Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 43

by Laura Anne Gilman

I once admitted to a fellow writer that I got a great deal of satisfaction in waking up and accomplishing things before the sun rose.  I think that an admission of gleeful cannibalism would have been received better, and with more understanding.

Many writers turn to the dark side… that is to say, they are nocturnal workers.  For some, it is the result of maintaining a day job; for others, it is the only time they get to themselves.  And some simply work better in the relative stillness of the night.

But there are a number of writers who – like the majority of the working population – get up every morning and put in their time while the sun’s doing its thing, knocking off at dinner time

You will hear writers discussing their preferences, sometimes with vehemence, sometimes with a sort of sheepish deniability better suited to the aforementioned admission of cannibalism.

Neither is ‘better,’ and neither is ‘more appropriate.’  Yeah, even if you’re a horror writer.  Or an erotica writer.   Much has to do with the schedule of those around you.  If you have children, their needs factor in (factor x10, in fact).  If you have a spouse who works a specific shift, that will factor in.  If you have other obligations – outside job, parents, hobbies… all of that needs to be factored in.

Plus, if you are working with agents or editors in another time zone, you need to keep that in mind for administrative communication – although the blessing of email has reduced some of that strain.  The days of having to wait for someone to be in the office before you can tell them something are, thankfully, long gone.  Ditto having to get to the post office during the hours they are open, to send a manuscript…

But the truth is that – no matter what outside needs push us – there are certain times we find that we work better.  When the creative mind takes control, pushes everything else to the back, and hits the groove.  And it’s different for everyone.

Some of us wake up, and we’re ready to write.  The hours between 5am and 10am are prime creative territory, and once the afternoon hits, your brain shifts into other patterns.  Some of us can’t get it cranking until 10pm.  And some lucky folk can create at any time of day or night.  Yes, you can (and will) train yourself to work in the time available… but if you can adjust your schedule to take advantage of that ‘hard-wired preference,’ you’ve got a half-step start.

But what time is best for you is not something you’re going to figure out – you should pardon the expression, overnight.  And it may not be immediately obvious.

Even if you’ve been in this gig for years, try tracking your hours.  Note not only when you’re most productive, but when you feel best while writing.  When do you produce work that sticks to the page?  Note the patterns over a week, or even a month.

And, just as importantly, when do you find your brain turns to other tasks?  Are you able to juggle administrative details or external stressors better in the morning or afternoon?

Take all that data, and hold it up against your schedule.  Is there something that can be adjusted?  If so, do it.  You may be amazed, not only how much better you work, but how much better you feel.

Coming up in Week 44:  Weighing in on The Great Debate

Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, including the THE SHATTERED VINE, Book 3 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy, IN STORES NOW! (ahem), and the forthcoming urban fantasy TRICKS OF THE TRADE (12/11). Her SF collection, DRAGON VIRUS, which SF Signal called “amazingly evocative….a potent ride through a changing future,” was published by Fairwood Press in June 2011.  For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman)

She also runs d.y.m.k. productions, an editorial services company (www.dymkproductions.com).

And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.

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About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at https://www.patreon.com/LAGilman Learn more at www.lauraannegilman.net, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.

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Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 43 — 5 Comments

  1. I can write at any time of the day or night, given the right incentive (i.e., a looming deadline). At Clarion West, I sat up writing until I literally fell asleep at my computer (yes, I do mean literally) and then got up at 5 or 6 AM to do more work.

    But I have discovered that I don’t like to write or do anything else that requires making decisions after about 8 PM. I just don’t trust my judgment then. I’m much better at deciding things early in the morning. Unfortunately, that makes morning the best time to both write and get the other chores of life out of the way. Something is always left undone, alas.

    Not, I hasten to add for those who equate early rising with cannibalism, that I’ve become a morning person. I’m still grouchy and desperate for coffee and shouldn’t have company.

  2. For me everything depends on whether the spark is burning hot. When the story is burning, I essentially write every waking moment; I have been known to write at red lights. (Unfortunately this also applies to other areas of creativity — I have also been known to -knit- at red lights.)

  3. I’m the rarity in the SF world. (it seems the late night writers are more vocal in defense of their work habits.) At cons I get almost as much work done as I do at home simply because I get up on a normal schedule, work for a couple of hours before the con wakes up and gets moving. Of course that means I have to skip out on a lot of parties. But if I’m “working” a party as opposed to partying, those I need to make contact with are east coast editors and they retire as early as I do.

  4. For me it all depends on the day. There are times when I am catapulted out of bed at 4am with an idea that threatens to make my brain explode. Then I have my “sensible” days, when I’m able to start at 9 or 10am and work right through until 5 or 6pm. But on thing I have learned in all my writing is that it’s a good idea to review my work the next day – fresh day, fresh eyes…

  5. This is a terrifically insightful post. I used to be a night person and found my most productive writing time was always at night. Weirdly, when I turned 46, I suddenly became a morning person. Started waking up between 5 and 6 am every day (trust me, this had NEVER happened before) and my new “prime time” was early morning.

    EVERYONE is different. As Socrates said, know yourself. Thanks for the great post!