Scribbling as the sun rises, plotting in between meetings, or riding an all-night burst of creativity – when do writers actually write? Writers say they write best in the morning however, the data suggests that evening offers peak writing productivity.
The morning bias
Morning is seen to be a time when people have creative breakthroughs. Mason Currey found that a third of successful writers and creative types started work before 7am. As a morning writer myself, I explored some of the reasons why morning is the best time to write in a previous post.
“If I were going to extrapolate one lesson from the book, it would be this: Get up early and go straight to work.” Mason Currey
When I asked writers when they wrote best, a third insisted on first thing in the morning, a quarter said mid to late morning, and a quarter plumped for late evening. While testing my writing habits website I was able to gather data to find out when most writing activity takes place.
The graph below shows the time of day people created writing goals (blue) and what time they tracked their writing against them (red). It compiles data over five weeks to provide a pretty accurate picture of an average day.
Eat, sleep, write
Let’s look at the time writers tracked first. It’s no surprise that most writing activity takes place during the day and the least at night. So while Anne Rice copied the nocturnal habits of her subjects when writing Interview with a Vampire it seems our writers prefer a decent night’s kip.
There are four peak times on the chart, the smallest being first thing in the morning. The next is 10-11am when people are fully awake and able to concentrate on the task in hand. There’s a steady increase throughout the afternoon to the next high point at 4pm, and the summit is reached at 10pm before the descent to bed.
The 7am peak represents the classic morning writer, sneaking in some writing before the distractions of the day begin. A slump in writing activity at 8am ushers in the height of morning chaos, when children refuse to find their PE kits and commuters get stuck in traffic jams.
Everything stops for tea
That nose dive in writing coincides with breakfast and it seems that other low periods emerge around meal times. There’s a lunchtime dip at midday giving writers a chance to eat at sandwich and see what’s trending on Twitter. At 5pm everyone in Blighty stops for traditional tea and cake, obviously, and around 7-8 o’clock we heat up our TV dinners and switch on Eastenders or Coronation Street.
“wordsmiths take time to feed and restore their creativity”
In order to write productively it seems our wordsmiths take time to feed and restore their creativity with breaks for mealtimes and a good night’s sleep.
Plan in the afternoon, write in the evening
Looking at the time of day people create goals I’d have expected this to follow the pattern for writing, and it generally does, apart from a couple of times in the day. Writers appear much less likely to create a goal in the middle of the afternoon, though this is a key time for writing. Goal creation reaches its highest at 5pm then tails off. This is different from writing activity, which increases in the evening with its peak at 10pm.
The evening seems to be the worst time of day for making plans and setting goals yet best for being creative.
Write when you find the time
In my survey many writers said morning the best time of day to write, yet when they monitor their writing they write in the evening.
It seems that many writers have a prime time to write, a time of the day when they are fizzing with creativity and bursting with ideas. However, this sweet spot no doubt coincides with the moment they need give their boss a project update or collect the children from school.
In our busy lives, we can’t always do what we want, when we want to. You need to find the time to write, even if you’re tired and past your most creative time of day.
Most people have free time in the evening and this explains why most writing happens between 8-11pm. So after the dishes are done, don’t slump on the sofa in front of the TV – instead flip open the notepad, fire up the laptop and get scribbling.