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The Night Writer

In the US, Daylight Savings Time ends today. While many of you may be lamenting the earlier evenings, it'll mean a big sigh of relief for me--one extra hour of sleep.

I'm kind of a sleep addict, you see, especially on chilly Sunday mornings in November. I suspect my love of a mid-morning snooze is actually physiological. While I've never had a formal diagnosis, the research I've done into Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome has certainly been enlightening. My body naturally seems to want to stay up late--until one, or two in the morning--and sleep late, too. Given my druthers, I'd never be out of bed before 9:30.

Some might say that I'm just lazy. Maybe that's true. I know that when I was in school, or working 9-5 jobs, I never, ever adjusted to the time change. I'd start out rising optimistically early, but by the second or third week in, I'd feel like an ill-slept shadow of myself--with the bags under my eyes to prove it.

You might wonder what this all has to do with writing. The answer, for me, is everything. When I first started writing, I came upon the same advice over and over again: that in order to write, and be a real writer, one must rise early (at five, six, or seven a.m.! The horror!). With a cup of coffee in hand, the early bird writer can peck out some words without the real, waking world threatening to intrude on the creative process.

Because it's what everyone said one had to do to be a serious writer, I've tried this advice now-and-again (like jobs that start at 8:30 a.m., it never seems like such a terrible idea . . . at first). And it always winds up the same way: on the first day, I do fine. I get out 500 words, or maybe a thousand. On the second day, the words come slower. By the third or fourth, inspiration hits . . . at eleven o'clock at night. I churn out several thousand words in a flurry, then, the next morning, I oversleep.

So much for an early morning writing habit.

I suppose the advice to write early if you want to write often is like all other writing advice: highly subjective. I much prefer the adage, "write when works for you." That might be a half hour on your lunch break, or late at night during reruns of Degrassi--or maybe you're even one of those strange creatures who actually can write early in the day! That's fine, too.

As long as you make a habit out of it, so long as you carve out regular space in your life for filling up the page, then you're a writer. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Phoebe North

Phoebe writes stories about aliens for teenagers. She loves both Star Trek and Star Wars and doesn't believe you should ever have to choose. She is the author of Starglass and Starbreak, both from Simon and Schuster.

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  1. I love to write at night, in a dark room with music playing. Unfortunately, the day job doesn't allow for late nights, so this is something of a Friday/Saturday night treat ;)

  2. I'm a night owl too, and so were a lot of the participants I spoke to during RTW #91.

    I'm slightly jealous of the early-rising writers, but the words always come rushing in the night!

    Regardless of school or work, I always find myself staying up past midnight, usually into 1 - 3am and have trouble waking up before 9. Delayed sleep phase syndrome describes my life oddly

  3. I'm slightly jealous of the early-rising writers, but the words always come rushing in the night!

    I used to feel that, too. Then I realized I'd internalized a lot of society's messages about night owls--that we're lazy partiers or whatever. Truth is, words are words! Who cares when you get them out?

    Regardless of school or work, I always find myself staying up past midnight, usually into 1 - 3am and have trouble waking up before 9. Delayed sleep phase syndrome describes my life oddly

    Learning about it really explained so much for me--why I've tended toward jobs that started earlier, why I wasn't functional in high school, when I had to be up by five. It hasn't changed my life or anything, but it's given me a framework for understanding myself. Hope it does the same for you, E!

  4. I used to be a night owl, but a few months ago I started getting up early and I found that I really enjoyed being productive in the morning. Granted, I'm not getting up at 5 or 6 in the morning, but nevertheless...

    For whatever reason I tend to get lazier as the day goes on. By the time it's dark out, chances are I won't feel like getting much writing done.

  5. I agree. I can get up early and by early I mean at 8am without any appts. and or specific plans making me get up if I must but I am a night owl by nature. At night I feel more alive. It's easier to write, to enjoy a movie or shows, plus it might have to do with my text buddy who lives in a different time zone (2 or 3 hrs behind i'm not sure at the moment) and works nights lol. Either way I like you tried writing in the a.m. but found that you have to write when it's best for you. But I must say...the idea of getting up at 5-7a.m. just to write disturbs me and makes me want to go back to bed right now ;)

  6. I had never seen the name for DSPS but now I want to print the Wikipedia article and send it to every employer and teacher I ever had. It's way more official sounding than my BFF's name for it-- "damn diurnal society."

  7. omg there is a name for what I have?!

    If forced to adhere to a normal schedule (through school, day job, etc)I can sleep at night and wake up around 6:30/7:00, but left on my own for more than a handful of days and my body reverts back to going to bed sometime around 5:00am and waking around noon.

