Many writers anecdotally report they write best first thing early in the morning, apparently even if they are not morning people. Do they, and why?
created: 11 May 2011; modified: 26 May 2019; status: in progress; confidence: possible; importance: 4
Ericsson 1993 notes that many major writers or researchers prioritized writing by making it the first activity of their day, often getting up early in the morning. This is based largely on writers anecdotally reporting they write best first thing early in the morning, apparently even if they are not morning people, although there is some additional survey/software-logging evidence of morning writing being effective. I compile all the anecdotes of writers discussing their writing times I have come across thus far. Do they, and why?
Interviews with writers often touch on their writing process to try to explain how it is done; the hope of the reader is, deep down, to learn how they do the things they do and perhaps the reader can do the same thing. For the most part, the lesson I’ve taken away from such profiles is that every writer is different and there do not seem to be many generalizable practices, if indeed any of them matter (consider how many writers seem to benefit from a stint in jail); for every writer that thrives on writing in longhand with goose quills on parchment, another is unable to think outside a computer text editor, or needs to inhale rotting bananas, or sharpen pencils, or write in a cork-lined room, or insist on a loud phonograph/party for inspiration. (All real examples.)
“The Role of Deliberate Practice”, Ericsson 1993 (among others), Ericsson draws on some anecdotes and particular long-running & somewhat-standardized Paris Review interviews of famous writers to make some interesting points about the relative brevity of most writing sessions (perhaps not too surprising as the physical typing/writing is not the bottleneck) but also the timing of it typically in the morning:
The best data on sustained intellectual activity comes from financially independent authors. While completing a novel famous authors tend to write only for 4 hr during the morning, leaving the rest of the day for rest and recuperation ([Cowley, M. (Ed.). (1959). Writers at work: The Paris review interviews.]; [Plimpton, G. (Ed.). (1977). Writers at work: The Paris review. Interviews, second series.]). Hence successful authors, who can control their work habits and are motivated to optimize their productivity, limit their most important intellectual activity to a fixed daily amount when working on projects requiring long periods of time to complete…Biographies report that famous scientists such as Charles Darwin, (Erasmus Darwin, 1888), Pavlov (Babkin, 1949), Hans Selye (Selye, 1964), and B.F. Skinner (Skinner, 1983) adhered to a rigid daily schedule where the first major activity of each morning involved writing for a couple of hours. In a large questionnaire study of science and engineering faculty, Kellogg (1986) found that writing on articles occurred most frequently before lunch and that limiting writing sessions to a duration of 1–2 hr was related to higher reported productivity…In this regard, it is particularly interesting to examine the way in which famous authors allocate their time. These authors often retreat when they are ready to write a book and make writing their sole purpose. Almost without exception, they tend to schedule 3–4 hr of writing every morning and to spend the rest of the day on walking, correspondence, napping, and other less demanding activities (Cowley, 1959; Plimpton, 1977).
- Boice & Johnson 1984,“Perception and practice of writing for publication by faculty at a doctoral-granting university”
- Hartley 1980, The Psychology of Written Communication: Selected Readings
- Hartley & Knapper 1984,“Academics and their writing”
- Lowenthal & Wason 1977,“Academics and their writing”. London Times Literary Supplement, June 24, p. 782.
- Stein 1974, Stimulating Creativity, Volume 1: Individual Procedures. New York: Academic Press.
- Ghiselin 1952, The Creative Process: A Symposium
- Vernon et al 1970, Creativity
Other examples include Frank P. Ramsey (
“…I wouldn’t have said he worked for more than say four hours a day … he worked in the mornings, probably went for walks in the afternoon, played the gramophone in the evening. Something of that sort.”)
This was interesting to me because I generally do not write in the morning, so knowing that morning is better would be valuable to me, and because it confused me why it would be true. If you are a morning person, you should write in the morning, and vice-versa if you are an evening person. Why would you write when you are miserable? I was especially not a morning person when I was a teenager, and it certainly showed in my first period class at 8:20AM after waking up at 6AM; certainly I never noticed any hidden gift for writing novels manifesting, even when it was a literature class. (Although I did notice a hidden gift for completely forgetting anything said in the first period.)
Some of the post hoc explanations for why morning might be better make no sense. It is true people are less likely to interrupt you early in the morning; but they are less likely to interrupt you at midnight. It is true people can find time for writing by getting up before their job; but they can sacrifice the same amount of sleep to write by staying up later at night. It is true that the morning might not be a circadian nadir; but that’s not helpful to anyone who is an owl, who by definition is sluggish in the morning, and where does all this energy come from for walking or exercising or partying or researching in the evening, when not writing, if the writer is hopelessly fashed after the vicissitudes of the day? (If the secret of morning writing is merely the nigh-tautological “if you’re a morning person who writes best in the morning, you should write in the morning, and if you’re an evening person, you should write in the evening”, then it’s surely of no value—is there anyone who doesn’t already know whether they are more of a morning or evening person?)
Further, morning writing runs counter to the usual intellectual stereotype of great writers as rising late and being chronometric
“night owls”. The
“owl” chronotype is usually linked with creativity & intelligence while morning
“larks” are considered less creative (but more industrious & favored in many contexts like schools, to the detriment of owls & especially teenagers), so one would expect the opposite: writers to report writing mostly in the evening. (And amusingly, the Wikipedia article on “owls” includes a list of dozens of writers & other creative types while the “lark” article is devoid.) What could be more writerly or bohemian than spending the day researching or enjoying nature or drinking to jazz at the club and then returning to one’s attic in the witching hours to author deathless verse? Nevertheless, great authors routinely rehearse the advantages of living like a farmer and rising with the sun to milk the Muses. (Cal Newport’s Deep Work book points this way, and there is even a writer self-help fad,
“The Miracle Morning”, whose central gimmick is getting up early.)
Puzzled, I began noticing in author interviews or writings that when writing times were mentioned, it was indeed more, often than not, partially or entirely in the morning (sometimes disgustingly early like pre-dawn), rather than usually in the evening as expected, and it became startling when I ran into an exception like Ian Fleming or Winston Churchill, who wrote at all in the evening, or Brandon Sanderson or Robert Frost, who work entirely into the wee hours. I am, again, not a morning person but I forced myself up early a few days and skipped my usual email & news-reading routine to focus on writing, and darn if it didn’t seem to work and the writing was worth the price in afternoon circadian slumps. Still couldn’t make myself do it regularly, though.
If the morning writing effect is real (in the sense that successful writers do disproportionately write in the morning—which is still in doubt given the existing systematic survey evidence is limited to ordinary writers while the elite writers are represented so far purely by haphazardly-selected anecdotes), what is causing it?
One possibility is that there is some sort of ecological fallacy going on: it is possible that, creativity really is higher in owls at night, owls do not improve by writing in the morning, but the best authors are still larks (rather than owls as one would assume from the population-level correlation) and do benefit from writing in the morning (or at least aren’t hurt); and this is because larks have other advantages in becoming the best authors, perhaps related to sheer writing volume & consistent output. No matter how creative it is, an unwritten book is no good. Larks then could write fine at any time and would be overrepresented among the best authors either way, because writing time is confounded with other Conscientiousness-related attributes.
Looking through the anecdotes so far, while it’s true that devotees of
“The Miracle Morning”and others frequently claim to not be larks and struggle to reap the benefits of morning writing, the elite writers who happen to write in the morning (currently) do not mention major struggles with getting up early or focusing in the morning, implying that they may well all be larks in the first place!
“equal-odds rule”suggests that volume of writing output is much more important than it is usually given credit for being, and that writing or research is too random a process to permit siting down for several years and decide to bang out a beloved masterpiece: one can only try as many things as possible and be surprised when one turns out well, or happens to become a hit.)
- A related but somewhat simpler possibility is that people are bad at scheduling and while late-night writing is no different than morning writing and just as effective in theory, people tend to choose to fill up their schedules, and repeatedly accidentally find themselves with too little time to write at night; every hour of evening writing that people do get done is just as effective as morning hours, but there are fewer such hours. Doing it in the morning is then simply a little trick to make sure that other obligations literally cannot come first.
Another possibility is that the day really does use up some sort of ‘willpower’ or ‘creativity’: all the little things one does before the writing late in evening fill up one’s mind. There is nothing special about morning hours, they merely happen to be the conscious hours closest in time to sleep pushing the big reset button on the brain. If someone slept during the day & woke up at midnight, that person would then be best off writing at midnight, right after waking up, rather than 8 hours later in the morning, equivalent to their afternoon. (Tononi’s SHY theory of sleep would be a low-level neurobiological explanation along these lines.) These sorts of theories have a problem with the existence of authors who prefer to work at the end of their (subjective) day and are energized at night—why are they not just immune to what should be generic effects of biology/psychology, but positively energized?
- A version of this ‘thing building up/wearing out over the day’ is that it is related to ego depletion or ‘decision fatigue’1 or opportunity cost, where the increasing number of accomplished activities it becomes an excuse to write less—“I had a busy day, I can take it easy tonight.”—or one has difficulty truly focusing because there are so many other things which one could do (Kurzban’s opportunity cost model).
Yet another version might be that sleep itself is the key: sleep, aside from any resetting, is also responsible for memory formation and appears involved in unconscious processes of creativity.
Sleep is a long time period in between phases of working, allowing for the incubation effect2 to operate, and the incubation effect may be particularly benefited by sleep. So, one wakes up primed to work on the next piece of writing (that one has likely been mulling a long time), and by instead puttering around making tea or breakfast, one dissipates the potential. In this model, instead of one’s writing potential gradually deteriorating over the course of the day as the mind fills up/willpower is used up, it falls sharply and then hits a baseline and perhaps follows the usual circadian rhythms thereafter with a nadir at siesta time etc.
Or, perhaps there is something special about the liminal half-sleep state, which makes fantasizing or imaging easier. One parallel we might draw is with the ancient connection between fiction writers and alcohol: writers are notorious for drinking, often to excess. Is there something about the depressant or loosening of inhibitions of alcohol which assists writing, which might also be reproduced in the morning? On the other hand, nonfiction writers like journalists or philosophers or scientists tend to be associated with stimulants, particularly nicotine, caffeine, and amphetamines (not to mention modafinil)3; while those, particularly amphetamines, are less associated with fiction writers.4 (This makes me wonder if there is a connection to another anomalous anecdotal phenomenon, the so-called alcohol
“afterglow”effect, and if my poor LSD microdosing results reflect my own nonfiction tendencies.)
This half-asleep explanation neatly explains why evening doesn’t work. It wouldn’t apply to falling asleep as there is an asymmetry: a half-asleep person in the morning who is writing is getting gradually more alert and spending the rest of the day awake, and can build on whatever mental seeds were planted; while a half-asleep person in the evening would frustrate sleep by trying to write, can’t write for long before falling asleep, and when they do fall asleep, would forget the preceding ~10 minutes.
Or, perhaps it is a lack of sleep: sleep deprivation can cause odd mental states including mania and loss of inhibitions, and there is a peculiar but seemingly real phenomenon where acute sleep deprivation in people with major depressive disorder substantially temporarily relieves their symptoms (
“Meta-Analysis of the Antidepressant Effects of Acute Sleep Deprivation”, Boland et al 2017). Many writers are melancholic, so early mornings, especially cross-chronotype, might be an inadvertent rediscovery of this to the extent that they shortchange sleep in order to get up. Perhaps most people are not in the throes of full MDD, but there might be a more mild effect. If the sleep-deprivation effect is the culprit, then writers who do this need to be cutting sleep considerably and the effects will be only temporary, since chronic sleep deprivation doesn’t help (and worsens cognition); this might also explain anecdotes where the person maintains that morning-writing works for them but they could only do it for a few days or once in a while—naturally, the more sleep deprivation the harder it is to get up, and as both the sleep deficit builds up & the anti-depressant effect disappears, they will find morning-writing increasingly useless and will stop. This might seem like an undesirable hypothesis but it still allows occasional benefits on carefully-chosen occasions, such as finishing or starting a novel.
There are a few things one could do to generate a little more data on this:
systematically go through the Paris Review interviews and the similar GoodReads interviews to note down all cases where an author is asked about writing time, rather than a few examples; this avoids the risk that morning writing advocates have selectively chosen examples from the interviews. As the writers are not chosen for their writing habits and the interview question are fairly formulaic, presumably the interview series could be considered a quasi-random survey sample of successful authors.
run a population-sample survey (I have done one USA survey myself but more extensive surveys & surveys elsewhere would be useful)
- run surveys in more elite-writer samples
run a (non-blinded) self-experiment: create a list of things to systematically work on; flip a coin to decide whether to get up early, record total words-written+time-spent etc. (I can’t decide if I would be biased towards wanting it to work or wanting it to fail: of course I want to be better at writing, but on the other hand—surely there’s some easier way!)
