Wednesday, June 16, 2010

WHEN Women Write

By Julie

Does when and how you write (or do your work in general) say anything about who you are?

Apparently, it's important enough, anthropologically speaking, that most of us label ourselves either "Night Owls" or "Early Birds." Interestingly, an online search mostly turned up quotations about night owls, or tongue-in-cheek statements about birds. And, unfortunately, most of them were by men. The quintessential Shel Silverstein sums everything up nicely with his double entendre from "Early Bird" in Where the Sidewalk Ends:

"Oh, if you're a bird, be an early bird
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you're a bird, be an early bird –
But if you're a worm, sleep late."

My highly scientific analysis of the quotes I found says night owls worry more about being owls than early birds worry about being birds. This makes sense. I've always felt slightly off kilter with most of the world, wondering if I am "okay" or "abnormal" because of an extreme night owl sleep cycle.Last night, I eased into the routine I've followed the last few months while drafting my new manuscript, ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE. The house had settled. My daughter was sound asleep. The dog was no longer restless. And my brain went right into writer mode.

I read over what I'd written a few nights earlier, thinking I might edit a sentence or two and go to bed like a good girl. But, of course, I ended up adding another 1,300 words to the story and certainly wasn't unhappy with myself – even when I had to catch up on my sleep this morning.

And that is how my evenings go when I'm drafting.

I find it easy to edit and revise during the day. I've even trained myself to draft daytime words when necessary, but I find they tend to come from a different mental place. They don't flow as naturally, and they expose my voice less than I'd like. In a pinch, daytime drafting works, but because my schedule allows me to write at night, I take advantage of it. I write most of my words between eleven p.m. and two a.m.I try not to beat myself up too violently over my night owl ways anymore. I used to feel horribly guilty that I stay up until the wee hours and then nap in the morning after sending my kids off to school. (Yes, I sleep a split shift.)

I still feel guilty when my husband and many good friends drive off to work at daybreak. I still cringe and want to hide some days when my stay-at-home mom friends post Facebook updates about the volunteer activities they're doing during the day with their school-age kids. I get the shakes just imagining trying to rise early and be dressed and pressed and excited to spend the day chaperoning large groups of children. But if I can sign up to send brownies? Dude, I'm there.

The topic of "writing time" is explored often in craft books or conference breakout sessions. Some experts insist you must rise at the crack of dawn or even earlier to put in your hours of writing before your household wakes. Some advise that setting a strict schedule of writing or revising from eight a.m. to noon and one p.m. to five every day is optimum, just as if you worked in an office environment. Others, like me, find night time is the right time for write time.

But you know, there is more than one way to skin a cat … errr … write a book! And it takes all kinds to produce the vast quantities of fiction and nonfiction we love to read.We like to celebrate our differences here on What Women Write, so I asked writers, published and unpublished, to share short bits about their writing routines.

NYT bestselling author Luanne Rice, whose recent novel, THE GEOMETRY OF SISTERS, is now out in paperback, says: "I write early, first thing, before my dreams have dissolved and before the day imposes its own reality. I love seeing the light come up, and I love being surrounded by still-sleepy cats."

Multi-published Diane Chamberlain's latest, THE LIES WE TOLD, released this month. She writes: "This completely depends on what point I'm at in the manuscript. Early on, I write now and then throughout the day. Starbucks in the morning. My porch in the afternoon. Sooo relaxed and at ease! As deadline approaches, I write in my office from early morning to late at night, sweat dripping from my forehead, panic mounting as I hunch over my keyboard, reminding myself that writing is my passion and I love it. The month before deadline, I tend to forget that little fact."

Deadlines seem to be a common factor among published authors when it comes to writing schedules. Kristy Kiernan, who we featured on the blog when BETWEEN FRIENDS released, says: "I am disturbingly unregimented when it comes to writing time. I will write in the morning when I wake, until lunch. Or I will write after lunch through the evening, until dinner. Or I will write from after dinner until two in the morning (when you would assume I'd go for a little snack ... but no). I write when the words are coming. Until I run out of time. And then I write as much as I need to, whenever I need to, to get it done. My muse starts showing up a lot more when she notes a deadline approaching."

Lauren Baratz-Logsted manages, along with her husband and daughter, to write and publish books at the speed of light for tweens, teens, and adults. (Check out the gorgeous covers for upcoming YA releases, THE TWIN'S DAUGHTER and THE EDUCATION OF BET.) Her answer explains it all: "Before being published I used to start my writing day between 2:30 and 4:30 in the morning so I could get a good chunk in before going off to do all the jobs I used to have to do to keep the mortgage paid. Now I start at 7 a.m., when my daughter leaves for school, and pretty much work straight through until she returns at 4 p.m. Sometimes I also write nights and weekends. I used to favor mornings – it's great to start early, just like with exercise, before laziness sets in – but I find now that I can pretty much start anytime. Just so long as I've set a goal for the day, I know it'll get done somehow before I call it a night."

