Writing and the 6 a.m. brain

Southern California dawn; credit: Jessie Eastland

Southern California dawn; photo credit: Jessie Eastland

 

Every writer has a different time of day that works for creative writing.

As I retool my novel and prepare to cast it back into the marketplace, I realize why working early in the morning has been the best choice for me.

As the day progresses, bad things happen to my brain.

My thoughts become too logical, too careful, too focused on making everything precise and accurate.

Accuracy isn’t always at the heart of the best creative writing. In the early morning, while this critical side is still groggy, my creative side has a chance to work unhindered … at least for a little while.

Here’s a small example of what I mean. Something written in the afternoon:

I lost my footing and fell down the steps into the cellar.

… and the same thing rewritten at 6 a.m.:

I stumbled down the stairs.

You’re probably thinking, “Huh?”  It might not be a big revelation to anyone else, but it is to me.

The first version is too overwritten, especially for the place where it occurs in my story. What I needed was something much briefer, but I just couldn’t see it. My brain was too concerned about prepositions, about specific locations, and too smitten with the idea of losing one’s footing instead of a simpler expression. Most people stumble. Or fall. (I don’t think anyone’s lost their footing since 1875.)

The simpler version arrived the next day … in the morning.

A.L. Kennedy has written frequently about the daily challenges to writing well, and a column of hers that’s my favorite is called “The chaos of writing.” It appeared a few years ago in The Guardian. Lovely stuff, my friends.

Early morning’s my best time, what’s yours? Or does it matter?

9 responses

  1. I can never predict when I’ll be “in the zone.” I just have to be there, butt in chair, waiting for it to happen. 😀 You were the first person to introduce me to Kennedy. She rocks! Thanks!

  2. It sounds like you have a regular routine, Jil. Totally makes sense. My zone just seems best when the sun’s coming up.

    Isn’t Kennedy the best? I’d heard that all of her writing columns were going to be collected as a book. Whenever that happens, I’ll let you know.

  3. I laughed out loud at this: “I don’t think anyone’s lost their footing since 1875.”

    Your sentence comparison made me smile, too. One of my most important, and hardest, tasks has been moving from academic writing to whatever it is that I do now. Another few years of movement, and I may be on to something.

    I have to snatch time, but prefer evening — even night. One great thing about night writing is that, if I get stuck, I often can go to bed, sleep, and wake with the perfect word, sentence, or title in my mind. Sometimes, even direction changes.

    I just hate that business about Jonah Lehrer and plagiarism. Still, his piece called “The Eureka Hunt” really helped me reshape some of my routines.

  4. I’d love to do the late night writing like you, Shoreacres, but I always seem to pass out. Thanks for your warm response, and also for the recommendation of the Lehrer piece. I’m going to read it, and other people should, too!

  5. The same goes for me. My thoughts are much clearer and unhindered in the mornings, which I dislike because I’m not a morning person. Writing at night is a bit difficult because I’m more likely to criticize every word.

  6. Lovely post. I write best when I’m not tired. Practically never these September days. Waiting to regain some alertness and strength and then the morning, afternoon or nights could be equally great times to write half a decent paragraph or two! I also find that my style of writing (svelte versus cumbersome) is influenced by what I read. I pick up a new book and inconsistency creeps up in my writing style/s, as if unwanted guest writers start to take turns in finishing off chapters! All the best, Og&bs

  7. Great submission, thank you Og&b …. and your comment about the influence of what you happen to be reading is provocative — I’ll deliver up something on that topic for your scrutiny soon!

  8. Pingback: The virtues of writing that’s boring « Call of the Siren

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