“Writing method and productivity of science and engineering faculty”, Kellogg 1986: to go into more detail, it reports:
The respondents tended to schedule their work between 8AM and 8PM, with the morning hours being the most common time of day (Table 3). Positive but nonsignificant correlations were obtained for these time intervals. Night owls were rare and not unique in their productivity. In terms of the duration of writing sessions, the data indicate a preference for one to three hours. Working for 1 to 2 hours was significantly correlated with productivity. But as will be explained later in describing the multiple regression analyses, this effect is best attributed to other factors correlated with the frequency of working for 1 to 2 hours. Highly regular work scheduling was not the rule; the most common response was only a 3 on the 7 point scale.
“Write in spurts”and
“marathon writing just before a deadline”were comments listed by respondents that match the pattern commonly observed in Boice and Johnson’s (op. cit.) survey. As in Boice and Johnson’s study, regular writing was positively correlated with productivity, but here the relationship was weak and nonsignificant.
Survey Item Mean Mode Std. Dev. Productivity Correlation (r) Midnight–4AM (hour of day) 1.76 1.00 1.29 0.01 4AM–8AM 1.87 1.00 1.49 0.04 8AM–Noon 4.61 6.00 1.44 0.17 Noon–4PM 4.34 4.00 1.33 0.15 4PM–8PM 3.60 4.00 1.54 0.13 8PM–Midnight 3.80 2.00 1.80 0.05 0–1 hour (Duration) 3.50 2.0 1.58 0.09 1–2 hours 4.46 6.0 1.40 0.22* 2–3 hours 4.44 6.0 1.36 0.07 3–4 hours 3.49 4.0 1.63 -0.04 More than 4 hours 2.76 1.0 1.73 -0.12 Every working day (regularity) 3.01 3.0 1.50 0.11
Table 3: Analysis of Work Scheduling (n=121; The response scale ranged from
“Always”(7). * = p<0.05)
Another interesting aspect of Kellogg 1986 is that almost all variables correlate non-statistically-significantly with
“productivity”(defined in Kellogg as the total number of books/papers/reports/grant-applications/grant-reports written in the previous 3 years), and most are of small magnitude. Measurement error & range restriction come to mind as biasing effects towards zero, but it’s still consistent with my own experience that it is difficult to find anything which strongly correlates with ‘productivity’, much less causes it.
“The psychologist as wordsmith: a questionnaire study of the writing strategies of productive British psychologists”, Hartley & Branthwaite 1989 conduct a similar survey as Kellogg but do not give any statistical details that I can find, saying merely
In the present study most of our productive psychologists had no real preference for any time of day at which to work. The morning appeared to be slightly preferred to the afternoon and the afternoon slightly preferred to the evening. Regular working times were correlated with overall productivity, but productive book writers wrote sporadically (in term time). These findings were very similar to those of Kellogg (1986) who showed that the majority of his 121 engineers worked in the morning, and then the afternoon, but that a highly regular work schedule was not the rule.
“Productivity in 2017: What we learned from analyzing 225 million hours of work time”, RescueTime 2018; analytics over hundreds of thousands of users:
Looking at the time spent in software development tools, our data paints a picture of a workday that doesn’t get going until the late morning and peaks between 2–6pm daily…While writers are more likely to be early birds…Writing apps were used more evenly throughout each day with the most productive writing time happening on Tuesdays at 10AM.
Allowing for the different time buckets, the RescueTime results closely parallel Kellogg 1986’s survey responses. Aside from being an enormous data sample, RescueTime notes an interesting contrast: despite being apparently similar activities (both mostly involve slinging text), the temporal timing of software development & writing are strikingly different. Thinking back, I don’t recall early-morning programming being a trend among programmers (programmers are infamous for preferring to come in late and late-night programming sessions which may wrap around the clock, especially in college—though the original reason, that “the computers are less busy at night”, has long since expired). It’s fascinating that the stereotypes about writing vs programming line up so well with the RescueTime data.
2018 Google Surveys, general USA population sample, asking self-identified writers/researchers/scientists their chronotype & ideal writing time
I ran this survey in October 2018, using Google Surveys, asking a question akin to Kellogg 1986’s survey, like
“if you are a professional writer, blogger, researcher, or scientist do you find you write best at: [not a writer]/[Midnight–4AM]/[4–8AM]/etc?”At $0.10 a response, if 5% of the population could be considered some sort of writer (which sounds reasonable to me) and we want another n=121 to equal Kellogg 1986’s sample size, the survey would only cost . A second question could be added to ask if the respondent considers themselves more of a morning or evening person, however, it dectuples the cost; as in my catnip surveys, it should be possible to combine the questions into a single question which can hopefully provide a useful datapoint. (GS tries for a representative population sample by techniques like reweighting; I don’t know if they take time-of-day into account and thus lark/owl type, but the surveys typically run over several days so hopefully they wind up being inherently balanced anyway.)
If morning is the most common (replicating the Kellogg 1986 & RescueTime results), and if many evening-preferring respondents still answer that mornings work better for writing, that would be pretty good evidence for morning writing being a real phenomenon (although still leaving the causal status ambiguous and not answering the question of whether owls—like me—would benefit from switching to morning writing).
On 27 October 2018, I launched an all-ages all-gender USA population survey on Google Surveys. Because of the need to run as a 1-question survey, I condensed the two questions into one and simplified it considerably into just morning/evening preference and morning/evening self-estimated writing performance, giving 5 possible responses (1+2x2=5). As most respondents will be useless—I guesstimate 5% would consider them professional writers of some sort, so for a few hundred responses, I need 20x as many; I settled on n=5000/$500 for the survey, which should deliver a precise enough result. The question looked as follows:
If you are a writer/researcher/scientist, are you a morning/evening person & when do you write best? [answers displayed either ascending or descending at random]
- I don’t write or blog
- Morning person; best writing during morning
- Morning person; best writing during evening
- Evening person; best writing during morning
- Evening person; best writing during evening
The survey finished 29 October 2018 with the following results (percentage is population-weighted out of equivalent n=3,999; n is raw counts out of the n=5004 actually collected; CSV)
- 70% (3515)
- 9.9% (467)
- 4.0% (196)
- 4.0% (193)
- 12.1% (633)
The percentage of people willing to claim to be writers was ~6x larger than I expected, which is troubling (do really that many people write large amounts?). Otherwise, the responses appear reasonably evenly balanced: 663 morning people vs 826 evening people. The percentage of overall counter-chronotype self-rated writing performance is 26%. On average, 55% of respondents thought evening-writing was best. The key question, of course, is whether morning-writing is more preferred for counter-chronotype writing: there is a slight preference here, but it is the opposite of predicted, with 29% of morning people believing they write best in evening versus 23% of evening people saying morning is best for them. (The difference is statistically-significant at p=0.008/P~1.5)
This does not strongly endorse morning-writing, although it is surprising how many people think they write best counter-chronotype. Of course, the fact that fewer people believe they write better in the morning rather than evening doesn’t prove morning-writing isn’t a thing: one possibility is that people simply haven’t given it a fair try, or that it only works for professional writers at a high level, or that it is heterogeneous and there is a small fraction of people for whom morning-writing works really well (and so everyone should give it a try just in case). The overall even split of chronotype does give a baseline expectation for elite writers, though.
|Kellogg survey||1986||Nonfiction||Morning–afternoon||8AM–12PM, 12PM–4PM||Kellogg 1986 survey||Top 2 time-ranges; ordinal scale mean ratings >4 for those buckets, others, like 4AM–8AM, can be half or less.|
|RescueTime users||2018||Nonfiction||Morning||10AM–11AM||RescueTime blog analytics||This is the peak writing time; aggregate writing times span the clock.|
|Gwern Google Surveys||2018||Fiction+Nonfiction||Evening||?||
||On average, respondents thought they wrote best at evening; survey respondents were more likely to prefer evening when writing counter-chronotype.|
|Kazuo Ishiguro||2014||Fiction||Morning||9AM–10:30AM||The Guardian interview|
|Dan Brown||2017||Fiction||Morning||4AM–12PM||The New York Times interview|
|Philip Pullman||2017||Fiction||Morning–afternoon||10AM–1PM||The New York Times interview|
|Ian Fleming||1964||Fiction||Morning–evening||10AM–12PM, 6–7PM||Playboy interview|
|Joseph Campbell||?||Nonfiction||Morning–evening||9AM–6PM||Biography||Campbell refers to
“reading”in this anecdote of his youth; unclear if that includes writing or if he changed later.
|Winston Churchill||?||Nonfiction||Morning–evening||11AM–1PM, 11PM–2AM||Biography|
|Frank Herbert||1969||Fiction||Morning–evening||5AM–7AM, 5PM–1AM||McNelly interview|
|Harry Harrison||1968||Fiction||Afternoon||12:30PM–5PM||McNelly interview|
|Michael Connelly||2017||Fiction||Morning||4AM–7AM||Goodreads||Inferring times from his preference to write
“before the light gets up in the sky…before the rest of the city wakes up…dark morning hours”
|Brandon Sanderson||2012||Fiction||Evening||12PM–4PM, 4PM–3AM||FAQ, online interview|
|Neil Gaiman||2004||Fiction||Evening||?PM–?AM||Interview anthology|
|John Irving||1986||Fiction||Morning–afternoon||?AM–?PM||Paris Review interview||Inferred from his description 8-hour days which terminate before
“the evening”, reserved for research.
|Donald Hall||2018||Fiction||Morning–afternoon||5AM–?PM||Paris Review interview|
|Michel Houellebecq||2018||Fiction||Morning||?AM–?AM||Georgian Journal roundtable|
|Joyce Cary||1954||Fiction||Morning||9AM–?||Paris Review interview||
“He rose, he said, early, and was always at his desk by nine.”
|Ursula K. Le Guin||1988||Fiction||Morning||7:15AM–12PM||Polish interview||Based on her
“7:15 a.m.—get to work writing, writing, writing. / Noon—lunch.”
|William Gibson||2011||Fiction||Morning–afternoon||9AM–?PM||Paris Review interview||Schedule varies in how late Gibson goes into the afternoon/evening, but assuming his Pilates classes are 1 hour, he doesn’t start before ~9AM.|
|Gene Wolfe||2002||Fiction||Morning||4AM–?||2002 Locus interview|
|Beatriz Williams||2018||Fiction||Morning–evening||7AM?-1PM, 7PM-?PM||Goodreads||Writing starts after
“kids are off to school”(which for Americans would generally be 7–9AM depending on age), and resumes in
“the evening”(presumably after a family dinner)
|Deborah Harkness||2018||Fiction+Nonfiction||Morning–evening||?AM-?PM||Goodreads||Harkness describes writing for the first hour every day as a
“warm-up…the rest of the day kind of clicks along”.
|Ruth Ware||2018||Fiction||Morning–afternoon||7AM?–?PM||Goodreads||Like Williams, writing is done in between children going to school & returning.|
“I bitterly lament the loss of my former schedule. [Laughs] I would go to sleep at 3 a.m. and wake up at 11, and that was so nice.”
|Max Lugavere||2019||Nonfiction||Morning–evening||8AM?–1AM?||New York Times profile|
|Celeste Ng||2017||Fiction||Morning–afternoon||7AM?–?PM||Goodreads||During school hours.|
|Meg Wolitzer||2018||Fiction||Morning||?AM–?PM||Goodreads||Previously during school hours.|
|Lisa Genova||2018||Fiction||Morning||?AM-1PM?||Goodreads||Genova writes for 4 hours regularly at Starbucks; that suggests starting around 9AM and finishing around 1PM.|
|A.E. Housman||1933||Fiction||Afternoon||1PM-4PM?||The Name And Nature Of Poetry||
“Having drunk a pint of beer at luncheon…I would go out for a walk of two or three hours”
|John Peale Bishop||<1952||Fiction||Morning||?||Attributed by Ghiselin 1952||
“John Peale Bishop recommended going as soon as possible from sleep to the writing desk.”
|Mohsin Hamid||2017||Fiction||Night, Morning–afternoon||?||Goodreads||Hamid preferred
“late at night…a vampire-like existence”but due to children now follows
“completely different”school-hours .
