Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Confessions of a night person

The U.S. Army once had a recruiting slogan that proclaimed, “We do more by 9:00 in the morning than most people do all day!” Excuse me, but… that’s an incentive? By 9:00 in the morning I’m hopefully still sleeping.

I must admit I’m a night person. Always have been. Practically every job I’ve ever had since high school was a night job. Of course, now that I think about it, I bet I would have sold more Amway products door to door if I didn’t start out every night at midnight.

I know a lot of writers who are morning people. They get up at dawn, go right to work, and get as much done as the Army without cleaning toilets. Notice in that Army slogan they never specify exactly what they do? The truth is, a lot of potatoes get peeled, floors get buffed, and trenches get dug before 9.

But I prefer working late at night. It’s quiet for one thing, and when I write during the day I’m always wondering – what’s going on out there that I’m missing? I never feel that way when the option is watching Carson Daly.

Morning writers contend that they can enjoy the day more knowing they’ve already done their allotted work. That makes great sense to me. Until the alarm clock sounds. Then I’m thinking, “What the fuck?! I don’t get up this early to go to the goddamn Rose Parade. I’m going to drag myself out of bed to write three scenes for this spec screenplay that no one is going to buy?”

About ten years ago, when I was hosting Dodger Talk on XTRA 1150, I filled in on the morning show for about a month. The program director then offered me the position full-time. I graciously declined. He asked why? I’d be done at 9:00 and then have the whole rest of the day to write and direct. I said, “Yes, but see, here’s the thing: by 9:00 I’M FUCKING DEAD!!!” I don’t know how morning men do it. Like I said, this was ten years ago and I’m just now catching up on the sleep I lost.

There’s also a practical reason why I like to write during the wee hours. Lots of writers feel they have to finish a scene before they can put it down for the day. So they’ll sit for as long as it takes to wrestle that bad boy to the ground.

I’m the opposite. If I’m stuck on a tough story point or a long character speech I just stop – in the middle of a sentence even. I find that it’s much easier to solve story problems when I’m relaxed. So I’ll go to sleep and let my subconscious work on it awhile. Invariably, in the morning, after just mulling it over in bed or taking a shower, the solution will present itself. Then I’ll return to the script to finish the scene.

So maybe I don’t get that much done before 9:00 but from 9:15-9:25 I kick ass!

And it's great here in Hawaii.  Because of the time zone, I can work late at night and still be getting lots done by 9:00 AM at home.

How about you? Are you a morning or night person, and why?

29 comments:

bettyd said...

Night person. I HAVE to get up to drive kids to school leaving at 7A. But I still stay up long after everyone is in bed. That is ME TIME baby! Of course, now that 50 is about 3 weeks away, my ME TIME is more like 11PM than 1AM as it was 10 years ago.

Gnasche said...

I've always been a night person because that's when I'm not sleepy. I've only had two jobs in my life that required me to wake up before noon - unfortunately, I'm at one right now.

Gayle said...

Ken, early birds may get the worm but night owls get the tasty little creatures! I worked from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. in my first serious full-time broadcasting job and I loved it. Now that I run my own business, I pretty much work those hours again. I'd turn down all but the most lucrative early morning gig, and a limo better come with it. No apologies for being a night owl here!

The Minstrel Boy said...

total night. it comes in handy for a musician.

Grant said...

I'll cop to being the first Morning Person.

I'm one of those writers you talked about who gets up at 5 or 6am (which means I go to bed between 9 and 10pm)...

...and am pretty much through with the workday before noon.

And the kicker?

I never need an alarm clock.

It perplexes even me.

chuckcd said...

I don't like to get up very early...
I can't stay up late anymore...
I wake up about noon, forage for some food and scurry back into my cave by 4pm...
I guess I'm an afternoon person!

RCP said...

Night person. Night has a different kind of energy to it that seems to invite creativity.

Nice toilet action shot!

Anonymous said...

Have you seen this? A Florida man built a replica of the M.A.S.H set in his backyard:

http://www.asylum.com/2010/12/21/david-dilday-builds-mash-set-backyard/

Tim W. said...

I remember growing up when my mother would tell me how much I missed by getting up late and how much she accomplished before I got up. Then one day I told her everything I did after she went to bed. She never complained again.

In university, there were courses I would have loved to have taken, but it would have broken my rule of nothing before 10 AM. 11 AM, if possible. I've had one full time job, in my life, where I had to get up before 8 AM.

And then I had kids.

Thankfully, neither child was an early riser, but when they started school, it screwed up my life and forced me to start getting up at 7:30. Oh, the horror.

Of course, I am incredibly productive after they've gone to bed.

My wife is a morning person and never feels like she gets enough time to herself. Unless she gets up at 4 AM.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

I have a tendency to be a night person, being more productive after hours.

However, I have been trying for a while to shift to being a day person. I miss the blue skies and sunny days. I feel I can seize the day better, if I make the effort (working out also does wonders to the biological clock).

Thomas M. said...

I'm a night person and a morning person. It's the afternoons I can't stand.

Cedric Hohnstadt said...

For years I had a very unusual schedule. I was single and self-employed so I would work until I was tired and then sleep until I was rested, regardless of the time of day or night (though I worked a lot more nights than I did mornings). It was an incredible luxury and I enjoyed rolling with the creative flow whenever it struck, free and uninterrupted.

