When is the best time to write?

best time to write

Word count: 781 words

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It’s always hard to find enough time for all the things we want to do. But somehow it’s extra-difficult to find writing time. What, then, is the best time to write?

I was born a night owl. I used to think 2 am was the perfect bedtime and I resented having to get up before 8:30. Paradoxically (or perhaps I mean, annoyingly), I had to be at work by 6 am in the years I worked as a senior newspaper editor. I loved my job but I was miserable, sleepwise.

But here’s the weird thing. When I was in my late-40s, I turned into a morning lark, overnight. I started waking at 5 am as if a fire alarm had sounded. To cope, I began going to bed at 10 pm. I was so concerned I even went to see a sleep doctor who attributed the change to hormones.

Having lived on both sides of the aviary, it’s clear to me that society gives more kudos to larks. The phrase “the early bird catches the worm,” dates back to 1678 and being early to rise will earn you cheery labels such as “energetic,” and “enterprising.” Late-sleepers, no matter how hard they work, are invariably described as lazy or slothful.  This is so untrue and unfair.

Writers frequently debate the best time for writing. Given that I’ve spent the majority of my life as an owl, you might be surprised to learn that I, too, endorse morning writing (although I’m not silly enough to suggest setting an alarm for 5 am to do it). Here’s why I like mornings:

We’re usually in better moods. Our bosses and colleagues haven’t said anything stupid (yet), our children haven’t spilled the milk or crashed the car (yet), our partners haven’t thrown their socks on the floor or left the dirty cereal bowl on the counter (yet). The day is fresh, the potential unlimited. If we’re in a neutral or good mood it’s far easier to write than if we’re pissed off over something.

We have more willpower. So many people see willpower as a straightforward “discipline.” Resolve to do something and, do it, dammit. But science has now shown that willpower, like oil, is a limited resource. We get only so much of it. So if you use up your willpower on other things throughout the day — such as exercising, dieting, finishing something for your boss you don’t want to work on – you won’t have enough willpower left for writing, later.

The creative brain seems to awaken sooner. Neuroscientists call the editing brain the “focused” part. You might think of the creative brain (the prefrontal cortex) as more “diffuse”. The good news is that the creative brain seems more active directly after sleeping so if you have difficulty stopping yourself from editing while you write, use this waking-up advantage to help. (And here are some other stop-editing-while-you-write tips.)

It helps squeeze writing in to an otherwise crowded day. We’re all busy people. And days get only busier as they advance. In the evening, you may need to go to a child’s soccer game, a movie, a dinner party. But you’re not likely to have any other commitments between 5 and 9 am, are you? Writing first thing in the morning ensures you actually get it done.

It helps build the writing “habit.” Just as it’s smarter to exercise in the morning, so, too, it’s smarter to write then. The things we do without thinking about them – making our beds, brushing our teeth, taking out the recycling – are less painful because we don’t waste any time arguing with ourselves. Building a habit takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days so this is a long-term commitment, but it’s worth it so you can beat procrastination forever.

If you want to give early-morning writing a try, here’s my advice:

  • Don’t adjust your wakeup time dramatically. Get out of bed by no more than 5 to 15 minutes earlier than usual. Solidify this new time for a few weeks before adjusting it further (if you want to.) Use the Kaizen technique and make your first goal so stupidly simple that you can’t possibly fail.
  • Don’t have a shower or eat breakfast before writing. Simply grab yourself a weak tea or a glass of water. (Try to avoid coffee until you want to do more focused work.)
  • Start with a mindmap. This will help inspire you.
  • Use mornings for mindmapping and writing ONLY. Don’t do other writing-related tasks such as research or editing. (Make time for them later in the day.)
  • Don’t check your email or Facebook before writing. Instead, use these things as a reward for when you’re finished.

If you’re a night owl, enjoy your evenings. But try to spend at least a little morning time writing.

What’s do you find is the best time to write? We can all learn from each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me by commenting below. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)

Posted August 27th, 2013 in Power Writing

  • Lori

    A lot of it depends on, to be honest, how I eat during the day. Journal writing immediately after waking up is awesome: the stresses of yesterday seem so far away (ear worm for the day) and it’s nicer to write about the plans for the day instead. However, the kids need me until one’s off to school and child care (currently the husband) takes his shift at around 9:00. If I eat well, I have excellent focus for the rest of the morning and early afternoon. (Then it’s my turn with the kids.) If I eat poorly, it’s very difficult to get anything done.

    • Hey Lori, As I read your posting, here’s what it says to me: All you need to do is to eat well to ensure you’re writing success. Remember that!! It’s not that hard to orchestrate, is it?

      • Lori

        My problem is i love to bake, and if baked goods are in good supply, they replace healthier foods 🙂 But thank you for simplifying my thoughts – I’m going to keep that in mind as I stay home and continue to look after the younger child and squeeze in some writing time!

  • Laura Onizuka

    Inspiring for a night-owl who toys with the idea of becoming otherwise… Thank you!

    • Bad news, Laura. If you’re a night owl, I don’t think you can ever PLAN to become otherwise. But of course, you can plan to get up 15 minutes earlier than usual and write then.

