Justine: Going Nocturnal

yellow eyes black PantherA few weeks ago, Jeanne blogged about chunky writers, or writers who need large chunks of time in order to be productive. I completely identified with this…it takes me a little while to get into my story world, and if I’m on a tear, I want to stay there.

However, as some of you know, I have a family…kids, a dog (who unfortunately does not use a litter box and so needs to go out), and a husband who travels a lot. I’m also the point person on just about anything to do with repairs, errands, etc. And, because most businesses are open during the day, that’s when I have to take care of those things, usually at the expense of my writing.

But it didn’t used to be like this. When my kids were younger (and I needed to parent them all day), I would work at night, usually starting after they went to bed. I would work until midnight or later, then come to bed and try to make it through the next day with IVs of caffeine. Not only was I a migraine-wielding zombie, the lack of time spent with my husband after the kiddos went to bed put major stress on our marriage. Then my kids started at a new school, I became the PTA president, and I basically stopped writing for two years.

Cue one-and-a-half years after kick-starting my writing and I’m trying to figure out how to get my writing done productively. I had a taste of it when I was in London in September…being alone and on a different time zone meant that I wasn’t interrupted and no one was calling or scheduling anything with me because when I was awake, they were asleep! In one week, I finished my website, polished a free short story prequel (#shamelesspromo: go to my website, sign up for my newsletter, and it’s yours!), and wrote 22,000 words on my WIP.

Ever since, I’ve been dying to recreate that sort of productivity.

Then, while chatting with my therapist the other day, I asked her why I was so comfortable with letting my own deadlines go, but when I had a deliverable for someone else, I stuck to them like glue? Eventually, the conversation came around to chunky vs. non-chunky writers and I recalled how I used to write at night. I decided that it was time to restart my nocturnal writing habits and started this past week.

The results? AMAZING!!

In a span of four hours Wednesday night, I completely rewrote my first chapter. Five thousand words. And the words flowed. I was able to stay in my story as long as I needed to, and at the end of my writing session (about 2 a.m.), I felt energized by my progress. I couldn’t wait to do it again!

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that not everyone can do this. I don’t have a 9-5 job, so I have time during the day that I can crash and catch up on sleep, and my husband is much more willing to grant me the time to write than he was a few years ago (I think he sees that I’m actually getting somewhere with my writing, haha!). But if you need ample time to write, you have the flexibility in your schedule, and you can stay up late (here’s a test…do you stay up to finish a book that you started at 10 p.m.? If so, you’re probably good), then I suggest giving it a try.

Update: Three Nights Later

I started this blog post on Thursday. It’s now Saturday evening. I had two nights of good writing (to 1-2 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday) and on the first day after my nocturnal writing session, I was able to grab catch-up sleep, but not so the other day. As a result, I was dragging. I definitely learned a few things in the short, half-week that I tried nocturnal writing:

  • I need to work on keeping my morning schedule clear of appointments and errands so I can go back to bed for a couple hours…the extra sleep is necessary;
  • Do NOT drink tea/coffee when the kids are getting ready for school, no matter how much I think I need it (or crave it), because it will totally prevent me from falling asleep once I get them out the door;
  • If the kids aren’t in school, I can’t stay up late the night before. Period. They may be older a bit a more self-sufficient, but they still get into trouble.

Clearly, my strategy needs a bit of tweaking. I will also have to be more thoughtful about staying up late when my husband is out of town, because I have to run the show 24/7 and that requires a certain amount of synaptic function with two tween boys.

All of that said, I’m still encouraged by having the uninterrupted time to write. I just need to focus on making my schedule work with this new nightly writing plan.

So…when do you write? If you need huge swaths of time, how do you fit it in?

10 thoughts on “Justine: Going Nocturnal

  1. My preferred writing time is morning. What works really well for me is to get up at 5 a.m., go to the gym and spend some solid time walking in the gym parking lot alone, weaving story in my head (this is the immersion time big chunk writers need). Then I come home, grab a shower, eat some breakfast and I can simply write down the scene I dreamed up while doing laps in the parking lot.

    Recently, some of the other nice ladies at the gym have taken to joining me in the parking lot. They really are terrific ladies (they bought my book! And read it!) but time spent chatting about our amazing grandkids isn’t chunk-prep time.

    I need to figure this out.

    • I think you need to tell them that you use the solo laps in the morning as your “think-before-you-write” time, and it’s really important for you to have that time in order to get your book done. Perhaps they can meet you for lunch or a glass of wine instead, or you can pick one day a week that you walk with them.

      Saying no to people has been really hard, and I still get suckered into doing things that infringe on writing time. But when I explain to people why I say no, they totally understand. I’m sure if you did the same for the ladies (including explaining the chunky writing style), they’d get it and there wouldn’t be any hard feelings. Good luck!

  2. Seconding your instruction to sign up for your newsletter. I love that short story! And I am anxiously awaiting the finished book’s world debut, so I hope your adjusted writing schedule works out for your.