Tish Cohen's THE TRUTH ABOUT DELILAH BLUE, just released and her previous title, TOWN HOUSE, is in film development. It seems she's an early bird!:"I love to just get up, not say a word, and go straight to the computer. I find I am more open before anything gets between my dream state and my keyboard. But more often than not I have kids to get out the door, a dog to take out, or a phone to answer. What also works well for me is walking in the woods with my dog before writing. The quiet time plus the exercise can set me up well for a long day of writing."

Our WWW Facebook friend and aspiring author Carolyn Serratos writes:"I am an early morning person. I enjoy writing early. I think better and my thoughts are fresher and more open to ideas. During the day, when I get busy, I journal thoughts and ideas. That gives me focus for the next morning."

Another WWW friend, Ida Centineo, says:"I tend to write late in the day. I've always been nocturnal -- worked nights for years as a nurse. My best material, interestingly, comes with PMS."

That is interesting, Ida! My longtime online buddy and frequent WWW commenter, Kathy Holmes (whose MYTHS OF THE FATHERLESS was featured on MSNBC this week!) shares this: "When I started writing my first manuscript I wasn't working, had the house all to myself – just me and the three cats, but, yet, I didn't write until 4 p.m. – it took all day long to find the courage to write. I wrote my third manuscript out on our screened Lanai in Florida and after that, I worried I'd never be able to write any place else. Now, after several manuscripts under my belt, and several interstate moves, I can write anywhere at any time. Often I wake up in the middle of the night to write. And, now, juggling a day job as a tech writing consultant from my home office, I work on my manuscripts whenever I get the chance throughout the day."

And Gabrielle Luthy, who's eagerly awaiting the results of RWA's 2010 Golden Heart Awards because she's a finalist for her manuscript, THE LAKE EFFECT, says: "If I had my druthers, I'd write from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., but while I'm still in that pesky office job, I write in the morning – usually at Starbucks, though sometimes I get up at 4.30 and write at home. Getting words down before anyone intrudes on my day makes me feel I've done something of meaning, which makes it much easier for me to handle what the day throws at me – and makes me much nicer for other to deal with. ;)"

Here's a comment that made me chuckle from WWW fan, Gail Clark, who says she keeps intending to write, but life just never seems to slow down: "My best writing time is … tomorrow."

It could appear among our own What Women Write contributors that we have a preponderance of early birds, but I happen to know Susan is an owl like me. She writes: "I usually write at night. When I was still writing longhand, I would write on my lunch hour or any time that I had a free moment. Now that it is all in the computer, I usually wait until everyone in the house is asleep, and I wind down a bit before digging in. I've tried the morning but writing is such a luxury for me that my mind thinks of all the things that I am 'supposed' to be doing that I get sucked in to the day. Night works best for me!"

Pamela says: "This morning I got up at 6 a.m. and managed to write for an hour before anyone else was up and demanding to be fed or driven to some place. Tomorrow, I'm setting the alarm for 5:30. But I also find I'm most productive if I take my laptop in the car with me and write at my son's soccer practice or while he's in drivers' ed--no Internet to distract me."

Joan writes: "I generally start writing after my first cup of coffee (sometimes it's 6 a.m., sometimes 8 a.m.!) through around noon. I try to write (or edit) again for two hours in the afternoon. I get distracted, or work/work gets in the way, but I really try to stick with that schedule. If I can steal a few hours on the weekend, that's bonus time!"

And Elizabeth: "I write best when I do it early – get up, get life squared away, then head to a coffee shop with a pad and a buck and sit down and write. When I do this, I write fast, spitting out maybe twelve hundred words in forty-five minutes. I often have a secret timer, known as a 9:30 a.m. yoga class, to give me a tiny deadline. Days I manage this, it seems everything goes well. I've accomplished, and it seems so easy, it's crazy it isn't every day I do this. Come fall and school again, I hope to be better, and have words out each morning with the last sip of coffee."

Yoga class as a timer? Who knew?

So what about YOU? We'd love to hear from more of our readers about When women write! Let's stir it up in the comments.

Photo credit: Flowery L*u*z*a*'s Flickr photostream by Creative Commons license


  1. Anonymous16 June, 2010

    Well, you've already heard from me but I found it fascinating to read how and when other writers write - great post! Thanks for including me.

  2. It was our pleasure, Kathy!

  3. I'm loving these quotes ... and suddenly feeling really, really lazy!

  4. Thanks, Deb! Glad you enjoyed the post, even if it made you feel lazy. ;-)

  5. Oh, I love this post! I've been a night writer for as long as I can remember. Never a morning person, school and early morning jobs were a nightmare for me. I'm foggy and weird for about the first hour after I get up. My mother says I never learned how to go to sleep. I slept all day and stayed up all night as a baby. It took a long time to accept that I'll never be a morning person. I probably feel my best around 8 p.m. and could put on a Broadway show. Sitting down and writing in the evening is when I'm at my best, clear and ready to write.

  6. Lindsey, I can totally relate. I hate that morning fog -- many people probably feel that way when it's time to go to bed at night! Me? I am pretty sure I'd never wake up in the morning if not for my alarm. And the snooze button is like a drug ... :) Thanks for reading and hope your manuscript is going well!


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