuse your writing in other classes. Mix and match sections. Revise. Never throw away anything you write. Make sure you can find it later.

So write and save.