Writers Talk About Writing
How to Write if You're a Night Owl
Here's what I'd do if I were the Queen of the World, or had the supernatural powers of Harry Potter. I'd give every would-be writer the determination to produce at least 250 words (or, better, 500) first thing in the morning, starting within 15 minutes of waking up.
Note: I've never promoted getting up at 6 a.m. or earlier to write unless you really want to do that.
But I'm neither the Queen nor Harry Potter. I also know that many writers are either parents of young children or night owls who — for a variety of perfectly sensible reasons — can't possibly write in the morning. Today's column is for you.
If it suits you much better to write in the evening, here are five suggestions:
- Declare your writing time and let everyone know about it. If it's 10 p.m., tell your partner and your kids (if you have them). Let them know they cannot interrupt you for X number of minutes. I suggest you devote at least 15 minutes to writing and absolutely no more than 60. But wait… If you really want to write for 60 minutes, start with something smaller and build up to it. Just as marathoners don't run 25 miles on the first day of training, you shouldn't leave the blocks expecting to hit 60 minutes on the first day.
- Make your writing time late enough so that it won't compete with social or family obligations. If your writing time is 7 p.m. you're essentially committing to never going out to dinner with friends. Never seeing a nighttime movie. Never going to a concert. Make sure your time is really going to work for you at least five days per week. (I always advocate taking a two-day holiday from writing each week.) If you read nighttime stories to your kids, take measures to ensure you don't fall asleep in their beds while doing so. Or have someone assigned to wake you up.
- Have a dedicated writing space, ideally in a room with a door you can shut. If possible, make this a space you don't use for anything else. If that won't work, then figure out some way of "symbolizing" that this is your writing time/space. You might want to put a special mat on your desk or table. Or you might simply place a dictionary at your right elbow. Or perhaps you have a photo, bulletin board or tzotchke. Do something to make it your writing space.
- Know that your willpower will be lower at night — even if you're a night owl. Imagine your willpower as a tank with a small hole. During the day, every decision you make causes your willpower to leak out. And I don't mean big, life-changing decisions, such as whether to take a new job or hire a new employee. I mean small, unimportant ones like what to wear that day or what to pack for lunch. By the time evening rolls around your willpower is going to be lower. So, recognize this inevitability and make some plans to shore yourself up. For one thing, make sure you're not hungry. (People who diet use much of their willpower on controlling their intake of food.) Second, do something to make your nighttime "job" more pleasant. If you can write while listening to music (I can't), do that. Or begin with five minutes of meditation so that you are calm and de-stressed before writing. Finally, be sure to reward yourself for every session's worth of writing. Plan what small treat you're going to buy yourself the next day, or schedule a little no-cost indulgence.
- Develop a way of bringing yourself down before your own bedtime. Depending on how late you write, you may need to take some special measures to prepare yourself for sleep. Writing often keys me up — my brain starts racing and after finishing, the last thing I feel like doing is sleeping. Try to plan for at least an hour's decompression time after writing. Go for a walk, read a book or flip through a magazine. Don't watch TV or surf the Internet, though. The blue light of computer screens, iPads and most cellphones interferes with our melatonin production, making it harder for us to fall asleep. Experts say we should steer clear of such devices for at least an hour before bed. If you do want to be on your computer or TV late at night, you might want to invest in a pair of blue-light blocking glasses. They are available in the US and Canada, as well. I have a pair and I find them amazingly helpful.
Regardless of when you write, you want to develop automaticity — the ability to do it without occupying your mind with the low-level details required. You shouldn't need to make a decision to write. You should just write. You can best achieve this by writing at the same time every day.
Writing in the evening may be harder for many people than writing in the morning. But the important thing is to actually write.