I'm sure you've heard the old saying "timing is everything." Do you have a more-or-less specific time of day or night that you find most conducive to your writing? According to Agatha Christie, “The best time for planning a book is when you're doing the dishes.”
Circadian rhythms aside, I thinks it’s safe to say that our life situations, our responsibilities, and the constraints of our daily schedules dictate when (and where) we’re going to write. Motivation and inspiration also figure strongly in our individual creative processes.
I can’t say that I get many ideas while washing the dishes, but spurts of inspiration do seem to come more readily during certain times of the day. My muse is fickle (big sigh here). She takes three-martini lunches and vacations in the south of France for long periods of time. When she does show up, I know her visit will be brief. A poem, for me, almost always beings with a single image (idea, line, phrase). I try to write that down as soon as I can before my wayward muse takes off again. Working that initial impulse into a poem is usually a long process during which morning is my best time for developing and refining ideas. (However, when I do have a poem in process, I sometimes go back to it again and again over a period of many days, nights, and various hours in between).
Science seems to point toward morning as the “best” time to write.
“Bouts of creative writing might be easier to come by just after waking as this is the time of day when the prefrontal cortex is most active. A scientific study of brain circuits confirmed that this creative activity is highest during and immediately after sleep, while the analytical parts of the brain (the editing and proofreading parts) become more active as the day goes on. The study looked at morning and evening MRI scans and observed that mornings showed more connections in the brain.”
In Claire Tomlinson’s biography of Charles Dickens, I read that Dickens (at his peak output) worked on his writing for approximately five hours each day, beginning roughly at 9 AM and continuing until about 2 PM. He sometimes returned to what he’d written earlier during the evening, but those five hours were his most productive.
I think it’s safe to say that we’re all different as poets and writers. Are you a lark (up and writing with the birds) or a night owl (writing into the wee hours)? Following are some thoughts on the subject from ten of my poet friends, all of whom wear many hats (journal editors and publishers, teachers, professors, award winners, fiction and nonfiction writers, poetry series directors, bloggers, husbands, wives, moms, dads, and pet owners). For all of them—and I’m sure this is true for you too—finding time to write poetry isn’t always easy.
The dark before dawn is my favorite time to work. There are no interruptions, few distractions, and nothing says possible like the sun coming up.
My time of day has varied over the years. As a young poet I wrote almost always at night, at a kitchen table, when no one else was up. Sometimes I'd write from 10 at night until dawn. I'd love that tired but elated feeling I'd get, the ink on my hands and face (I wrote long hand then and sweated a lot) the static electricity that made the hairs stand up on my arms. I'd take a long walk and treat myself to a sweet roll or a kaiser with butter and a coffee light and sweet. Sometimes I was the first one at the candy store up my block, just as the owner was pulling up its coat of mail, so I'd help him put together his daily papers, and then get a free roll and coffee. Now, having forsaken divine afflatus (which seems to be always on the night shift), or having been abandoned by same, I write in the early morning or the late afternoon. I often write when I'm supposed to be doing something else, or just before I have to rush out. I love saying, "Wait a minute, I'm almost done!" to my wife, just as I once said to my parents, "Wait a minute, the games almost over." Of course it was never over. I write every day, but certainly not always poems, and I give myself permission to neglect many things for the sake of writing (except my wife and children). Still a writer must practice constructive neglect or the world will always find 100 things else he or she should be doing. Should be will kill you either way—should be writing or should be doing the dishes are both killers. Just write.
When I was working full-time, I realized that generating new material worked best for me in the early morning. The closer I was to sleep, the closer I was to subconscious material. And even if I just got fragments, I could tease them into fuller material later. Music can also have the same effect. My favorite part of writing is revision, if it's not self-torture. Regardless of the time of day or night, I can become obsessed revising, and I consider this essential part of the writing process too. It's not about fixing a poem. It's about the journey to the poem's essence, to liberate the poem to tell me its shape, its sound, its heart. Sometimes silence is key. I hear the music in the language against silence. That's why I love winter days when I'm snowed in to revise. Something about the stunned stillness of the landscape where I can hear my own breath helps me hear the poem. Any false note or syllable shows itself. Letting go of the poem is the hardest. Deadlines help or I'll revise for months, even years. But I’m okay with that. Less is more for me though I envy those of you who are prolific with your gifts.