“I work at night, and that helps, and that always has helped. I work in the really small hours of the morning. So distractions are fewer.”
|Anonymous||2016||?||Morning||5AM–noon||Goodreads||As described by Julian Fellowes|
|Michael J. Sullivan||2016||Fiction||Morning||9AM?–noon||Goodreads||
“…Most people write from whenever they wake up until noon or one. That’s your writing period. I do it every day…during that period of three or four hours.”
|Iris Murdoch||1990||Fiction+nonfiction||Morning–evening||?AM–noon, 4:30PM–8PM||Paris Review|
“I work many hours a day, usually starting in the morning. I’m much better then than in the afternoon or the evening.”
“I’m used to just getting up, coming downstairs, sitting at my desk and writing. Sometimes if the writing’s going really well I can write almost all day and all night but usually it’s a pretty normal day, not quite 9 to 5 but not that far off.”
“It changes from book to book. With these stories, I think I was up very late at night, writing, like, at 2 a.m. And then I’d just sleep a lot and wake up and write some more. But with other books, I’ve had much more structure.”
|Danielle Steele||2019||Fiction||Morning–evening||8AM–4AM?||Glamour profile||
“To pull it off, she works 20 to 22 hours a day…She gets to her office—down the hall from her bedroom—by 8:00 A.M…‘If I have four hours [of sleep], it’s really a good night for me’”May be a ‘short sleeper’.
“I’ll work until breakfast time.”
|Laurell K. Hamilton||2015||Fiction||Morning–afternoon?||?||Goodreads||Multiple schedules reported: 5AM–8AM? (before day job), 10AM–3PM (full-time writer), then miscellaneous (while childrearing).|
|Judy Blume||2015||Fiction||Morning||?AM–noon||Goodreads||After walk/breakfast/shower, until noon.|
|Orhan Pamuk||2015||Fiction||Evening?||?PM–4AM||Goodreads||Pamuk thanks
“coffee and tea”and says
“especially before my daughter was born I used to write until four in the morning.”, suggesting starting only in the evening.
“when I have child-free time”
|Pierce Brown||2014||Fiction||Morning–afternoon||8AM?–noon, 3PM–7PM||Goodreads||8 hours total, morning until noon (=8AM), afternoon until 7–8PM (=3–4PM)|
“I…write at the kitchen table when the kids are at school.”
|Jacqueline Winspear||2014||Fiction||Morning–afternoon||6AM–?AM,?AM–?PM||Goodreads||Winspear gives a detailed idealized schedule: she wakes ~5:30AM, writes for several hours, walks/breakfasts, writes additional hours, exercises, writes additional hours, and stops sometime before dinner.|
|Nick Harkaway||2014||Fiction||Morning–afternoon||8:30AM–noon, ?PM–6PM||Goodreads|
|Diana Gabaldon||2014||Fiction||Morning, afternoon, evening||11AM–noon, 1PM?–2PM?, midnight–4AM||Goodreads||Gabaldon writes briefly during the day, then wakes up at midnight to do her main writing.|
“I need to write first thing in the morning…I’m at the computer anywhere from four to six hours.”
“Once my kids have gone to school, I…just switch off for three hours.”
|Sue Monk Kidd||2014||Fiction||Any||?||Goodreads||
“But I write all day long.”
|Ishmael Beah||2014||Nonfiction+fiction||Morning, night||?PM-?AM||Goodreads||Both late night & early morning:
“I like to write late at night when everything is really quiet—especially here in New York—and I’ll work right through until the morning. But if I’m home in Sierra Leone, it’s different, and I usually write early in the morning or when I can”
|Ruth Ozeki||2013||Fiction||Morning–afternoon||?AM-3PM?||Goodreads||Starts in the morning after meditation, then
“Usually I write until mid-afternoon”.
|Walter Mosley||2017||Fiction||Morning||?||Paris Review|
“I wake up in the morning, and the first thing I do is go to my favorite café.”
|M. L. Stedman||2012||Fiction||Morning–afternoon||?||Goodreads||
“I only write in the daytime—never at night.”
“On a perfect day I walk the dogs, get a cup of coffee, and go over there and just stay for seven or eight hours.”
“I sit down in the afternoon to write generally. I don’t write more than two, three hours at a time.”
|Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie||2013||Fiction+nonfiction||Morning||?||Goodreads||
“When the writing is going well, I’m obsessive—I roll out of bed and go to work.”
“…waking up at about five o’clock in the morning…I have a couple of hours before any of my kids have woken up, and that’s what I call the ‘Dream Time’.”
|Thomas Keneally||2013||Fiction||Morning–evening||?AM–7:30PM||Goodreads||Multiple stints.|
Additional anecdotes of writers’ preferred time I’ve collected:
I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a
“Crash”. During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9AM to 10:30PM, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner.
Mr. Brown, 53, spent four years writing and researching the book. He is nothing if not disciplined. He rises at 4AM each day and prepares a smoothie comprising
“blueberries, spinach, banana, coconut water, chia seeds, hemp seeds and … what’s the other kind of seed?”he asked.
“Flax seeds, and this sort of weird protein powder made out of peas.”He also makes so-called bulletproof coffee, with butter and coconut oil, which he says changes
“the way your brain processes the caffeine”so as to sharpen your mind. His computer is programmed to freeze for 60 seconds each hour, during which time Mr. Brown performs push-ups, situps and anything else he needs to do. Though he stops writing at noon, it’s hard for him to get the stories out of his head.
“It’s madness,”he said of his characters.
“They talk to you all day.”
Every day from roughly 10 until 1, Pullman sits at his desk in a monkish study at the top of the house and produces three pages, longhand. He has written three pages a day ever since he started writing. Habit, he is fond of saying, has written far more books than talent. The ritual is sacred. As is the space.
“Nobody’s photographed this, and nobody will ever photograph this,”he told me, both fierce and faintly amused by the severity of his own rule.
“I’m superstitious about that, very superstitious about that.”…For a man whose novels are restless, whose characters never stop traveling, Pullman leads a relatively static life. After the morning shift at his desk, he spends his afternoons either tending to the 800-odd trees he and Judith have planted in the fields behind their house or in his carpentry workshop, where he makes things like reading stands and chopsticks. Occasionally, he drives an elderly woman in the village to the library, and he goes to the cinema once a week with his publisher and close friend David Fickling and their wives.
“I have the company of the people I’m writing about,”Pullman told me.
“Jude and I are quite happy here with our hermit-like existence.”
“Do you spend most of your time there at the typewriter?”
“By no means. I get up with the birds, which is about half-past 7, because they wake one up, and then I go and bathe in the ocean before breakfast. We don’t have to wear a swimsuit there, because it’s so private; my wife and I bathe and swim a hundred yards or so and come back and have a marvelous proper breakfast with some splendid scrambled eggs made by my housekeeper, who’s particularly good at them, and then I sit out in the garden to get a sunburn until about 10. Only then do I set to work. I sit in my bedroom and type about fifteen hundred words straightaway, without looking back on what I wrote the day before. I have more or less thought out what I’m going to write, and, in any case, even if I make a lot of mistakes, I think, well, hell, when the book’s finished I can change it all. I think the main thing is to write fast and cursively in order to get narrative speed.”
“Then, about quarter-past 12, I chuck that and go down, with a snorkel and a spear, around the reefs looking for lobsters or whatever there may be, sometimes find them, sometimes don’t, and then I come back, I have a couple of pink gins, and we have a very good lunch, ordinary Jamaican food, and I have a siesta from about half-past 2 until 4. Then I sit again in the garden for about an hour or so, have another swim, and then I spend from 6 to 7—the dusk comes very suddenly in Jamaica; at 6 o’clock it suddenly gets very dark—doing another five hundred words. I then number the pages, of which by that time there are about seven, put them away 1n a folder, and have a couple of powerful drinks, then dinner, occasionally a game of Scrabble with my wife—at which she thinks she is very much better than I am, but I know I’m the best—and straight off to bed and into a dead sleep.”
“And you return to England in March with a completed manuscript?”
“Except for minor revisions, yes.”
Joseph Campbell (quoted from The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work): researched/studied in multiple blocks morning-evening
So during the years of the Depression I had arranged a schedule for myself. When you don’t have a job or anyone to tell you what to do, you’ve got to fix one for yourself. I divided the day into 4 four-hour periods, of which I would be reading in three of the four-hour periods, and free one of them. By getting up a 8 o’clock in the morning, by 9 I could sit down to read. That meant that I used the first hour to prepare my own breakfast and take care of the house and put things together in whatever shack I happened to be living in at the time. Then three hours of that first four-hour period went to reading. Then came an hour break for lunch and another three-hour unit. And then comes the optional next section. It should normally be three hours of reading and then an hour out for dinner and then three hours free and an hour getting to bed so I’m in bed by 12. On the other hand, if I were invited out for cocktails or something like that, then I would put the work hour in the evening and the play hour in the afternoon. It worked very well. I would get nine hours of sheer reading done in a day. And this went on for five years straight. You get a lot done in that time.
Charles Dickens (based on Charles Dickens: A Life, Tomalin 2011, cited by McCrum): morning-afternoon (9AM-2PM)
But then, as you go deeper into Tomalin, you discover that Dickens, in his prime, used to compress his literary energies into five hours, roughly 9am to 2pm, after which he would walk incessantly, and put his mind into neutral. He might return to what he’d written in the morning later in the evening, but those five hours held the key to his output.
Robert Frost (McCrum): afternoon-late evening (?-3AM)
Robert Frost, whose remote Vermont cabin I visited recently in company with his biographer Jay Parini, never started work till the afternoon, and often stayed up till two or three in the morning, not rising until midday, or even later.
Once all the newspapers have been perused, it’s time to answer the enormous amount of mail Churchill receives each day. A secretary stands by as Churchill dictates (his preferred method of “writing”) correspondence to private citizens and government officials. Once the mail is finished, it’s time to dictate memoranda and greet any visitors who have stopped by Chartwell.
“He will receive anyone except the King in his bedchamber,”and visitors are often tickled by the image which greets them; Vice Admiral Sir Douglas Brownrigg said he presented
“a most extraordinary spectacle, perched up in a huge bed, with the whole of the counterpane littered with dispatch boxes, red and all colours, and a stenographer sitting at the foot—Mr. Churchill himself with an enormous Corona in his mouth.”Churchill’s next task is to look through galley proofs of the latest book he’s working on, and ask his chief researcher to check and verify certain details. At this point, he often begins to work on his speeches. He paces the room, issuing phrase after phrase at a speed his secretaries have trouble keeping up with. Churchill, one of them recalls, would be
“dashing around in shorts and undershirt and a bright red cummerbund while I trotted behind him from room to room with a pad and pencil struggling to keep pace with the torrential flow of words.”This flow of masterful oratory increases as the wordsmith warms up and finds his groove;
“By noon the cadences of his prose have begun to trot; by 1:00PM they are galloping.”Lunch is at 1:15, so Churchill sets aside business and gets dressed to the nines (hence the aforementioned cummerbund)…Churchill believes his afternoon naps help him be much more productive. He has found that he can only produce good writing for a few hours at a stretch, before his brain gets tired and the quality diminishes. So by breaking up his schedule with a nap, he is able to have two creative working periods each day—one in the morning and one late at night—while also having time for socializing and duck feeding…The guests have gone home or retired to their bedrooms to stay over, Churchill begins his second working shift of the day. It’s 11:00 PM, and most of his fellow Englishmen are sleeping, but Churchill is rearing to go. He slips into something more comfortable and asks his aides to join him in the library:
His appearance heralded by the harff, harff of his slippers, he enters the room in his scarlet, green, and gold dressing gown, the cords trailing behind him. Before greeting his researcher and the two secretaries on duty tonight, he must read the manuscript he dictated the previous evening and then revise the latest galleys, which arrived a few hours earlier from London. Since Churchill’s squiggled red changes exceed the copy set—the proofs look as though several spiders stained in crimson ink wandered across the pages—his printers’ bills are shocking. But the expense is offset by his extraordinary fluency. Before the night is out, he will have dictated between four thousand and five thousand words. On weekends he may exceed ten thousand words.
Churchill’s night usually ends around 2 am, but when there is extra work to be done, he may not retire until 3 or 4.
“What is your writing schedule?”
“Well, it varies…depends on what I’m doing…writing for the magazine…but as a general rule it goes like this: I’ll get home somewhere around 5 o’clock when Bev is here, when she’s not working as she has been the last couple of weeks. She’ll have dinner ready at that time or very close to that time. I’ll then take an hour’s nap and then work sometimes until 1 o’clock in the morning. Then I hit the sack and get up and sometimes if a story is strong in me I get up in the morning and write…get up at 5 o’clock in the morning or so and write for an hour or two sometimes before going down to San Francisco.”
