How many of you have had a conversation like this?
You: “I can’t write after working a full-time job. I’m drained for most of the evening.”
Other person: “Get up a few hours before work and write at that time.”
You: “I’m not a morning person. My brain barely starts functioning at 10am.”
Other person: “Okay, well then stay up later to finish writing, then go to bed.”
You: “And what, be a zombie all day? Up my risk of having a headache all day? Risk falling asleep at the 9am team meeting they insist on putting first thing in the morning? Mm, yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna work.”
Other person: “If you want a boost of energy, try–”
You: *thinking* God help you if the next word out of your mouth is ‘exercise.’
We know there are some common traits among writers. We’re usually (but not always) shy, socially awkward, introverted, or some variation of all three. Writers also tend to be night owls, meaning we write best in the wee hours of the night. Oh, don’t get me wrong–there are dozens upon dozens of articles online about the wake-up times and habits of famous writers (Hemingway, Proust, Vonnegut, Bradbury, King, and so on).
These articles all evangelize the same suggestion–“If you want to be as successful and amazing as [insert name of famous writer here], you need to wake up early. Like, really ridiculously early. Take what your definition of early is and slide that back three hours. Seriously. It’s the only way.”
Just type in “how to become a morning person” or any variation of that into Google. Once you’ve looked at the plethora of articles dedicated to this topic, you’ll find that they all mostly have the same advice–go to bed earlier, wake up 15 minutes earlier each day, wake up at the same time every day (even weekends), put your alarm away from your bed so you have no choice but to get out of bed to turn it off, etc. We’ve all heard these before.
Here’s another article that continues the (endless) night owl vs. morning lark debate that I found this morning from Workopolis. The author suggests that even though morning larks tend to be happier, night owls have more stamina so we can work longer throughout the day (which is something I think is debatable). These articles do have a tendency to generalize and they don’t take into account people who suffer from sleep disorders like insomnia or those with chronic illnesses that feature “persistent fatigue” as one of the main symptoms.
So, what’s the issue here? Well, many writers have major resentment toward their day jobs and blame them, saying we don’t write because our day jobs are getting in the way. There’s another school of writers that says this is a misguided way of thinking, but one can’t deny that household chores, family obligations, commuting and other daily activities take up a lot of time and energy. We’re wiped out at the end of the day and writing is often the last thing we want to do.
Most day jobs demand 9am to 5pm (and that’s if you’re lucky–depending on where you work, you might not get out until 7pm, not to mention those jobs that require evenings and weekends, too). If you work a day job or have ever worked one, you know how difficult it is to write late at night and sacrifice sleep.
Morning people/larks (or “cheery jerks I want to punch” as I refer to them) tend to be more productive. The catch is that if you’re not already one of them, you can join their club, but it takes a long time for the gruelling initiation to wear off.
Many writers report a significant improvement in their writing and productivity after making the switch from night owl to lark. Others say they are fine in the morning but walk into walls by 2pm. Still others say writing at night is best, and to forget those early birds.
Me personally? I think it’s about trial and error. I want to dedicate myself to trying this and seeing if I can pull it off. I don’t think I’m going to try anything obscenely early like 5:00am (I had to wake up at that time for a database design class a few years ago and half the time I couldn’t tell what day it was let alone whether it was night or day. In the dead of winter. So, yeah, not fun.)
But there’s got to be a solution that doesn’t involve sacrificing sleep to the detriment of a writer’s physical health, not to mention our mental health (we kind of need both if we want to cobble together words that make sense).
Many articles involve the journalist him or herself doing an experiment to see if they can trick themselves into transforming from a night owl into a morning lark. Usually what happens is some variation on “It was hard at first, then I got used to it and now I’m part of the morning lark club! Yay for me!” Or some variation on how they were able to do the early rising thing at first but then they gave it up because it was too difficult to maintain.
What do you think, readers? What do you do if you’re like me and your most productive writing time is late at night but you have to be up early for a day job? If you’re an early riser, do you get more writing done? If you’re a night owl, do you find you get more done? Sound off below!