Friday, January 14, 2011

Working Hours

by Sheila Connolly

Like many areas of the country, Massachusetts is digging out from another blizzard or nor'easter or whatever we're calling it this week, the second within a month. Save your pity for all those other states which are totally unprepared to deal with more than an inch of snow. We Yankees are used to it.

Cats nap, naps?
But blizzards make me glad I'm a writer. I can sit at home in my grubbies and labor over the Work in Progress (or these days, more often two WIPs). If the power goes out? I've got edits to do–on paper. I can outline the next book–on paper. Or (gasp!) I could read a book. I have plenty of flashlights, plus a 1900 oil lamp that works, so I won't be left in the dark, and there are plenty of books waiting for me.

But... Over the past few years, when my days have been my own, my daily activities not dictated by bosses or train schedules, I have learned a lot about how my brain works–or doesn't work.

My father was a morning person, up early and out of the house by the time I got up (and I finished his pot of tea and read the paper he left). My mother? No way. She was a night owl, and prying her out of bed in the morning was a monumental effort, one which I often abandoned as hopeless. I ended up walking to school in the rain a lot.
My mother's mother was a morning person. She would be up, showered, fully dressed and sitting in the kitchen with a cup of tea before anyone else in the household stumbled down the stairs. My mother's second husband was also a morning person. He was involved in building power plants for a time, so he followed construction schedules (and he also liked to go out for breakfast and hang out with the other morning people, while my mother slept on...).

All in all, I was very aware of diurnal or circadian rhythms from an early age. If there's a genetic component to daily patterns, the odds were good that I would be a morning person, and so it happened. Once I wake up (thank you, hungry cats), my brain starts churning, and I write mental lists of all the things I'm supposed to be doing during the day, and all the things I've put off, and all the things that will need to be done in the next week or month or year. Forget about going back to sleep–it's not happening.

But over the last few years, I've learned more about how my brain works. First and foremost, I know I'm most creative in the morning, so that's when I write (after I've cleared emails and read my favorite blogs and all that stuff). Ideas comes, details click, words flow. I take a short lunch break, then I'm back at it, until...sometime in the afternoon something shuts down. My brain turns to sludge, the flow dries up. Nothing is happening upstairs.

It's like a mini-episode of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Decreased energy and concentration; carbohydrate cravings (those cookies are calling to me); increased sleep (I've started taking naps, which I never used to do). But it's gone the next morning. Maybe I need a new word for it, like ADD (Afternoon Affective Disorder).

Of course, sometimes the outside world doesn't allow me the luxury of slipping into a zombie state. There are edits and copyedits, and they come with deadlines. The publisher wants that manuscript by a fixed date, because there's this whole production queue waiting for it, even if the pub date is still over a year away. As a result, I jealously hoard that precious early-day time, saving it for the new book, the short story, the emails about important details for which I have to communicate coherently to other people. By late afternoon, I read the incoming emails but usually put them aside for more intelligent thought. And I read.

I know there are writers who are reluctant to read other people's work while they're working on something of their own, for fear that their style will be compromised. Not me. There are writers whose work I love, and I dearly wish some of their style would rub off on me, but so far no luck. There are other books that I read and say, I'd never do that. But maybe I need to clear my head of my own words in order to focus on someone else's, because late afternoon is my best reading time. Maybe I'm less analytical then, and more easily drawn into a story.

What about you? When do you work best? When can't you string together a coherent sentence for love or money?


Dru said...

I am a morning person. As soon as my eyes open, I'm ready for the world. Around 3pm, I shut down and not productive at all.

Sandra Parshall said...

I used to think I was a night person, but now I write best in the morning. If I don't get started well in the morning, I have trouble keeping it up in the afternoon.

My cats, like yours, have no trouble napping anytime.

Linda Leszczuk said...

I'm a bit like Sandra. I used to be very much a night person but now my cretive juices seem to flow better in the morning. Or maybe its just that I'm more creative before all the distractions of the day take over.

Either way, I like to roll out of bed, make a big mug of hot day, and head to my desk.

caryn said...

Totally a morning person. By 6 I've walked the dog,made coffee, eaten breakfast and am checking email. By midafternoon I need a nap-especially if I have somewhere I need to go after dinner.
BTW, our Loki kitty looks a whole lot like the cat on the right.

Barbara Monajem said...

I'm a morning person, but I can be productive at any time of day as long as I get started early enough. Once I'm in the swing of things, it just flows, and even if I need that afternoon nap, I'm back in the flow till sometime in the evening. But if I don't start till evening - forget it. The best I can do then is minor tweaking.

Right now, though, I have a dark hero who is acting like a jerk, and I can't figure out what to write next....!! So I guess I'll do business expenses or something equally mundane while my subconscious churns.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I write best in the morning, but I wouldn't call myself a morning person. Depending on how things are going (with my life and my writing), I can be ready to hit the computer running at 6:30 or 7 or in bed just coming to at 8:30 or 9. Volition has nothing to do with it, and neither does the time of year or the light outside my window. BTW, I write best if I don't read my email first, though it's hard to refrain. I may nap in the afternoon, but I don't read till the evening, sometimes right before bedtime. Once I start, I get nothing else accomplished that day.

Rochelle Staab said...

I'm a morning person, an afternoon writer, and I shut down completely when I'm hungry. If well fed, I can write into the night.

One resolution for 2011 is to TRY and write first thing in the morning. I love the idea of hitting the story with a fresh mind. It may require me rising at 4, but I'm willing to give it a shot. Maybe once. Maybe on a Sunday.

Yesterday I vowed to ignore e-mails and blogs until after I write. That lasted about 10 minutes.

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely a morning person - though my boyfriend keeps telling me that I could train myself to sleep in later. However, I find I'm not coherent enough to write anything intelligible.

While I'm working a day job & trying to get the career going, I write whenever I have the time. My current goal is one page a day (which often turns into 2-3), but sometimes, I can't get to that until 8 or 9 at night. On the weekends, it can happen earlier, which I actually prefer, because then I know it's done.

Maybe I just need to retrain myself to write first thing in the morning...

Great post, Sheila!

Sandra Parshall said...

The strangest work habits I've ever heard of are Diana Gabaldon's. She writes best at night -- as in, the middle of the night, while everyone else is asleep. She breaks up her sleep into a couple of chunks. It works for her.

Sheila Connolly said...

Interesting that most people here are morning people.

Years ago I had a friend who was a single mother, working full time. She used to get up at 3 or 4 am to work on scientific papers, before her daughter woke up. The whole idea makes me shudder.

Caryn, the kitties are siblings, Dexter and Lila. The look like Jack Sprat and his wife when they stand up: he's long and lean (we suspect Siamese blood somewhere up the line), and she's very round. Both sweethearts!

I can get through the first round of morning emails quickly enough. The challenge is to ignore the ones that keep showing up after that.

Cure Candidiasis said...

We always do have the same experienced in times of WORKING hours, no matter what this is our obligations to response. Happy working!