“And this is the thing I want to get out of because I can write 8 hours a day in 2 bursts and I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be doing what I want…writing what I want to write during those times. I don’t envision supporting myself entirely by science fiction writing in the sense of writing only science fiction, because I have other axes to grind, too.”
Harry Harrison (McNelly interview with Frank Herbert): afternoon (12:30PM–5PM)
“It’s interesting…Harry Harrison describes the writing process with him rather well in a tape I made with him a few months ago. He is absolutely uninterruptible from, say, 12:30 in the afternoon ’til 5:00 at night, because the ideas as they form in his mind sort of becomes extensions of his [cough] excuse me, fingers in his typewriter and that they are up here and that …that any interruption, whether it be a telephone ringing or his wife knocking at the door or anything at all is liable to shatter that idea as it transforms itself into paper.”
When I was in college, I got a job working the graveyard shift at a hotel, which was great for my writing because I was there most weeknights from 11 pm until 7 am, and the only requirements that they put me to were,
“Just don’t fall asleep. Do whatever you want, just don’t fall asleep. We need you awake in case there’s an emergency or if anyone comes in.”I ended up spending a lot of my time working on novels during those early morning hours, and that’s how I was able to pay for school, attend it full-time, and still have time for writing. I still do most of my writing in the middle of the night…
Sanderson works best at night.
“I get up about noon,”he says,
“write until five, and then spend a few hours with the family before starting work again about eight o’clock and then I write until the early morning hours. I often don’t get to bed before three am.”He did try getting up at what most people would consider to be a more normal hour, but after a few weeks his wife capitulated, saying,
“This routine is making you miserable. Go back to being a night owl!”
“I work until about 4 a.m., and then I don’t wake up until noon. The job I do lets me have the weirdest sleep schedule ever, because sometimes I sleep for like three hours, and then I get up and work and go back to bed. An average day for me is two four-to-six-hour writing blocks during this time. In each, I try to write at least 1,500 words, and I am somewhat goal based. I have a tread desk that I walk on while I type a lot of the time. It’s not like I am getting any real exercise because it’s moving like one mile per hour, but it is good for just moving and not just sitting there. I write in my bedroom. I have an easy chair that I also sit in.”
“I get done at about 5:30, and I go out and play with my kids and hang out with my family and do all the stuff that dads and husbands do, then I put my kids to bed, hang out with my wife for a bit, then usually go back to work at about 9 or 10 and get my second block.”
Saint-Exupéry wrote beautifully, but at the price of great effort. He went out rarely, but he had friends in almost every day to lunch and dinner. In the evening, when his friends had gone, he would brew himself a great pot of coffee and sit down to work at his dining table (his desk served merely as a catchall in which his checkbook could never be found). Now and then he would write in an all-night restaurant, where, having eaten a dish of raw chopped beef drowned in olive oil and crusted with pepper, be was likely to scribble from 2 in the morning until dawn. When be had written himself stiff, be would stretch out at home on a sofa under a lamp, take up the mouthpiece of a dictaphone, and record his copy, revising as he went along. Then, towards 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning, he would go to bed. The secretary would come in at 9 and type while be slept. Often, when friends arrived for lunch at 1 o’clock, they would ring and pound for 20 minutes before he woke up and let them in.
Neil Gaiman is described as a night owl (eg collaborators interviewed in Conversations With the Dream King describe him as phoning them usually late at night or as a ‘vampire’)
A novel is such a long involvement; when I’m beginning a book, I can’t work more than two or three hours a day. I don’t know more than two or three hours a day about a new novel. Then there’s the middle of a book. I can work eight, nine, twelve hours then, seven days a week—if my children let me; they usually don’t. One luxury of making enough money to support myself as a writer is that I can afford to have those eight-, nine-, and twelve-hour days. I resented having to teach and coach, not because I disliked teaching or coaching or wrestling but because I had no time to write. Ask a doctor to be a doctor two hours a day. An eight-hour day at the typewriter is easy; and two hours of reading over material in the evening, too. That’s routine. Then when the time to finish the book comes, it’s back to those two- and three-hour days. Finishing, like beginning, is more careful work.
Back then, I wrote all day, getting up at five. By this time, I rise scratchy at six or twitch in bed until seven. I drink coffee before I pick up a pen. I look through the newspaper. I try to write all morning, but exhaustion shuts me down by ten o’clock.
Hunter Thompson: Carroll’s biography includes a supposed daily schedule where Thompson starts writing at midnight until 6AM (but the schedule is so clearly exaggerated & humorous in the level of drug use claimed that I don’t know how seriously to take any of it); one of his editors, Terry McDonnell says
“When he got you on the phone in the middle of the night to listen to someone in his kitchen read to you what he had just written, all you could say was that it sounded good and that he should send it to you”; a collection of letters includes him telling a landlady to put down carpets so his typing late at night won’t keep her up; his Paris Review interviewer describes him as keeping late hours on
“Owl Farm”and the interview went into the night, where he describes his first writing job as having the advantage of letting him write entirely at night. All together, there’s no doubt Thompson preferred late night, and midnight-6AM specifically does seem plausible.
“What is your writing schedule like?”
“When I’m writing a book I get up at seven. I check my e-mail and do Internet ablutions, as we do these days. I have a cup of coffee. Three days a week, I go to Pilates and am back by ten or eleven. Then I sit down and try to write. If absolutely nothing is happening, I’ll give myself permission to mow the lawn. But, generally, just sitting down and really trying is enough to get it started. I break for lunch, come back, and do it some more. And then, usually, a nap. Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.”
“And your schedule is steady the whole way through?”
“As I move through the book it becomes more demanding. At the beginning, I have a five-day workweek, and each day is roughly ten to five, with a break for lunch and a nap. At the very end, it’s a seven-day week, and it could be a twelve-hour day. Toward the end of a book, the state of composition feels like a complex, chemically altered state that will go away if I don’t continue to give it what it needs. What it needs is simply to write all the time. Downtime other than simply sleeping becomes problematic. I’m always glad to see the back of that.”
“…We sold the house in Ohio and I became a staff member [technical editor] on Plant Engineer [magazine]. What I did mostly was get up early in the morning and write for one to two hours. One of the good things about working for this magazine was that in ten minutes I could get from my front door to my desk, which gave me more writing time. I often wake up during the night, and I had rule that if it was after 4 a.m. I got up for the day, and I would write until Rosemary had breakfast ready. Then of course I wrote on Saturdays and Sundays as everybody does, and the holidays.”
“Was there a big change when you retired and became a full-time writer?”
“Yes and no. I had written on vacation, and this was like I was on vacation all the time. All I had to do was write. It was really neat. This was cruel of me, but I would set the clock radio to a station that gave traffic reports for commuters. They would be saying, ‘Oh, the Kennedy is wall-to-wall today. It’s an hour and a half from over here to the Loop,’ and I would get up and yawn and stretch and say, ‘I don’t have to be down there.’ So I’d brush my teeth, start the coffee, and go over to the desk and write.”
I’m up somewhere between 7 and 8. I don’t use an alarm clock. I go straight into the kitchen and drink a tall glass of room-temperature water…I’ll grab a cup of coffee that I’ve cold-brewed overnight and park myself in front of the computer to read the latest health related news. My go-to sites are EurekAlert!, Twitter, Science Daily and The New York Times. I also come up with a new post for my Instagram. I do one post a day and try to make it as interesting as possible…I spend a good two hours working on my book. It’s all about how to live your best life and avoid cognitive decline through your diet and lifestyle…Ben and Andrew usually head to bed around midnight. I may do a little more writing and go to sleep myself.
I know how this stuff came into existence; and though I have no right to assume that any other poetry came into existence in the same way, yet I find reason to believe that some poetry, and quite good poetry, did. Wordsworth for instance says that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, and Burns has left us this confession,
“I have two or three times in my life composed from the wish rather than the impulse, but I never succeeded to any purpose”. In short I think that the production of poetry, in its first stage, is less an active than a passive and involuntary process; and if I were obliged, not to define poetry, but to name the class of things to which it belongs, I should call it a secretion; whether a natural secretion, like turpentine in the fir, or a morbid secretion, like the pearl in the oyster.
…Having drunk a pint of beer at luncheon—beer is a sedative to the brain, and my afternoons are the least intellectual portion of my life—I would go out for a walk of two or three hours. As I went along, thinking of nothing in particular, only looking at things around me and following the progress of the seasons, there would flow into my mind, with sudden and unaccountable emotion, sometimes a line or two of verse, sometimes a whole stanza at once, accompanied, not preceded, by a vague notion of the poem which they were destined to form part of. Then there would usually be a lull of an hour or so, then perhaps the spring would bubble up again.
John Peale Bishop (Ghiselin 1952, The Creative Process: A Symposium)
Ghiselin, in the preface (pg20) of The Creative Process: A Symposium (which focuses largely but not entirely on the arts & fiction), commenting on writing styles, states:
Practical guidance can often be deduced from the general principles alone. Most writers find it easier to work in the morning—as one should expect, since then the mind has not been so much incited from without, focused, and fixed. John Peale Bishop recommended going as soon as possible from sleep to the writing desk. On the other hand, A.E. Housman wrote his poems mostly in the afternoon. Others have preferred to do their work at night. How shall we turn such information to guidance unless we understand that the time for work should be that time when the excited mind moves most free of the encumbrances of its consciously supported order? If we cannot because of circumstances choose the best time, we may be able to help ourselves through reducing the schematic fixation that interferes with production.
The detail about Housman is easy to attribute to Ghiselin’s selection in the volume of The Name and Nature of Poetry, but I have not been able to trace the Bishop statement any further. (While now highly obscure, Bishop extensively corresponded or interacted with major literary figures of his time such as Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald, making it hard to sort through all the hits for his name, and uses of keywords like ‘sleep’ or ‘writing desk’ have not succeeded.)
“What are your daily work habits?”
“I like working and when I have time to work, I work. But I also have to do other things like washing up and buying food. Fortunately my husband does the cooking. I sometimes have to go to London or I want to see my friends. Otherwise, I work pretty steadily all the time. I go to bed early and I start work very early. I work all morning, and then I shop and write letters—the letters take up a lot of time—in the afternoon. Then I work again from about half-past four until seven or eight. So I work steadily when I’ve got the open time, which is more days than not.”
The author has written 179 books…Steel releases seven new novels a year—her latest, Blessing in Disguise, is out this week—and she’s at work on five to six new titles at all times. In 1989 Steel was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having a book on the New York Times best-seller list for the most consecutive weeks of any author—381, to be exact. To pull it off, she works 20 to 22 hours a day. (A few times a month, when she feels the crunch, she spends a full 24 hours at her desk.)
…Steel is a creature of habit. She gets to her office—down the hall from her bedroom—by 8:00 A.M., where she can often be found in her cashmere nightgown. In the morning she’ll have one piece of toast and an iced decaf coffee (she gave up full-throated caffeine 25 years ago). As the day wears on, she’ll nibble on miniature bittersweet chocolate bars.
“Dead or alive, rain or shine, I get to my desk and I do my work. Sometimes I’ll finish a book in the morning, and by the end of the day, I’ve started another project,”Steel says.
She credits her boundless energy for her productivity…Her output is also the result of a near superhuman ability to run on little sleep.
“I don’t get to bed until I’m so tired I could sleep on the floor. If I have four hours, it’s really a good night for me,”Steel says. She’s always been like this, even as a kid growing up in France. Instead of playing with friends after school, she’d come home, immediately devour her homework, then set to work on her own stories. By 19, Steel had written her first book.
…Her son told her that he never works past a certain time at the office, a model of that elusive work-life balance. Steel balks.
“They expect to have a nice time,”she says.
“And pardon me, but I think your twenties and a good part of your thirties are about working hard so that you have a better quality of life later on. I mean, I never expected that quality of life at 25. I had three jobs at the same time, and after work I wrote. Now it’s a promise that it’s all going to be fun.”
…When asked if she plans to retire, give it all up, shop in Paris, sail in the South of France, even just take a nap—her answer is swift and serious.
“When I was first starting out, I had the same agent as Agatha Christie. I was about 19 years old and she was in her nineties. I met her once, and I remember she said, ‘I want to die face-first in my typewriter.’ And I feel that way. I mean, I want to go on forever, just writing.”
2006 interview with The Age:
It’s not as if she had nothing to do—Steel began writing her books at night, often making do with only four hours of sleep, in order to be there for her children during the day, and she still keeps to the same grueling schedule, hammering away at the same 1946 Olympia typewriter she has always used. But writing isn’t enough any more.