    I have a friend who has been a night writer for years. When we are at retreats with her, we know we won’t see her until noon, but that’s because she starts writing around 11 PM and works until 4 or 5 most mornings. She started when her kids were quite young, and her husband also traveled a lot (because he was some sort of chocolate meister and had to travel to all the exotic locales where they grow cacao!). When she had to do morning duty by herself, I think she did a split sleep schedule, getting up for a couple hours with the kids, then going back to bed for the rest of the morning. IIRC, she took summers off from writing. But still, she has a very successful publishing career, so it’s totally do-able!

    • Aw, thanks for the kind words on the short story! I am hoping to get my book to my editor by the 14th, but I’m dubious. In any case, I’ve entered the Golden Heart, so I’m not sure why I’m pressured to get it done, because I can’t publish it until March at the earliest anyway. I think it’s because I set this deadline a long time ago; however, life has a way of getting in the way (and it has).

      I like your friend’s writing schedule. Writing in the summer has always been hard for me, because the kids, even though they’re older, are NONSTOP. Funny how when I’m doing things like answering blog posts (ahem) the kids leave me alone, but when I say I’m going to write, they’re all over me. I think they have some sort of productivity radar, and when I try to be productive, loud alarms must go off in their head.

      I’m still committed to make this work. It’s just going to take some serious planning on my part and the ability to say no. (I have already told my kids’ school that I’m doing no volunteering next year except for the occasional one-off, so there’s that.)

  3. Efficiency experts talk about larks and owls (larks like to work in the very early mornings, and owls like to work in the late evenings), but me? I seem to be firmly a noon person! I do my best work in the afternoons (when I’m at work). It’s too easy to overdo things and be very tired in the late afternoon (when I get home), and there’s always a million things to be done around the house, anyway. So, if I’m going to get anywhere, I think I have to work against my natural tendencies.

    I’ve been very interested in biphasic sleep this year. I had to go pick up somebody at 10 p.m. on a school night, and I was very worried about how that would work. But, I managed to sleep at 7 p.m. and get up at nine, and go to bed again at 12. It worked out beautifully! But I haven’t been able to arrange my life to do that again since. My kids are out of the house, but I still have pets to take care of, and supper to cook for my in-laws, and then there’s just basic household maintenance.

    But maybe I could do something like this. If I went to sleep at 4:30 p.m. and got up around 6 or 6:30, I might be able to make a midnight bedtime work for me.

    Or the other thing I often think of doing, but am a little embarrassed about, is taking a nap at lunch for 20 minutes. That would probably make that 4:30 to 6:30 time slot a whole lot more productive for me.

    Well, we’ll see. It’s very cool to see that this is working for you!

    • Michaeline, when I worked in an office, I napped at lunch ALL THE TIME. In fact, my doctor thought there was something wrong with me. But I really needed that afternoon siesta. I think the Spanish are on to something there. The towns shut down for a few hours every afternoon, and people don’t go to dinner until late at night.

      If I get shorted on sleep at night, I can usually nap it away during the day, and I’ve found that if I do happen to fall asleep in the pre-dinner hours (oh so rare now that I have children), I am good for several more hours, usually crashing around midnight.

      Experimentation might be the key here for all of us. Find what works and go with it. For me, the focus isn’t sleep (although I need that) as much as it is finding uninterrupted time to work. That seems to be my real challenge. If I can get that part squared away, I can figure in the sleep wherever I can get it (sometimes in my car in the pick-up line at school!).

      • LOL! I will have to make more of an effort, then. I would like to go out to my car for a nap, but recently some schools have been locking their doors when the kids are in the building. But I’m pretty sure not all schools. Something can be done!

  4. I’m usually “done” by 3pm or so, so I like to get my writing done in the morning. I’m not an early riser, though, or not since I didn’t have to be, anyway, and I’m usually wiped after four hours, so I just start in the morning when I’m ready and go until I’m finished. But I’m retired and not in a rush. A lot of people don’t have that luxury.

    The idea of a split sleeping schedule, though—where you stay up so late you don’t sleep except for a few hours, and then sleep a few more during the day—this does not sound healthy to me. I applaud all those who can do it and still run their lives, but that is not for me.

    • You know your limits and that’s a good thing. I think I’m trying to figure mine out. 😉

      As for the split-sleeping, I think after awhile people get used to it. My ex-boyfriend from many years ago was studying to be an anthropologist and his advisor studied sleep patterns of people in indigenous cultures. What she found is that most people rarely slept 8 hours at a stretch. It was more likely to be broken sleep with naps during the day when necessary.

      Basically, if they were tired, they slept, but they also rarely slept the entire night through. Part of that was for protection (if someone was awake, they could hear danger), and part of that was because of family needs, or children crying, etc. But again, they could make up for that sleep at another time. Our modern work day (at least in America) makes that hard.

      • Good point about the sleeping. I’ve found in myself that as I’ve gotten older, I sleep less during the night. And after three or four days of inadequate sleep, I have a long nap in the afternoon, much against my will, but utterly necessary. It’s probably all a matter of training. Whatever works!

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