What goes into an ideal day of writing for you? Perhaps you’d like to start out with some coffee while basking in the early morning sunlight before hitting the laptop to write. Or writing morning pages in longhand with that shiny, new fountain pen.
Whatever it is, as writers, we always strive to find the best time to get some writing done. But is there really such a “best” time to write, or is that a myth? And could that myth actually somehow limit your writing capacity?
Time management is something most writers often struggle with—especially if you’re juggling a 9-to-5 job or have a couple of other freelance writing jobs on your plate. But once you’ve nailed down proper time management, you will become more efficient in writing, ideas will flow naturally, creativity will kick in, and deadlines will be met on time.
But before that, we need to find the key to how we can be more effective with our output while still being efficient.
Research in chronobiology suggests that people have different sleep patterns and work at their peak at different times of the day. So, while some writers suggest writing early in the morning, it may not be best for everyone.
There is also research that delves into certain times our bodies do different kinds of activities at their best or most optimal. This means that there’s actually a time when we can best function for specific tasks based on our body’s internal clock (and other factors that may have some bearing on how it functions, like health or daily responsibilities).
If you listen to your own body clock, you’re attuned to be more productive and conditioned to write, regardless of whether you’re a morning lark or a night owl. Below are some reasons why writers choose to be on one side of the aviary or the other when it comes to choosing a writing schedule.
For some people, the best time to write is in the morning when we’re only starting to break into the day. Here are just a few reasons mornings tend to be productive for some:
1) We have more willpower and are less likely to succumb to procrastination.
I don’t find it practical to keep battling with willpower to become disciplined. First of all, it’s time-consuming to go against willpower, especially if it’s something you’re not happy to do. And unfortunately, willpower is a finite source—after some time, persistence wears off and the discipline to stay on track eventually diminishes.
Writing early in the morning, before you do anything else, means you don’t have to use your valuable willpower by convincing yourself to write. That early, you are not yet faced with decisions of the day, like work, chores, school, etcetera, so you can focus more on writing before anything else. When we’re already up and about doing our daily tasks, our brain goes into reactive mode: We become frantic performing tasks that need to be accomplished as soon as possible. This makes it hard to get creative in the middle of the day, since our minds are already filled with to-do lists, ideas, problems, decisions, and other things that may hinder our creative process.
Furthermore, mornings are the perfect time to do deep work, as our minds are still relaxed and full of dopamine (which is another ingredient in the recipe for increasing one’s creative drive), thus creating an avenue for the influx of creative ideas.
2) Better mood leads to more focus and productivity.
If you are truly serious about writing that book or finishing that writing project, ticking off writing-related tasks on your list should be an indicator that you’ve been productive for the day. Checking off these items releases the chemical called dopamine, a neurotransmitter released by the brain that makes us feel good, thus fueling our productivity further.
Also, at the start of the day, you usually haven’t checked your emails yet and read angry messages from your boss, or your kids haven’t gotten out of bed and you have all the time to yourself. Negative vibes or frustrating situations can affect your productivity and dampen the rest of your day; therefore, scheduling your writing in the morning can be optimal because the day is still fresh and you’re in a better mood to conquer your writing tasks.
3) Fresh ideas come right after waking up.
Sometimes, we have a hard time cultivating new ideas, but research has shown that the best time to entertain and generate new thoughts is early in the morning, because the brain is more active right after waking up.
Since you’re more creative when asleep, the remnants of subconscious thought (like when you’re having a dream) will still linger right when you wake up. After a well-rested night, great ideas will come spiraling out, which makes it a good time for creative activities.
For some, writing at night helps them think creatively; thus, they schedule writing to get the most out of this time of day. A couple of reasons some writers prefer night-time writing are:
1) It is quiet, peaceful, and devoid of distractions.
Some writers find the alluring peace of the night perfect to get some writing done. I personally work from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., when everyone is fast asleep, so there is less distraction.
If you have a full-time day job or some other activities you need to do during the day, night-time is great, since you no longer have to deal with the responsibilities of the day. As for me, it’s simply a tantalizing prospect to sit down on a quiet night after a long day, with a mug of coffee in one hand and a pen and paper in the other, to unwind and flesh out new ideas.
2) Critical consciousness is loosened.
For some writers who do their creative work at night, there’s a reason they seem to think ideas just flow naturally at this time. A 2011 study by a psychology professor named Mareike Wieth shows that the mind is more creative when it’s slightly groggy.
You see, while it’s nice that we are at our critical best during the day, allowing us to focus well on tasks, sometimes we can be so critical that we block or filter our own creative ideas.
Wieth told The Atlantic, “You’re screening out anything that’s not relevant. If you’re in your office and there’s noise, you can screen out everything else,” and that includes creative ideas that may abruptly stream into the mind.
On the other hand, at night, when we are at our least optimal state, the logical or analytical part gets tired, and that block filtering our creative juices gets lifted. This gives us an opportunity to write with more freedom, since the critical part of our brain is shut down.
Aside from knowing what time is optimal for you to write, establishing a writing routine might prove to help you become more efficient.
While morning larks and night owls differ on what the optimal writing time is, we can all agree that a consistent writing routine is important to become more effective and efficient with our work.
After all, if you can’t establish a definite time to sit down and work on your writing, whether it’s in the morning, at night, or in the middle of the day, you still won’t be able to create anything. The key to better efficiency could also mean finding the perfect routine that works around your life and responsibilities. In this case, having a routine in place could still beat the “optimal time” you’ve religiously set yourself to follow.
Arnela Gonzales is a travel and food photographer and blogger at Chasing Bleu from Cebu, Philippines. When she’s not learning web programming, she pursues creative projects and travels as much as she can all across the country—continuously wandering and soaking up herself in new experiences and beautiful scenery.