2017 interview/profile with Vanity Fair:
Danielle Steel’s wildly popular novels have made her a household name, and as the founder of the Nick Traina Foundation—so called after her late son—the mother of nine is also an ardent advocate for mental-health awareness…
“On the walls of my office are framed covers of my books and sayings that I love. One favorite, since I work very late:”What hath night to do with sleep?""
Despite being 71 in 2019, Steel has apparently kept to her schedule. While her claimed work habits have been regarded skeptically, she apparently wrote all those novels herself (unlike other extraordinarily prolific authors like James Patterson who lean heavily on collaborators or ghost-writers & are more like ‘brands’ than authors), and in general, fits a classic profile of “short sleepers” (which has been linked to rare genetic mutations): often working multiple jobs or engaged in many projects simultaneously (in Steel’s case, art galleries & mental health activism in addition to novel-writing), preferring (not merely enduring) half or less normal sleep durations and unable to sleep normal hours without it being unpleasant, with short-sleeping patterns emerging in childhood/adolescence. It would be interesting to know if any of her 8 (non-adoptive) children or grandchildren keep similar hours.
“Do you write every day?”
“Yeah, when I wake up in the morning.”
“Every day. People ask me if I write even when I’m on vacation. And I say, Man, do you take a shit on vacation?”
“What’s your average writing day like? When do you write?”
“Very early in the morning, before the sun comes up. Because I’m very smart at that time of day. Now, at this time of day [4PM], it’s all drifting away. But tomorrow morning I will be sharp for about 4 hours, say from 6AM to 10AM. If I get up before the sun and greet it, that’s when I start.”
Michael Connelly (Goodreads interview): very early morning when possible (4AM-6AM? pre-dawn)
Goodreads: What’s your writing process?
“Because of working on a TV show [Bosch], my writing process is to write whenever I get a chance. Also, my training in journalism has taught me to write—I don’t need to be coddled. I can write in my office, I can write on planes, I can write in cars. I was on a plane last night for five hours, squeezed in so tight, my elbows were pushing into my ribs, but I wrote the whole time and got a lot done. That’s my process: to try to write whenever I can. A perfect day would be to get up before the light gets up in the sky and start writing and get a lot done before the rest of the city wakes up. That’s what I try to do when I’m at home or even when I’m in a hotel on the road. Morning hours are really good for me, dark morning hours. So in that regard I kind of share something with Renée [The Late Show character] because I like to work till dawn.”
“Do you have any writing rituals?”
“None, really, besides time of day. I can never get truly immersed in writing during the daytime. I know it’s a product of being interrupted by work calls and emails, children’s and husband’s questions about where fill-in-the-blank is located, and the dog’s bladder needs. Subconsciously my brain believes that there is no point in trying to focus when my office door is just about to slam open in three…two…one…. So now, even when I’m in a quiet, private environment, I can’t make my brain accept that it is possible to write while the sun is out. When I’m in the middle of a story, I do my self-editing during the day. That part handles interruptions better.”
2013 interview clarifies that darkness means late night, not early morning pre-dawn:
That vivid scene took place in the kitchen but these days, she writes in an office room in her house. Like most writers, Stephenie prefers to write in the evening.
“I write best at night, which is one of the reasons that I’m so slow now,”she said.
“My kids’ school schedule has forced me to be a morning person, which I am not. I don’t get so much done during the day. There are too many interruptions. It’s better if I can start at 8PM and work through till I pass out.”Laughing, she quipped,
“Maybe, I should move back into the kitchen.”
I woke up (on that June 2nd) from a very vivid dream…Though I had a million things to do (i.e. making breakfast for hungry children, dressing and changing the diapers of said children, finding the swimsuits that no one ever puts away in the right place, etc.), I stayed in bed, thinking about the dream. I was so intrigued by the nameless couple’s story that I hated the idea of forgetting it; it was the kind of dream that makes you want to call your friend and bore her with a detailed description. (Also, the vampire was just so darned good-looking, that I didn’t want to lose the mental image.) Unwillingly, I eventually got up and did the immediate necessities, and then put everything that I possibly could on the back burner and sat down at the computer to write-something I hadn’t done in so long that I wondered why I was bothering. But I didn’t want to lose the dream, so I typed out as much as I could remember, calling the characters
“she.”From that point on, not one day passed that I did not write something. On bad days, I would only type out a page or two; on good days, I would finish a chapter and then some. I mostly wrote at night, after the kids were asleep so that I could concentrate for longer than five minutes without being interrupted.
“What’s your average working day like? Do you have any unusual habits/rituals?”
“I start work around 8AM and usually finish around noon. If there’s more to do, I do it in the late afternoon, although that isn’t prime time for me. The only ritual is making tea. I use the loose leaves and drink it by the gallon.”
“Do you write as soon as you wake up in the morning?”
“First I say that I’m going to write as soon as I wake up. Then I postpone and postpone and start feeling guilty and horrible and feel that I don’t deserve anything. Then I say, OK, today I’m not going to write. Then I write just to not feel guilty, and I’m going to write the first sentence. Then once I’m off the ground, the plane takes off…when I’m writing, I wake up around 12 o’clock because I write until 4 in the morning. Only two weeks. Then of course, I have to make the corrections and do another draft. I have to correct the second draft. So the first draft has, let’s say, one-third more pages than the final draft. So I start cutting.”
Margaret Atwood (Goodreads interview): morning-afternoon
“Can you describe a typical day spent writing?”
“There are no typical days spent writing. Let’s pretend there is one. I would get up. We would have breakfast. Then we have the coffee. That is something I really like to have to get myself started. Then I would probably sit down and type something that I had written in manuscript the day before. It’s a kind of overlap method, in which I’m typing out what I did the day before to get myself going for what I’m going to add on to that. I’m revising and then continuing to write in the same day. Then I do the next bit of new writing in the afternoon. I don’t go by how much time I spent at it but how many pages I managed to complete.”
“Would you say you have any unusual writing habits?”
“I’m not particularly obsessive about that. But I don’t like other people using my computer. Who does like that?”
Beatriz Williams (Goodreads interview): morning+evening
“But how do you find the time? What does your average writing day look like?”
“The pace has backed off, thank goodness, because I was writing two to three books a year and it was killing me. It’s much easier now. My writing day is very disciplined. I get up, get the kids off to school. Once they’re on the school bus, I try and write until noon or 1 p.m., then I usually have errands to run and the kids come home. And then I pick up again and write in the evening. So yeah, it’s busy, but it’s what I love to do. I feel so incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, so I try not to waste a moment. Obviously, every career has its ups and downs and moments of frustration. And particularly I think in an industry like this, where you’re constantly being judged, much more than you would in a regular job in a cubicle somewhere. So it’s a job where you really have to have a lot of discipline and a real sense of always moving on to the next book and the next idea and not looking back.”
“What is your writing process?”
“I get up and write longhand for the first hour of every day, before I do anything else other than make coffee. If I can do that, the whole day goes well. If I skip it, it’s almost like a ballerina who has to go and do their warm-up. It’s my warm-up. As long as I do that, the rest of the day kind of clicks along.”
“Well, I have kids. Not very little, but they’re still small enough to need to be taken to school and picked up. So that kind of bookends my writing day. I take my kids to school in the morning, and I get back to my computer. If the writing is going well, I plunge straight into my document and pick up where I left off. So I read the chapter that I wrote the day before—or sometimes the paragraph I wrote the day before—and I just carry on from where I left off. On a good day I can do several thousand words. But, you know, not every day is a good day.”[Laughs]
“I used to work part-time and squeeze the writing in around my day job. And when I gave up my office job, I thought,”Right, I’ll be able to write two books a year now because I’ve got twice as much time." But it’s just not true. Your procrastination just expands into the available space. I find the truth is that I would write the same amount no matter how much time I had."
“But I find picking up the kids really concentrates the mind. The fact that I have to squeeze writing into a certain number of hours tends to concentrate the mind. So I basically just sit down, and I get to spend two or three hours inhabiting this imaginary landscape. I feel grateful for that every day.”
“My process is I have to find a new process for each book. I am always trying to get in a state of flow where I just work for hours and the words just come. I am constrained by the hours in which I have childcare. [Novik has a young daughter.] I bitterly lament the loss of my former schedule. [Laughs] I would go to sleep at 3 a.m. and wake up at 11, and that was so nice. Those days are gone.”
“The older I get, the more I recognize that the things I would sometimes get frustrated about—the procrastination that we all do, like I check The Times or Tumblr, or read like 12 Wikipedia entries—I increasingly recognize as a necessary part of the creative process. I try to mentally allow for that. There are people who can sit down and go from zero to 60 and start writing. I am not one of them. I need to be checking the internet to see if there is anything on fire that I can do absolutely nothing about.”
Chloe Benjamin (Goodreads interview):
“Goodreads user Sophie asks: What does your writing process look like? For example, what is an average writing day like for you?”
“It’s changed a little bit because, when I was working on this book, I was working a day job in social services. And since I finished the book, I’ve been able to start writing full-time, which is an amazing gift. So I did my MFA in fiction [at the University of Wisconsin, Madison], and after that I found my way, almost accidentally, into the nonprofit world. I worked for an organization that supports victims of domestic violence. So when I was there, I worked Monday through Thursday, and I was able to write Fridays through Sundays. So my schedule was to try to be working by about 9 a.m. on those days, and I usually tap out after three or four hours…but if I can do that consistently, I can make mostly steady progress.”
“And when I was racing toward the finish line, or when I was in revisions once the book was with the publisher, I would get up early before work and write in the early morning. So right now it’s not too different; it’s just that I can do that every day of the week, or have weekends now. So, ideally, I’m up and working by about 9, and then in the afternoons I will do more research or work on promotion for The Immortalists, things like that. But I’m a morning writer. I don’t have a certain word count that I hit. I just feel like I have to show up and make some sort of progress.”
“Can you talk about your process? Did you sit down every day for two hours, or did you say,”I’m going to write 500 words today“?”
“I have never had any luck with any consistent habit for writing. Once, I bought a candle and said,”I’m going to sit at this desk, light this candle, and while the candle burns, I will write for two hours." And I just never did it. Never happened."
“I have what I would call an obsession as opposed to a process. I don’t know how I wrote the first book; I just know that I was obsessed with it. Was I staying up late working on it? Yes. Was I writing on it in the middle of the day? Yes. I had a little tape recorder in my car because I had this monster three-hour daily commute, and I would just fill up this recorder with notes and ideas and quotes. And so my process is pretty much: the rest of life becomes eclipsed by the effort to do this thing.”
I work maybe from 9:30 to 3 in the afternoon, and then if I’m really hot with something, I’ll just keep going. It used to be when I started writing, I couldn’t work if anyone was in the house. Then it got to be I couldn’t work if anyone was in the room. Once I had a kid, it was like, “Just give me 15 minutes. Sure, draw on the couch with a lipstick. Why the Chanel? Why couldn’t it be the Maybelline?” I work in drafts. I start the day by rewriting what I wrote the day before and then continue, so I pick up the tone and the emotion, so I’m back in. I usually do about three or four drafts, but within each draft there are hundreds of drafts.
“The daily writing process right now is shaped around the school day because I’m a parent, so my son goes to school and I write when he’s at school. I basically have six hours to get all my work done, and then I go get him. That’s made me be much more disciplined—I get up, I have breakfast, I have a cup of tea, and then I sit down at my desk and try to get something done. I usually try to read over what I did the day before. Usually that’s enough to trick myself into continuing. And I try to at least look at it every day even if I don’t write something.”
“What do you need to be able to write? Peace and quiet? The perfect desk setup or time of day?”
“I really make it part of my daily routine. For the first time ever I have my own office at home. [Wolitzer and her husband, writer Richard Panek, moved to a new apartment recently.] I wrote all of my books on a bed or a couch. Or in coffee shops all around the city. But now I have an actual room where I write. It is great that I have it, but you try to write wherever you can. I like using the sort of ambient sounds of New York as a backdrop. The hum and clatter of a coffee shop. Every once in a while I would let something puncture the concentration. I do like to be at home, though. And I like the morning hours.”
“Are you empty nesters now?”
“Yes. One of my children just graduated from college, and the other graduated from law school and is clerking for a judge. It is shocking to me to not have a cute answer to the question about children, like”one is four and one is six." Instead, my kids are grown, which makes my writing day very much better. It used to be, they’d go to school and it would be like a starter pistol would go off. Now it is up to me."
“Reader Christine asks,”Do you write every day? Describe a typical writing day in the life of Lisa Genova.""
