Whether you’re most creative at dawn or midnight, paying attention to how you write at different times of the day can help you discover the best time to write for you.
The deeper I’ve gotten into my career as a writer, the more I’ve become aware of how external factors affect my work. Diet, exercise, fatigue, and distractions can impact how easily ideas come and words flow. In particular, I’ve found that timing is key and that, when life allows, choosing the right time of day to work on a project can impact how delightful or difficult that project becomes.
Here are some ideas to help you optimize your own daily writing schedule so you can create at the best time to write for you.
Learn about other writers’ daily routines
Writers can have vastly different schedules and creative workflows. Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4 am and works for up to six hours before engaging in other activities. Ernest Hemingway, Barbara Kingsolver, and Kurt Vonnegut also start (or started) early in the day. Maya Angelou regularly began writing around 6:30 am, then shifted gears to editing and reworking in the mid-afternoon. And writers from Charles Dickens to Danielle Steele to Barack Obama favor(ed) the evening hours to create.
There’s no right answer — and learning about other writers’ structures can give you ideas on how best to set yourself up for daily success. To learn more about writing routines and timing, these articles by James Clear and Matt Shoard (The Guardian) are great places to start.
Different types of writing can be better suited for different times of day
When I have multiple projects in motion, I find it very helpful to know what type of writing I can work on most effectively at each point of the day.
For article writing that involves analytical thought or precision — and proofreading or copyediting of any sort — mornings (with coffee) are the best; my focus is sharp and I can pick apart complex problems as needed. When I’m transcribing or editing interviews, mid-afternoons work well, though I couldn’t really tell you why. And when it comes to fiction, working after the sun sets seems to yield the most interesting results; whether the day’s events inspire new ideas, or I’m relaxing into a flow when the major to-dos of the day are done, it just works.
These patterns may not reflect yours — again, different writers work in different ways. The key to knowing the best time to write is paying attention and developing a sensitivity to what sort of writing you can execute most effectively given each opportunity you get.
Work around commitments and constraints
Work and school, childcare and other family commitments, life goes on regardless of writing, and all writers must work within the circumstances they’re given.
If you don’t have the luxury of wide flexibility and, say, the only time you can put words together is between 6–6:30 am or 11–11:30 pm each day, there’s still much you can do with that time. Are you like Maya Angelou and thrive when you write early and revise later? Or is it better for you to structure and plan in the morning, percolate during the afternoon, and put words on paper around dinnertime? Within whatever freedom and limitations you have, experiment and find what structure works best.
Figure out how large your window needs to be
For some projects, I need at least one uninterrupted hour to ramp up and be effective. For others, five minutes here or there is enough to move things forward.
When you’re trying to figure out the best times of day to do your writing, be realistic about how much time you need — and when you can get it — and try to structure accordingly.
Monitor and record
As you write, consider marking your drafts with a timestamp each time you sit down or keep a simple journal where you record what you worked on and when.
Given some space and distance, looking back, patterns may emerge. Did you consistently come up with compelling plot turns when working right before dinner? Was your prose muddied and dense when you worked first thing in the morning? Did words seem to float from your fingers effortlessly in the quiet of midnight?
Pay attention to when you were most and least successful, and what types of tasks were best suited for which times. Adjusting your schedule accordingly can help you optimize your writing process every day.
As I described in “The Accidental Novelist – How Stolen Moments Can Make A Book,” I wrote my first draft on my phone, piecemeal, in whatever fissures of time I could find. Similarly, for articles and other projects, I’ve found myself coming up with ideas, titles, or even full paragraphs at random and unexpected times.
Even if your writing day is fully structured and planned out, remember that inspiration comes when it comes. Try to have a notebook or device within reach at all times so you can at least jot something down with the intent of fleshing it out later.
Stay flexible and adjust as needed
For much of the pandemic, I rewrote sections of my novel right before ending the night. Recently, I’ve found that pattern to be more disruptive than helpful, so I’m experimenting with shifting that work to afternoon and early evening. So far, it’s working.
In your own writing, if what worked for you before doesn’t work now — whether you can point to the reason or not — never hesitate to try something different.
What times of the day are best for your writing? Share your story with us in the comments below.
The Accidental Novelist – How Stolen Moments Can Make A Book
Navigating The Turning Point In Your Story
Find Success As A Writer By Focusing Your Energies
The Writing Process: Time Management Tips
How Long Does It Take To Write A Novel?