I don’t think I have ever read a book about how to write (and I’ve read a lot of books about how to write) that didn’t stipulate that writing first thing in the morning, as soon as you get up, is the best thing to do.
Excuse my “French”, but bollocks to that.
I am not a morning person. Not in any way, shape or form. I never have been, and I never will be. In addition to this apparently genetic disadvantage (my mother is terrible in the mornings too), I suffer from a chronic illness which means I need about four hours to get going for the day. My brain doesn’t normally come online in any meaningful way until about 11am. And if I try to get going any earlier, I am totalled for days afterwards.
Writing first thing in the morning is never going to happen for me. Its a biological impossibility.
Ask me about 9.30pm, though. Yep, by then I am motoring! I have suffered from insomnia since childhood, when I lay in bed making up stories in the dark to amuse myself while everyone else slept. I think this is when I became a writer. I am at my most creative in the hours of darkness, when my mind flies along, pumping out ideas and exciting images like Spielberg on speed. I even dream in glorious technicolour.
And yes, I write during the day too, but mostly not before about 4pm. I often have a big pulse of creativity between 4pm and 6pm that is great for finishing stories, and for writing blog posts, which is exactly what I am doing now – its 5.45pm and my brain is firing on all cylinders.
Ask me to invent something at 10am, though, and you are wasting both our times. Ask me after 10pm and you probably couldn’t stop me with a sledge hammer!
We all have an internal body clock. Some of us are naturally larks, and some owls. If you are honest with yourself, you know which you are, when you function best. You might be brilliant at doing advanced maths in the morning, or you might be better checking your email or dusting the objet d’art.
This doesn’t just apply to the hours of the day, but to your annual clock too. I find I have a bit of a manic period in March, when the sap starts to rise and I can’t sleep at all because my brain is whirring so frantically with new ideas. I actually get breathless! By the time April comes in, I am mentally drained, and can barely come up with an idea for something for tea until July. July is often my time for last bursts of activity on a project that needs finishing, the final sprint. But during the summer months, I can safely say there are better things to do than sit inside with a laptop.
Once September comes in, I start to go into my creative cave, a kind of incubation period where I sit with ideas, mull them over, do my planning. Then during the depths of winter I engage in my deepest writing, my most productive spells, when I can turn out 2-3000 words a day at times. I find I draw best in the first half of the year, which to me is an exterior time, a period of surging energy. The second half of the year is for going inside, for living with the images and tales in my head.
I’ve discovered this pattern over the years, observing myself and my creativity and making notes about how I am working in my writing notebooks. Self reflection is something that helps your creative process and there should always be space in your writing notebooks, sketchbooks and journals for considering how you work best, and what you do when. These things are important to know, because that way you can optimise your output. I know, for instance, that there is no need for me to beat myself up in June when I realise I’m not writing. That’s ok. Its not the time to do it. June is when I am out in the world, filling my well. I know the time will come, and that the downtime in the summer is an important resting and refuelling stop. Knowing when not to beat yourself up for not being creative is incredibly important for your self confidence and longevity as an artist, and for your mental health.
Take out your notebook, journal or sketchbook – whatever is your creative workbench – and spend some time reflecting on when you have produced your best work, both in terms of the time of day, and of the year. Do particular seasons have creative resonances for you? Are the liminal times of dawn or twilight the moments when you come up with your best ideas? Do you write or paint great stuff in the summer months, or when you are on holiday? Are you stupified by the cold grey winter skies, or do they encourage you to look within for brighter pictures?
Make sure you take time periodically to reflect on this subject, as it will help you build up a clearer picture of your creative clock. I like to do it at the beginning of each month, like a review, or quarterly, at the changing of the seasons. The more you know yourself as a creative person in this way, the more easily you will be able to use your energy for your best work, and to avoid frustration and blocks.