“When I begin a book, I usually front-load with about four to six months of research. Then once I start writing, I write every day. I typically write in the morning, and I begin with a notebook and a pen. I feel more free to allow it to be imperfect with a pen. Sometimes it’s almost like a diary. I’ll write,”I have no idea what happens next" and then I’ll write a note to myself—“don’t freak out, don’t panic, you’ll find it!” So a lot of times it’s a pep talk, too, but after three pages of handwritten stream of consciousness, I’ve always found my way into the story, and then I switch over to the laptop."
“I write at Starbucks because there’s just too much distraction at home. So I go there and stay in the seat and I commit to writing, and I allow myself to get the words down, however horrible. So I typically write for about four hours every day once I start a book and try to do about 1,500 words a day.”
“Do you have a specific writing routine?”
“I have had different routines. I wrote Moth Smoke often late at night when I was a young man in my early to mid-twenties. It felt exhilarating to be up at night writing, living a vampire-like existence. Now I’m a 45-year-old man with two kids, so I write when they’re in school! It’s completely different.”
“There are two writers who have said things about this that I often think of. One is Haruki Murakami, who talks about physical stress being essential to writing and how he runs and pushes himself to write. In my much less physically demanding approach, I walk. I walk for half an hour or an hour a day, and that is the most fertile time for me. If I do that before I start writing, I often get to the desk in a very good frame of mind. And the second person I think of is Amos Oz, who has said that he thinks of it as opening up shop: He goes to work and opens his shop. Maybe no customers come, but he waits until the end of the day, and then he shuts his shop. I think that’s very sensible.”
“Do you have a general writing routine, or was it any different with this book?”
“It’s been pretty consistent over the last couple books. If I can write three or four days a week, and do eight to ten pages a week, I think that’s good. I have kids, so I don’t always get a full day to myself. But if I can work 10 to 3 p.m. four days a week, that’s pretty good for me.”
“Do you have any routines or habits related to writing? Goodreads user Mark asks, ‘How has your ability to carve out time for writing changed over the course of your career?’”
“I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve been able to support myself by writing almost since the beginning. So in a way,”carving time out" for writing is all I can do because that’s my job and there’s nothing else competing. Although I do have four kids, and they’re getting older now, so they don’t take up the kind of time they used to. We had a lot of little kids around…. It wasn’t so much a matter of time as the kind of focus I could bring to bear during the time I had. There seemed [to be] more distraction, and that has eased up as the kids have gotten older."
“I work at night, and that helps, and that always has helped. I work in the really small hours of the morning. So distractions are fewer. The other thing I need to do a lot, still, is go away. I rely on those in terms of getting that kind of immersion in the work when you’re busy doing all kinds of daily life stuff.”
“Tell us about your writing process.”
“I write throughout the day. Sometimes on memoir, sometimes on fiction. I write in many different locations—upstairs in the attic room, downstairs on the sofa or at one of the tables, or upstairs in the bedroom on top of the bed. I might write 10,000 words in a day or I might write literally one sentence. But if I don’t write at least a tiny bit every day, I get totally derailed. It’s like my machinery rusts instantly.”
“Can you describe your writing process? Do you have any sort of ritual you follow? For example, do you drink a cup of coffee? Light a candle? (Is it different now than it was when you started?)”
“Sacrifice a chicken? [laughs] I’m an early riser, and I wish I wasn’t. But I’m often up by 5 or 5:15 a.m. It’s ridiculous. When my kids were up, we got up early because we had to catch the bus, we live in the country, and I would think, when they’re old enough I’ll be able to sleep until 7 or 8 a.m. Well, now I’m up at 5 a.m. It kills me! I got used to it. It just seems to be the way my body works. I get up early, before the dogs, and play around for a while. Check Facebook, play a game or read stuff, right now it’s politics. Then the dogs get up, my husband gets up, and I count down the time until he leaves for work because he’s just breathing my air, [laughs] even though he doesn’t bother me. And then if he’s gonna be around through part of the morning, I’ll just ignore him and start work anywhere between 7:30 and 9 a.m. If I haven’t started before 9 a.m, then I’m just fucking around. Then I’ll work until 2:30-3:30 p.m., it depends. Are the kids coming? Am I making dinner? Then I go work out, then fix dinner or warm up leftovers. Then I watch TV or read a book and then do it all again the next day.”
“What’s your average writing day like? Is it true you write longhand in legal notepads?”
“I do. I’ve got three kids, so I try to get three hours a day of composing in and then some editing. Then I take two long periods to work by myself, one in the spring when I go to St. John for five weeks and one in the fall when I’m revising and I go to Boston and work around the clock. Other than that, when I have the kids—I’m divorced—I work when I can. I’m not picky about my work conditions. I’ve worked at the baseball field or when my daughter’s in dance rehearsal. I bring my work with me everywhere because I never know when I’m going to have five or ten minutes.”
“Do you have any unusual writing habits? Do you sit down and write for 12 hours, for example?”
“Well, if I could. But life isn’t quite like that because there’s always a meeting and an appointment or a read-through. But I’m very fortunate that I began my writing career proper when I was still acting, and that means I had to write wherever I was. I couldn’t go,”Oh, I must get this desk and I can only have coffee out of this mug." That wasn’t allowed. If I was in Scotland making a series or somewhere waiting to catch a plane, that’s where I had to write. And I never lost that. I write in the country, I write in London. I write in the House of Lords—they give me a little cupboard with a desk in it, and I can shut the door and write there. So basically I write when I can. I have breakfast, I start at about half past nine, and I bang on. And sometimes I have a lunch date or an appointment, and I go and come back and I normally go on until about half past seven or eight, if I haven’t gone to a drinks party or something. I’ve got one writer friend who starts at about five in the morning and stops at lunch and doesn’t work for the rest of the day, which is fine except he has to go to bed about 9:15, which I don’t think would work for most of us. So I prefer to try and make it fit around a fairly normal life. But I am quite a workaholic, really, if I’m honest. I do sort of bang on, but otherwise I don’t think I’d get it done."
“Goodreads member Kayleigh says,”Out of all of the authors I follow on Goodreads, you are certainly the most active on the site, and I always see you posting updates or answering questions from readers. Most of your updates are about how much writing you have completed, and I am just amazed that you have already finished the books for the Age of Myth series! I’m curious what your writing process is like….""
“You’ll probably find that if you were to poll most writers who do this full-time—which I do—that they’re almost all consistent. There are a few anomalies, but almost everyone I’ve ever encountered has all said the same thing, which is that they write in the morning. Most people write from whenever they wake up until noon or one. That’s your writing period. I do it every day. If I’m actually writing a story and not editing, I’m probably writing somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 words a day during that period of three or four hours. After that, then I have time for social media and time for going on Goodreads. I will admit that I time those Goodreads updates. I don’t do a lot in one day. I try to spread them out so there’s always an update from me every once in a while.”
“Can you talk about your writing rituals?”
“Even though I’m not a morning person, I find I have to start in the morning. I try to be at my desk by 9:30 or 10. If I don’t start writing by noon, I just can’t get going. If I’m lucky, I write for three or four hours and take a break. When I’m really deep into a book, my work hours get a lot longer. Sometimes I write for 10 or 11 hours with small breaks because I just feel this pressure mounting of the book coming together and wanting to get it down while it’s in my head. That can be really exciting when the work is really driving you and you want to stay at your desk and keep going.”
“What’s your average writing day like? Where do you write?”
“Right now my life is upside down, so I have a new house and I am installing bookshelves. All my books are in boxes. But by January 8 [the date that Allende wrote the letter to her grandfather that became The House of the Spirits and now the date on which she begins every novel] everything will be ready to get started in this new place. To write I need a place where I can be silent and alone and quiet. And I will have it in this new house. I work many hours a day, usually starting in the morning. I’m much better then than in the afternoon or the evening. So I get up, have coffee, walk the dog, and then go to my studio and try to work for as long as I can handle it.”
“Can you describe your writing process? Do you have any sort of ritual you follow?”
“I definitely go through…Wake up. Oh, I’m going to write today, and then avoid it for a little bit. Then sit down…”Okay, we’re gonna do it." Pull my laptop forward, fill up my coffee, light a candle, and then let it go. "
“Do you have any interesting writing habits, what’s your average writing day like?”
“I don’t, I’m afraid. I’m really boring. I think it’s because I was a freelance journalist so I’m quite self-disciplined. I’m used to just getting up, coming downstairs, sitting at my desk and writing. Sometimes if the writing’s going really well I can write almost all day and all night but usually it’s a pretty normal day, not quite 9 to 5 but not that far off. So, I’m very dull. And I write at home. I don’t go and sit in cafes or anything like that. I like to be somewhere quiet where I’m not distracted.”
“How do you prefer to work then? Does it change between novels and stories? Has it changed over the years?”
“Well, it’s different. It changes from book to book. With these stories, I think I was up very late at night, writing, like, at 2 a.m. And then I’d just sleep a lot and wake up and write some more. But with other books, I’ve had much more structure. It really differs and depends on lots of factors. I’m curious how the next book will work out. I’ll just have to see what works!”
“Do you have a routine that helps you create [the fictional character] Flavia?”
“It’s a fairly simple process. I like to start very early, about 4:30 in the morning. And there is quite an interesting story behind that. When I was writing the first Flavia book, we were living in British Columbia and were on Pacific Standard Time. I found during the writing of the book that usually when I was full of energy and ready to write, Flavia was wanting to sleep. But when she was full of energy, it was bedtime to me. I realized that there was a nine-hour time difference between us. Once I realized that, we negotiated some kind of happy medium. When it was 4:30 in the morning for me, it would be 1 or 2 in the afternoon for her. Then we would be good for four or five hours. After a while, she would start getting tired because it was bedtime in England, and I was just getting into the swing of the day. Now we live in the same time zone, but we still start at 4:30 in the morning because we have become accustomed to that.”
“A number of writers say that they like to write very early in the morning. How is it for you?”
“I think you are probably more in touch with your subconscious when you first wake up. The censorship part of your brain isn’t as active as it is later. The heaviest part of my writing is from 4:30 to 8 or 9 or 10. I sometimes go back later in the afternoon to edit a little bit, to look at what we’ve done for the day. Then you are finished for the day quite early, and you can go around and feel self-righteous.”
“Could you talk about your writing process in terms of rituals or habits?”
“We moved to New York in October, and I just got two monkey lamps for my office that I love. It’s a genre of lamps from a certain era. They have monkeys on the shaft of the lampshade. I’ve got a real soft spot for monkey lamps. They speak to me of a time of cargo ships and fog, when there was a fascination with far-off realms. Something very noir-ish and Bogarty about them. My ritual is every morning. I make coffee and—this is sort of a superstitious thing—I have to have an Oreo cookie, double stuffed. So it’s me and my Oreos. On a good day it’s just one. On a bad day it’s two.”
“Whoa. You can stop at two?”
“I have to stop at two.”
“That is impressive.”
“I’ll work until breakfast time.”
“Can you describe your writing process? Do you have any sort of ritual you follow?”
“My process evolves. The time of day I write has changed. When I started out, I was a morning writer. I had to be because I had a corporate job. I would get up at 5 a.m. and write for a couple of hours and then go to work. I was too drained to write at the end of the day. I’m not a morning person, but I wanted to finish my novel. As time went on, I would start writing from 10 a.m. until about 3 p.m. It was a good day if I wrote through lunch. Sometimes if I was on deadline, I would write after dinner in the evening. Then I had my daughter, and as you know, life changes. I started working whenever she would go down for a nap. I wrote longhand in spiral-bound notebooks. I would go to McDonald’s playland and let her play, and I would write.”
“Describe a typical day spent writing.”
“It has to happen in the morning, so I get up and I go for my two-mile walk. Then I have my breakfast and I take my shower and then get dressed, which in Key West is a T-shirt and shorts. I go into my office, which is very pretty. I love writing there. And I stay there until noon. And if it’s a first draft, I pray for the phone to ring, and I doodle a lot. Some of my best thinking comes when I have a pencil in hand. I doodle all over every printout. That’s where the good stuff happens. And then I’ll feel very hungry and keep looking at my watch. Then I’ll have lunch. That’s for the first draft. But as we go on in time, and we move from draft to draft, I’ll work longer hours.”
“My office is in a garden. Key West is tropical and lush, and you just slide open the glass wall and it’s as if you’re really working in a garden outside. It’s like you’re not confined. I feel confined in my apartment in New York now. I don’t like to work here anymore, although I have done much work here in the past.”
“Can you tell us a bit about your basic writing routine and process?”