  8. I would kill to be able to write at night. A few hours between when the kiddo goes to sleep and when I need to go to sleep would be perfect.

    Sadly, I am one of those people who only function in the morning. So when I have no energy to do all the cool things that happen at night, I envy the "night owls."

    I've known two people, a father and son, who really had the same same sleep schedule need that you describe. Both gravitated towards jobs that allow them to get to work at around 10 or 11.

  9. I'm a night owl too. I just started working on campus, and I don't even have to be in until ten, and it's killing me. Mornings are bad....

  10. I wish I could get up early and bask in the sun rising with a cup of coffee. I wish I could write early in the morning.

    But I just can't. I'm right there with you.

  11. I spent my entire childhood on a ranch rising at 5:00 am for chores before catching the bus to school. I learned to function physically, but never mentally. My mom always gave me the 'brain dead' chores (milking the cow) so that my sleepy-headedness didn't lead to severed limbs or crashed tractors.

    As an adult I have learned to cope. Surprisingly, my favorite time to write is the hours of my morning, I just can't really start that morning till around 10 am. Working swings has allowed me to enjoy the best of both worlds!

  12. I do my best writing late at night. Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that it's easier to write after the kids, the husband, and the dog are all asleep.

    Unfortunately, as a teacher, I have to get up early in the morning.

    Fortunately, as a teacher, I have ten weeks off in the summer. Now, that's when I get some good late night writing done!

  13. this is great advice - finding the right time to write.

    but i have to say, i gave similar advice to a friend, and now he finds himself getting out of bed in the middle of the night to write! i want to help him find a time to write that doesn't destroy his sleep, but i don't know what to suggest. :/

  14. Ha, erinjade . . . maybe "write while you're awake!"

  15. I think people feel awake and creative at different moments in the day. It doesn't even have to stay the same moment for the same person all of their life.

    In the past years I realized that I worked better in the morning; probably because I began doing a lot of things in general, and by the time I came back home in the evenings, I felt more like curling on the couch before TV or in bed with a book than getting in touch with my muse. Ironically enough, I'm doing the NaNoWriMo for the first time this year, and I find that I write mostly in the evening/at night...

    However, like many others who commented, even when I say "morning", it usually starts around 9-10 am for me. ;) No rising at dawn if I can help it!

  16. Largely due to work, I'm forced to live in this early-morning world. Sorry, but I'm not an early-morning person. In fact, I encourage people not to schedule meetings with me before 9am. If I could write for a living, I doubt I'd be up before 9:30am, and I'd be going to bed around 1 or 2am. That seems to come more naturally to me.

  17. I'm the same way. I actually like to READ in the morning, because it's a more passive thing. Even if my brain isn't operating on all cylinders, I can usually handle (and enjoy) reading a book. I write on my main projects whenever the day's chores are finished, and if I have work to do for my other job then my writing is delayed even further. Don't notice any decrease in productivity. In fact, I'm writing this year's NaNo in short bursts after midnight...

  18. 1 or 2 a.m.? BA! My morning friends sleep then!

    I'm at 5 or 6 a.m. and can't open my eyes before noon without taking sleeping pills.

    I'm an OverNight Writer :)

  19. My roommate continually mocks me because I actually like getting up at 6 or 7. I like seeing the whole day ahead of me. My brain tends to shut down around nine, so late night writing never works for me.

    I don't think the prejudice against morning people gets enough press. I'm always happy in the morning, and then I have to deal with the grumpiest people who think they have some right to be mean just because they don't want to be awake yet. I still have to be polite when someone comes and bothers me at ten, or eleven (or that douche who came and knocked on the door at 1:45 am)!

  20. Cara, you have this night owl's permission to be grumpy with jerks who come to your door at 2 am. As for the rest of us, remember that the working world id not made for us--we're not trying to be grumpy. We're just doing our best!

  21. I can't write at night. My brain is so tired after I finally get the kids to bed, all I want to do is not think.

    I tried to subscribe to the early morning writing theory, but I get up at 5 AM to get to work by 7, and there is no way I am getting up at 4!

    My most productive writing time is on my lunch hour. Its really the only thing that works for me, but I long to be one of those night writerly kind of people who pour words onto a page in blissful silence! :)

  22. When I became a teacher 11 years ago, everyone said I would adjust to getting up early. Never happened. As soon as vacation starts, I'm back to staying up late. Like you, I often write at night.


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Item Reviewed: The Night Writer Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Phoebe North