I don't have a particular time of day when I write poetry. I never have; and now that I'm retired from my "regular" job, I haven't found a "routine" time to write. My daily routine is a work in progress. I'm curious what others will say. Maybe I can learn from the other comments you receive. It seems I'm thinking/doing four or five things at a time. It's pretty special when I grab a pen and paper to write down something. I don't plan to write, unless it's a press release or some other prose project that has a deadline.
I like to write at night after everyone has gone to bed, when it seems the world has fallen asleep and I am the only one listening for what needs to be said to that world before it wakes in the morning. But, I’m a father of 2 with a corporate job, so between waking and sleeping there is very little time to write. Instead, I write when life allows and that is typically on my lunch breaks at 1pm every day. They are my only regular, private time and I’ve accommodated my writing to that time of convenience. I’m on such a lunch break right now, writing these thoughts.
Michael T. Young
Most of my poems start at semi-unexpected times, such as sitting in a parking lot before an appointment or when I’m out walking or biking. Later, I go through a stack of “starts” and hope that one strikes a chord or seems worth pushing toward being a poem. That usually is in the morning, when I have the emotional energy to wrestle.
I wake up very early. Usually around 4:30 or 5. I make a pot of coffee & attempt to write. If nothing comes, I read (and try not to peek at FB).
During the day, if an idea, or line, or interesting word comes to me, I make a note of it to look at the next day.
I almost never write in the evening. By then, my energy's been spent.
When I write, I need time and space alone. This is not oft, as I have two young children that need ample attention much of the time, and numerous domestic responsibilities, as well as teaching responsibilities outside of the home. In that respect, the time of day that I can accomplish some real writing varies, according to whether my kids are at school, quietly entertaining themselves, or taking a nap, and my husband is preoccupied or at work. I can say that this time usually happens in the late afternoon, on Tuesdays or Thursdays, or when I have an office to myself during my teaching hours. Being a mother and wife with a demanding schedule, I am ever grateful for that gloaming hour when I can espouse myself to that sacred solitude.
I'm primarily a morning writer. On an ideal day, I wake early, meditate and exercise, and proceed directly to Go at the current writing project on the computer. There are dangerous distractions along the way -- email, Facebook, coffee, playing with my dog. I am most productive if I forego those distractions and begin to write. Early morning time, when others may be sleeping, feels like it offers a quiet sanctuary where I won't be disturbed. It's best if it's before the regular 9-5 workday starts, too, because I won't feel guilty that I'm not working on Tiferet or other projects. The main challenge is not starting other work thinking I'll have time to do my creative writing later in the day. I really do like to feel, even if it's an illusion, that my to-do list has generally disappeared. That's why early morning, before the tasks of the day begin, works best for my psyche. It also works best if I make it a habit. Once I get out of the habit, it can be hard to dive back into it, like diving into a very cold water pool. Whereas if it's a habit, it's less intimidating. I even have Write for at least 1 hour on my habit-building app on my phone.
Donna Baier Stein
At this point in my life I write most often in the early morning. This is a change for me because when I was still teaching I usually wrote late in the evening after I had graded papers and prepared my classes for the next day. Now in retirement and my late 60's, I have the most energy and attention in the first hours of the day, usually between 6 am and 9 am with my first cup of coffee. I may sometimes return to a poem later in the day that I had begun that morning but most of my new work now happens right after I get up. When the muse is kind and I can get some words flowing a new poem is a wonderful way to start the day.
My sincerest thanks to all the poets who shared their “writing times” with us!
I hope you'll click on the links below the poets' names and visit them online.
As, always, dear blog readers, you’re invited to share your ideas as comments.