“The secret to being a writer, of course, is discipline. I am a hard worker, an obsessive worker, and I also know that production grows exponentially according to the amount of time you spend at your desk. If you spend three hours writing three pages, in ten hours you can write 30 pages! It grows exponentially, though it consumes your soul! I work hard—coffee and tea have been my friends all my life! I write, then I give it to my publisher, and when it comes back, I change, change, and change it! The secret to writing well is editing and re-editing.”
“I’ve read that for you walking the streets at night has also been an important part of the creative process.”
“Yes, especially before my daughter was born I used to write until four in the morning. In this book, Mevlut has lots of my nocturnal and solitary habits, and my own walks helped me develop his character. I share Mevlut’s imagination! All my life, especially when I was a teenager, my friends would tell me,”You have a strange mind!" Then one day I came across the William Wordsworth quote that is one of the book’s epigraphs [“I had melancholy thoughts … / a strangeness in my mind, / A feeling that I was not for that hour, / Nor for that place”] and I decided that one day I’d write a novel about this idea. It turned out to be Mevlut’s story, and it took me six years. "
“Do you have any writing rituals? A breakfast you always eat? An exercise you do? A pen you must have on hand?”
“I observe very little discipline in my life, with no set breakfast and no steady commitment to any exercise program. Once I began using a computer in 1993, I stopped carrying a pen.”
“Are there rituals that you employ to write?”
“Yeah, I write in the morning. That’s when I feel my brain is freshest. There are some rituals: I wear a pair of chain saw operator earmuffs.”
“What? For real?”
“Yeah, you know those giant things? For real. Even though my office is quiet, I find that putting those things on, I don’t know, it’s just become a thing. My earlier offices were noisy, but I just put them on, and I can concentrate. They’re very effective. You can’t really hear somebody if they’re standing in front of you talking. Weird.”
“Can you describe your writing process?”
“It’s now driven by when I have child-free time. In a way I’ve found that’s really good for me. I’m a more productive writer than when I had whole days to mess about and put it off. The only other things I do—I use that program Freedom that turns off the Internet. I love that! It’s become part of my ritual, to set it for a period of time. It’s almost like that makes me write. It’s crazy because it’s only $10, and it stopped working for a while. I thought, I’m not going to pay again for this program, I’ll try to live without it and just turn off the Internet myself. But I couldn’t! I had to pay again to get the program!”
“What’s your average writing day?”
“I try to write at least eight hours a day. I wake up and have my breakfast, I read my paper or I read a book of poetry, particularly English Romantics because they have such a felicity of phrase and expression, and it really opens up my own use of words. I write until lunchtime and sometimes take a break to eat lunch or go work out, and then I’ll come back and write for four more hours. I try to be done by 7 or 8 o’clock, because if I’m not, I’ll be up until 4 a.m., not necessarily working but being unable to fall asleep because I’ll be thinking about it, and that’s problematic because it throws me off the next day. I try to treat it like a regular job because I have this ticking clock inside me that says I should be working because I’m not really living a real life so much. It’s almost like I’m followed around by this Catholic-size guilt for not producing.”
“Do you have any particular writing habits or rituals?”
“Coffee. And I get into this zone where I’m writing and I block out everything. I wear noise-canceling headphones, and it really is traumatizing because every now and then a friend will sneak into my house and come up from behind and scare the hell out of me. It’s a very dangerous way to write.”
“Tell us about your writing process.”
“I drink tea and write at the kitchen table when the kids are at school. It’s a nice, airy room in the house, and it’s out of Internet range, so I can’t be tempted to waste time, looking stuff up on news websites. I feel wasting time brings postponement.”
“Do you have a typical writing day?”
“It depends very much on what phase of the book I’m in. For the bulk of the writing I aim to write 1,000 words a day, about two pages, which sometimes I can achieve very easily and sometimes is much, much harder. I do rather force myself to keep going, even if the words are awful, which often they are. It’s then going to be easier to work with something than to work with nothing. A lot of my time is spent rewriting, which is much harder to quantify. It’s just a sense of doing a good day’s work and moving the book along, even if it’s just by a millimeter. The bulk of the writing is like a day job—Monday through Friday, 9 to 4:30. But then in the last few months of it, it becomes much more intense, and I’m writing on the weekends. I just keep my head down and get on with it. It’s a tiring phase, but it’s also an exciting phase because you feel the book is really coming together.”
“Can you describe your average writing day? Do you have any interesting writing habits?”
“I don’t have rituals, I compose directly to the laptop, and I don’t have a set number of hours in a day—though as a professional writer, each day is a working day. Here’s a typical day:”
“Rise early-ish (5:30 - 6 a.m.)”
“Write for a couple of hours”
“Walk the dog (she’s not an early riser) for about an hour”
“Have breakfast (oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts)”
“Write for about another four hours”
“Stretch and wonder if I should be taking a joint supplement”
“Go to stables and ride my horses”
“Come home, shower”
“Write for another couple of hours”
“Remember I haven’t had lunch, so have great big doorstep slice of toast with marmalade and a cup of tea”
“Catch up with daily”admin""
“Cook dinner and watch a movie with my husband, then read. Or I skip the movie and just read. My reading consists of my”work reading" and my “pleasure reading.”"
“Fall into bed, usually with a quick prayer of thanks for giving me so many things to do in my day that I truly love.”
“Tell us about your writing process.”
“I have a very straightforward process. My wife goes to work in her office. She leaves the house at about eight o’clock in the morning. I usually take my daughter to school at about 8:30, and then I come back and I sit down at my desk. I work in the living room of my house. At some point maybe I grab some breakfast, and I work until midday, pick up my daughter, give her a hug, go have some lunch, get back to my desk, and keep working until my wife comes home at about six. And so in that sense it’s a very standard working day. And people ask you things like,”Does Twitter distract you while you’re working?" And of course the answer is, No, I run Twitter in the background all the time, but if I am going to be distracted by something like Twitter or by anything else that I could be doing instead of writing, that’s bad news. It’s got to be cut. Because if I’m not more interested in my writing than I am Twitter, you’re not going to be more interested in my writing than I am in Twitter. So that’s a completely standard benchmark."
“The ideation process, the inspiration process, is much more mysterious—to me as much as to anybody else. I’m walking down the street, and I see something, and that dovetails with something else that I’ve been thinking about, and suddenly I have a story about, I don’t know, a dinosaur that lives in a tree in my garden.”
“Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?”
“Stagger out of bed, take the dogs outside, and then I’ll get a Diet Coke and a couple of dog biscuits and go upstairs. By the time I’ve consumed my Diet Coke and had a quick run through the morning email and Twitter feed, I will probably be compos mentis enough to work. I wake up usually between 8:30 and 9, so I’ll be”going to work," so to speak, around 11. I work maybe for an hour before lunch, and go out with my husband for lunch. Afterward I’ll work for another hour. What that work is depends where I am in a book: In the beginning stages I don’t know much about it. I’m doing a lot of research and thinking, but I write every single day, because if you don’t write, the inertia builds up. So you want to do it, whether you know anything or not. It’s sometimes only half a page, but words on page."
“Midafternoon I’ll go out and do the household errands, come home, do my gardening, go for an evening walk. I live in Phoenix, so half the year it’s so hot, I have to go out and walk at the local mall. Make dinner. My husband likes to go to bed early, around 9:30. So I’ll tuck him in, go lie on the couch with the dogs and a book. I have two big, fat standard dachshunds who are very cuddly. We go to sleep, and then I wake up again naturally between midnight and 1. We get another Diet Coke and go upstairs, and that’s when I do my main work. Between midnight and 4 am. It’s quiet; there are no interruptions. The phone doesn’t ring. No psychic noise. Nothing. It’s the ideal time to work. One of the great perks of being a writer is that you can work when you’re mentally capable of it, not when someone else thinks you should.”
“Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?”
“Well… I get up in the morning, read the paper, and have coffee. After that (by then it is usually around 9 a.m.), I start to write. At around 11 a.m., I stop. The concentration I need only lasts that long. For the actual writing I take the most comfortable position possible, the same as for reading, in fact: lying down on a sofa with a laptop.”
“Can you tell us about your writing process? What is a typical day like for you?”
“I start out every day around 8:30. I answer my emails. Inevitably a proportion of those are business emails about decisions I have to make. It seems that business is all about decision making. Then I have to start the work of the day. I try to write six to eight original pages a day, but I start out by reviewing what I wrote the day before and rewriting that. By the time I finish the book, it’s essentially the second draft. I go over it and try to iron it out and pick out any obvious mistakes. I write directly to the computer, which I think is God’s gift to writers. My first two books were written on an electric typewriter, and let me tell you, this is easier.”
“Goodreads member Carolyn Fritz asks,”As a budding author, I’m finding it hard to make time to write with a full-time job and maintaining my home/family. Do you have any suggestions for new authors on how to maximize their writing time without going crazy?""
“It’s always a struggle, isn’t it? I was super fortunate. When I got married the second time, my new husband offered me the opportunity to stay at home and write full time, which was fabulous. If I’d had to juggle everything, I don’t know if I would have ever finished a book. So my hat is off to people who are trying to do this. As far as managing your time, I think you have to get at least a dedicated hour every day. Just one hour. And just write. Don’t answer emails. Don’t write query letters. Just write. Just move forward. That’s the only suggestion I can offer. When I had my children at home, I could write when they were in day care, which was two mornings a week. It’s very hard, and I fully appreciate and understand that.”
“Apart from feeling rooted in a place, tell us a little more about what’s necessary to your writing process.”
“Sure. It is simple and unvarying. I need to write first thing in the morning. I need to sort of segue from sleep and dreams directly into writing, because I find if I go out and do a few errands or have any kind of congress with the real world, I come back and turn on the computer and look at what I’ve written and think,”Well, I’m just making this up." So it’s a question of maintaining my belief of the fictional world that I’m making up. And I write six days a week, and I’m at the computer anywhere from four to six hours."
“In a straight sit?”
“Pretty much. And then one of the things I like about New York is, I can run right out and be in the middle of all of this chaos and all of this population. I could live in any number of cities, but I couldn’t live in the country. I couldn’t finish my day’s work and then go for a walk in the woods. After those hours of solitude, I need contact. I need other people. Even just so I see them.”
“Can you describe your writing process? Is there a specific ritual you follow?”
“Once my kids have gone to school, I take my laptop, I go to a little writer’s room. I usually have headphones and music and just switch off for three hours. I have to take myself offline, because I can get horribly distracted. Now that I’m contracted to write two books a year, I go to a self-imposed writing retreat. So a couple of times a year I’ll go off to a little inn somewhere and just hole myself away for five days with no WiFi and do nothing but write. I immerse myself in my book.”
“Baltimore Blues contains the first passages I’ve ever read about the”erg" (rowing machine) in a novel. Are you a rower? How does sport help you as a writer?"
“I was a rower. But I don’t row anymore in part because when I started writing, the writing needed to take place in the time that I was rowing. I was never a good rower, but I did compete and did belong to a rowing club in Baltimore in my early thirties. Working out is enormously important to me. Over the past ten years five of my books have had big, knotty problems that were solved when I was working out. On a typical day I get up and I write all morning, and that’s anywhere from 8 to noon. Then in the afternoon, in Baltimore, I work with a trainer twice a week. I go to yoga, and I work on my cardio, at least five to seven days a week. In New Orleans, where I am a lot, I go to classes at a gym, I do boot camp. I am a workout freak. I love it!”
“Tell us about your writing process.”
“I’m dogged. When I’m working on a book, I write almost every day. If I’m really in the midst of the work, I’ll just write straight through the weekend. But I write all day long. I’m kind of slow and methodical and meticulous about the work. I’ll take a good long rest after the book tour, anyway. I believe we need a fallow time before we write again.”
“Tell me about how you wrote this novel. Do you have a writing routine?”
“I do, but I write very differently from people I know who sit down and plot out their books. When I know what I want to write, I start walking around for maybe a month just thinking about it. I carry around a small notebook in my pocket and take notes about my characters and ideas. And then when I’m ready, I’ll start writing. Mostly I like to write late at night when everything is really quiet—especially here in New York—and I’ll work right through until the morning. But if I’m home in Sierra Leone, it’s different, and I usually write early in the morning or when I can during the day in between visiting people. It all depends where I am.”
Ruth Ozeki (Goodreads interview)
“Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?”
“I wake up in the morning and meditate, for half an hour, 40 minutes. I get a cup of green tea (the green tea is pretty important, I have to say), and then I go directly to my computer. I’ll sit there and write until I can’t sit there anymore. But it also depends on where I am in a project. At the beginning of a project, when I’m getting the first draft down, it’s very difficult. That’s the hardest part for me. So I tend to be more restless and fidgety, and so I’ll get up a lot and move around. At the end of a project, when I’m really bearing down on the end, it’s completely overwhelming. I tend to spend long, long hours at the computer. Usually I write until mid-afternoon, and then I’ll do other things: check email, go for a run, cook dinner, be a human being. In the evening I’ll usually go back and review the material or spend the evening reading or researching.”