      • Haha, good point! Work with what you’ve got, and honor who you are. 😉 Thanks, again.

  • Bob

    Speaking as one whose time is his own, I find the best time is right after an early breakfast, and BEFORE getting enmeshed in email. But if the day is very hot, that is also the best time to get something done outside, and I write after lunch.
    I don’t write fiction, and that probably simplifies things as far as my brain efficiency is concerned.

  • barbara

    This night owl thanks you for the good advice contained in your newsletter this week! ~Barb T

  • Monica

    I would love to do this but my early morning time goes in cooking meals for the family as my son leaves for school by 7.30 am and husband for work by 9.00 am. Only after that do I get a breather.

    But at least on holidays, I try to do this and though I too am a night owl, I agree writing early morning is productive. I’ve often written good content (to my own surprise and delight) in lesser time, and that alone sets my mood for the day!.

  • Rich Williams

    Taking small steps, as suggested in, “Use the Kaizen technique and make your first goal so stupidly simple that you can’t possibly fail” reminds me of the movie, “What About Bob?” … Taking baby steps.

  • Ngaire Dixon

    I agree with all of your points. Particularly important, I find, is the one about not showering or eating first. People might think that they would feel more comfortable after a shower or with food inside them, but I’ve found that’s not so – when you are on a mission these things become irrelevent. Also, by the time you’ve done either or both of these things you’ve usually found something else to do. Once I’ve been going for some time I can then take a breather for my shower or breakfast but with the motivation and inspiration to return to the keyboard as soon as possible. I know of others who are most prolific this way and one friend who had family to attend to in the morning got up at 5am every weekday. I’ve done it to meet deadlines and found it’s a great time to start.

    • I agree re: not showering or eating until after you’ve done some work. I go right to my desk after waking up and I work for at least an hour before my breakfast and my morning shower. It’s always the most productive hour of my day!

  • jerseyguy

    I think it simply comes down this: if you want to be sure of getting something done on a particular day, do it first thing in the morning. Works with a lot of things outside of wrinting also.


    • I totally agree! I have a list of things I try to get done first thing every morning. If only I had 50% more early morning!!

  • Bahamut5098

    I like to write in the morning and really struggle to write after I’ve reached my daily 2000words/day goal. Even editing at night is tough for me. I guess I’m a morning person, and I will have coffee before I write. It usually takes me 2-3 hours to write my daily quota.

    • If you’re writing 2,000 words per day you have no problems! Don’t worry about not being able to edit at night. Celebrate your fluency!

  • anup

    I am working on my maiden novel but it seems to take forever for me to complete it due to lack of ample time to ponder and pen those thoughts down. The saddest part of my story is that i already have subject and story inside my mind for other 2 novels while i am unable to allocate enough time to drive home my maiden novel. I want to learn about the time of the day in which writing brain runs best so that i can devote that time to work on the stuff i love the most in more efficient manner. any suggestion will be appreciated.. 🙂

    • Typical length for a book is 70,000 words. If you write 270 words per day, five days a week, you will achieve that count in a year. Did you know that? I find most people just need some accountability to achieve this goal. You might consider looking at my Get It Done program. Next slot opens in January.

      • anup

        Thank you for your response .. 🙂

  • Tailini Ribeiro Nunes

    Hi Daphne! Today was my first experience giving the early-morning writing a try. It was just amazing! I feel great and determined to keep on this track. Thank you very much!

  • Alessandra Munari

    Hi! Thanks for your article, it was very helpful (and I mean it: I have been reading such articles for a while… you know, reading articles about writing rather than writing).

    May I ask for your advice? I am a young (almost 25) PhD student of Italian literature (and I live in Italy, my own country). This means that my daily routine already revolves around researching, reading and above all writing papers, thesis, reports, notes, etc. I would like to write fiction, too – I managed to finish a novel during high school, years ago; but then I used to write during summer holidays, with lots of free time. I do like to write even those academic writings as carefully and creatively as possible, too, though.
    Does it sound impossible to lead such a “double writing life”? What I mean is that it is quite odd, almost exhausting, to have a break from writing (thesis, let’s say) with writing (a novel); and I am afraid I would have no neurons left for my thesis later in the day if I were to write fiction early in the morning; the same goes for writing at night (and my PhD advisor is a night owl, too, so there are times when I need to stay alert at night, you know, waiting for the Professor’s reply; I go to bed at midnight and get up at 7, usually, but I would gladly wake up earlier if I decided so).

    Would you kindly give me any tips on how to organize my time? I would be very very thankful!

    • Not sure you’ll like my answer Alessandra, but I strongly advise you to delay the novel until you finish your thesis. Both are HUGE demanding projects, and both require similar types of work. Get the thesis done first and then reward yourself with the novel when you’re finished… Just my two cents…

      • Alessandra Munari

        Thanks! I will have to wait three years, then. It does sound terrible… But I thought so too, actually. Thank you for saying it clearly!

        • I’m a plain talker! If you need support during the thesis-writing project (or, later, the book-writing one), you might want to consider my Get It Done program. More details here: http://buff.ly/1B2hr91