“I have these fingerless gloves—I’m wearing them in my author photo. They protect my wrists; the surface of the desk after long hours, it gets sensitive there. Wrist warmers become very important to me. It’s like putting on a piece of armor when heading out into battle—having my pulses protected is very encouraging and comforting to me.”
“My ideal writing day is, I wake up in the morning, and the first thing I do is go to my favorite café. I love to write in cafés and libraries. I hate to write at home. I like the feeling of others around and having wonderful music playing softly in the background. I love feeling other people’s energies, but I’m free to be left alone to do my own thing. I don’t have unusual writing habits, but whenever I can, I write with a latte and a cookie or muffin or something. Over time I have come to associate writing with pleasure. People ask me if I get writer’s block, and I really never do, and I think it’s for this reason. Sitting down behind my laptop is my favorite thing to do. Even when a latte or a cookie is not available, the association between writing and pleasure is still so strong, it carries through.”
M.L. Stedman (Goodreads interview)
There really isn’t such a thing as a “typical” writing day for me, except insofar as I only write in the daytime—never at night. I’m rather allergic to rules about writing, and pronouncements such as “you must write at least an hour a day” or “you must plot everything in advance” or “do all your research before you write a single word.” My philosophy is “find out what works for you, and do that: Everyone is different.” So, for example, I wrote this book on my sofa, in the British Library, in a cottage by the beach in Western Australia, on Hampstead Heath, and anywhere else that felt right. I consider it a true privilege to have the opportunity to do what I love.
At this point I really don’t. I have a little writing shed for the first time in my life. It’s about 100 feet from the house. On a perfect day I walk the dogs, get a cup of coffee, and go over there and just stay for seven or eight hours. I just wait to see what happens. There’s no particular superstition. I wrote my first book and a half in an office, kind of stealing the time. That kind of purged me of any need for ritual. The only thing I need is to be happy. If I’m a little bit happy, then I can come up with something. Maybe part of the ritual is that if I’m not happy, I might do downtown, fart around, or go take a walk. If there is a little feeling of “happy to be alive” vibe, then I’m good to go. It doesn’t have to be in the writing shed. I could be on an airplane, hotel, or wherever.
I sit down in the afternoon to write generally. I don’t write more than two, three hours at a time. At least at the beginning of a book I don’t. In the evening I’m often Skyping with book clubs. Sometimes it’s two or three days a week. It’s great. Sometime I have to learn to say no. I hate to say no to readers. As I move toward the completion of a book, I do tend to hole myself off from the world. I’ll spend two or three weeks barely coming up for air and just ignoring everything else.
Well, I have four kids, so my first job is to get them off to school. One of them I have to drive, so my best workday lately is dropping him off at 8 a.m. and then hiding out in a coffee shop that is inside of a supermarket, which is a little weird. It’s a Starbucks near a deli counter. I’ve been writing there. I usually will write from 8 until noon. Some days I’ll catch another hour or two in the afternoon. The morning is my best time. I can write anyplace, and I change up my places a lot. It’s almost like riding a horse. Whatever seems to be working, I’ll do that until the horse collapses in exhaustion, and then I’ll find a new horse. Weirdly enough I was in New York, and I was writing in subways, and I was taking subway rides with a notebook and a pencil for a while. Sometimes I’ll write well while on an airplane, and I’ll start doing that as much as I can. Whatever works I will do. I don’t have that one office or that one corner room or a certain pair of socks. I’m mixing it up as much as I can.
I like to work in the morning, and I guess the only thing that I do unusual: I move around a lot when I work—I just walk around—I move a lot, and I bring my work with me. It’s one of the reasons I like to work at home, because if you’re in a library, you can’t just walk around.
Have a cup of coffee. I putter about, then I start writing. I’m better in the morning. I’ll always begin by reading what I’ve written the previous day. That eases me into it so when I start writing new, I’m following on from something I’ve written. I even do that when I’ve written a lot of the novel. I’ll still quite possibly go back to the first page when I start my writing day. I hate doing a huge rewrite at the end of a book, so by the time I’m done with a novel I’ve pretty much already done the rewrite. I do a lot of frittering around and wasting time. It takes me a while to get engaged with a book. But when I’m really locked in, I’d be happy to go to jail and be in solitary confinement. I just want to get it done. I can do 12-hour days. I don’t want to think about grocery shopping or what I’m going to wear or talk to anyone. There are three phases: Messing about at the beginning, which is very important. I rewrite and rewrite until I’ve got the feel of it. And then the middle is very fretful because I’m convinced I can’t get it to work. And then the last third is great: Shut the door. I know what I’m doing. I work at home, so I’ll move around to different rooms to alleviate the boredom. [laughs] Being in the same place has an odd effect on your brain. When I’m in the really fretful stage, then I either go away somewhere or I take to my bed. Rather like Elizabeth Barrett Browning or something! If I put headphones on and ignore everything in bed, that is remarkably good at focusing. But that doesn’t last long; it’s unhealthy to take your work to bed. Although Proust wrote in bed, didn’t he? In a cork-lined room. I understand that.
I wrote the book in both Nigeria and the U.S. I don’t have a routine. I like silence and space whenever and wherever I can get it. When the writing is going well, I’m obsessive—I roll out of bed and go to work. I write and rewrite a lot and shut everything out. When it is not going well, I sink into a dark place and read books I love.
My perfect writing day would be waking up at about five o’clock in the morning and going to my little cubbyhole. I literally write in the closet; I’ve built my desk into a closet. I have a couple of hours before any of my kids have woken up, and that’s what I call the “Dream Time.” I wouldn’t touch the Internet, I wouldn’t even make a cup of coffee, I would just go in and use that really fantastic moment when the mind is uncluttered early in the morning as the time to embark on some work.
A typical day writing is probably 6 a.m. to 12 p.m., Monday through Friday. My office is pretty standard. It’s a room above the garage; a nice, bright room with skylights. There’s a sitting area. I’ve got tons of shelves and notes sitting out everywhere. Post-its are the best invention since sliced bread. I have them covering everything.
When I’m writing a manuscript, I typically take my kids to school at 8 and then I try to do some exercise and I sit down to write at about 9:30 in the morning. I write on the computer in a small office I have in my house, and I write till about 2, at which point I go and pick up my kids. Once I’ve picked up my kids from school, then I’m a full-time dad and I try not to write. Although I’m not actually doing any writing, the characters are with me everywhere I go and I’m constantly thinking about it.
I wake up in the afternoon. I wake up and spend time with my children; when they all go to bed, I write. I write at night. Generally that involves headphones and loud music and caffeine and darkness. During the day it’s either family time or sleep time.
I’m very much a “fits” person. I’d write till five o’clock in the morning and go to sleep till about 10 or 11. Get up and spend time with the kids, and start back up again at eight o’clock at night. After a couple days of that you crash and end up sleeping till two in the afternoon. I have days where I don’t really sleep. I write and do my regular family stuff. Generally after about three or four days of that, I crash. It’s not a healthy routine. I do not recommend it.
I tend to write for considerable stretches in the morning and later afternoon. Generally mid-afternoon I go on a long walk. I live in a part of Sydney on the edge of a national park. And it’s near the sea. So there’s a great lot of walking around the coast of the harbor and the Pacific coast. So I generally take an hour and five minutes. That is very important to the day… After my walk, I work as much as I can before dinner, which is generally around 7:30. But I’ve got grandchildren to look after, too. They’re more important than novels to me. If they need to be looked after, then that’s what you do.
I wake up in the morning, I go downstairs and make coffee, because I can’t really do anything without coffee these days. And then I read The New York Times and maybe The Wall Street Journal. I start my day of writing maybe around 10:30 in my office; I have an office at home. I do take it on the road every now and then: At least twice a week I like to write in cafés on my laptop, just to get out and see the world. I write until about 4 or 5, and then I’ll either exercise—run around the park, go to a yoga class—and then my day is free.
Well, I get up at 6 a.m., which I don’t like, but with kids, animals, and a schedule that seems to eat into my writing day, it’s pretty much my only choice. My husband gets up first, gets a cup of coffee and my laptop, and shoves them both into my hands. So I do the first hour and a half in bed. I kind of come to in front of my screen. What I’ve found is, actually it can be quite good for your writing. What happens is, there’s no falter in your brain at that point. It’s before your brain fills up with all the things that occupy you in the day, like school shoes or fish fingers or the dental appointment at 4:30 or picking up the dry cleaning. What you find is that very early on in the day before that’s had a chance to hit, sometimes you can get a really clear run at ideas and problem solving.
I do that most mornings, and two days a week my husband works from home, which frees me up from the school run. Those days I try to work 12-hour days in my office. I’ll go from 7 a.m. and come back at 7 p.m., depending on how tired I am and how well it’s going. If I get really stuck, I’ll take myself away for three days. I work solidly. I get up when I get up and I sleep when I sleep. My record is 18,000 words in three days on one of my writing stints. I don’t get out of my room. I get room service, I wear a dressing gown and don’t get dressed. It’s a bit disgusting, but it works. I don’t think about anything except the book. Sometimes you need to do that.
I am an early riser. On my best writing days I’m up at 5:30 a.m., I hit the gym, and I’m back at 7:30 a.m. at home, and by 9 a.m. I’m at my writing desk. The earlier I can get started, the better, because my creative mind works best in the morning hours. As the day goes on, around 2 p.m., my creativity starts to turn off almost like an electrical current when you flip the switch. Like right now I’m here with my assistant, and we’re doing the business part of my writing career. But I reserve the mornings for fiction. Usually around 2 p.m. I will stop, though I must admit that if I’m having a really bad writing day, I knock off at 1 p.m. and watch Days of Our Lives.
I write every day that I don’t have a hiatus, and there are more than you would think—travel, kids coming home for holiday, a birthday, or just the weekend. But generally speaking, in the dead of winter when there is nothing to do except work, I would get up and be at the desk by 7:30/8 o’clock, and I would leave around 12:30 p.m.
- Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Currey 2013
- The Miracle Morning for Writers: How to Build a Writing Ritual That Increases Your Impact and Your Income, Elrod; http://jamesclear.com/daily-routines-writers
- When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Pink
We should note that considerable doubt has been cast on both ego depletion and decision fatigue as part of the Reproducibility Crisis.↩︎
The Sio & Ormerod 2009 finds length of incubation to be a moderator (longer=better) but all incubation periods are less than 2–3h and more often a few minutes, and sleep was not used in any meta-analyzed studies, so the incubation effect literature appears to be unhelpful on whether & how sleep might cause any benefits here.↩︎
Having been involved with modafinil for a long time, I can say that in the anecdotes I have read or talking to people or in my modafinil survey, I have seen many people praise it for nonfiction writing or programming, but I am not sure I have ever seen someone describe trying to write fiction on it, and a not infrequent complaint is that people feel less “creative” on it.↩︎
With the striking exceptions of Balzac’s love of coffee and Beat Generation writers like Jack Kerouac or William Burroughs, who, however, in a case of the “exception proving the rule”, tended to write ‘semi-autobiographical’ fiction, and heavily indulged in amphetamines for sleep deprivation to the point of amphetamine psychosis, assisted by wide availability at the time due to asthma treatment and diet prescriptions, see Rasmussen 2008, On Speed.↩︎
Proportion/binomial test of responses split by chronotype:↩︎
prop.test(matrix(c(196,193,467,633), nrow=2)) # # 2-sample test for equality of proportions with continuity correction # # data: matrix(c(196, 193, 467, 633), nrow = 2) # X-squared = 7.0006564, df = 1, p-value = 0.008147983 # alternative hypothesis: two.sided # 95% confidence interval: # 0.01545214897 0.10848738773 # sample estimates: # prop 1 prop 2 # 0.2956259427 0.2336561743 df <- as.data.frame(matrix(c(196,193,467,633), nrow=2)) df$V3 <- df$V1+df$V2 df$Morning <- c(TRUE, FALSE) library(brms) brm(V1 | trials(V3) ~ Morning, family=binomial(), data=df, chains=32) # ...Population-Level Effects: # Estimate Est.Error l-95% CI u-95% CI Eff.Sample Rhat # Intercept -1.19 0.08 -1.35 -1.03 28662 1.00 # MorningTRUE 0.32 0.12 0.09 0.55 26242 1.00