Now I'm married with two kids and it's forced me to adjust to a regular 9-to-5 schedule. Maybe I was spoiled but I'm finding it a real challenge! For some reason my creative juices often feel like sludgy goop during the day but at night its like someone throws a switch and the sparks start flying. Unfortunately by then I'm too tired to take full advantage of it.

I'd love to know your thoughts, Ken: Is it possible to train yourself to be creatively "in the zone" when needed or is inspiration something that always strikes on its own random schedule?

Phillip B said...

Morning person - especially if I have something to write. My favorite days at the office are when I'm able to take a 9 am coffee break after having put in 3 or 4 productive hours.

I run down in the afternoons and have a hard time focusing. In college I loaded up on morning classes and often ended my schedule before noon -- being stuck in a seminar room past 5 pm was my own version of hell.

Children and cats reinforce the habit, demanding attention just before dawn. I normally wake up 10 minutes before the alarm goes off anyway - and live without wearing a watch. I can normally tell you what time it is within 15 minutes without checking any device.

I used to try to extend the day with coffee but it just made the late afternoon crash more severe. Now limit myself to two cups a day, and none after 11 am.

Don't know why 'm wired this way, just have learned to accept it. Suspect it has something to do with growing up in the Midwest among people who worked factory shifts.

Morning people tend to think night people are lazy, as you most likely know, and are frustrated by those who extend their time on a project. But the peak time for blog posts is 3 am (user time) so it does not surprise me that they would be well represented here!

Jen said...

I do like getting work done as early in the morning as possible so the rest of the day is free, but even though that's my preference, I do better work at night and realize that's my "true" writing time.

It's quieter, just like you said, I don't have to worry about phone calls, interruptions and most of the people I know online are asleep so there's no distractions online. I'm not a real night owl though, so I do my best work from 10pm to 1am or so.

I think I just work better knowing that I'm the only one up at my house and I can just do what I need to do without having to worry about other people.

And I'm weird with time ... I can consider the work I did at night part of the next day ... so it feels like I'm doing my work early rather than late lol.

the same chris said...

Night person, but my boss wants me to be at work as early as 9:30, so i adapted to that. And with the end of summertime (europe) it was easy to be at work at around 9 in the morning (am/pm what do i know?). I think being a night person or a morning bird is a biological thing. I think we are born with a preferation. Definately, through conditioning you can change your awake and down times (:D...the internet haha), but only in a certain span of time like 3 hours plus/minus without feeling tired all day. And i think there might be an evolutionary reason to that: It would be an advantage for a group of people, if a part of the group is active at night, while the rest sleeps, to guard the rest or to go hunt for small night-active or big sleeping animals. Bad english, i guess, but the thought is clear, i hope. Bye!

JGJ said...

Morning person, usually before the sun comes up. Reason? I blame the Army... I like watching the sun rise, (4-5am) it generally means I've made it through the night unscathed.

I like it that way.

tb said...

Hate mornings. Hate morning people. As I sit staring into my coffee cup and they get all in my face talking a million miles an hour, grrrrrr.....

Shelia said...

Morning person here. My high energy is early, like 6-7am. But by 2pm I'm done. So I take a nap. But then it's like my brain reset, and it's "early" (post-sleep) again. So if I take a nap, I get two mornings out of one day. Very productive.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I was born around 11:30 at night and have been a night person ever since. I also find my creative juices flow better at night.

Pat Reeder said...

Always been a night person, and the times when I've had to work a job that started early in the day were pure Hell. Some people tell me I'm missing out on the beautiful sunrises. I tell them I see them just before I go to bed, and frankly, they're pretty unimpressive compared to sunsets. I have worked my whole life to build a career where I am self-employed, work at home and set my own hours. For the past 18 years, I've written a topical comedy service for radio hosts that goes out around 5 a.m., so my work day ends just as the poor East Coast morning guys are rolling into the station.

You're right, night time is the best time to work. Dark, calm, quiet, and if you have to slip out to the 24-hour store to pick something up, you can park right by the door and not stand in any lines. Willie Nelson was wrong: the night life IS a good life.

To quote my VW, it's the "beries."

Kathleen said...

My dad was morning man for many years, and he would get up around 3:30am to get to the station to prepare for his 6am start. He would stay up until 12 or 1am reading, so he was a night owl and an early morning person. He did take a nap around noon after he got home, then would get up and write his show for the next day for 5-6 hours. I don't know how he did it. I'm up at 4:30 am so I can get my workout in before work. I peak at 8am, then start the downward slide at 8:01. By this time I'm nodding in my gruel. Like I am now.
WV: "fingi" - shark with mold

Tim W. said...

There's a 6 in the morning, too?

IFeedUrTV said...

I'm paid to be a night person. I like not needing an alarm clock most afternoons, I like having less traffic to contend with, and most of all, I LOVE that 15% extra pay differential.

Then again, after almost 5 years, I'm still learning to live with a circadian rhythm even Gene Krupa couldn't duplicate. I could sleep for 4 or 5 hours after my first day off, or 12. I never know. Yesterday it was 16, which means a super-long night followed by a super-long day, then back to "normal" for the next 3 worknights.

So to sum it up, I like working a night schedule but like being off on a morning/day schedule.

Sebastian said...

Night. But I still have to be at work at 8 (usually working only four fixed hours with anything up to 16 every couple of months) so I usually am able to take a nap in the afternoon. If not I can handle not sleeping for a day and catching up on it later.

I don't know why but I think it's because it's quieter at night, there are no reflections on my computer screen... something like that. I'm far sighted and I like to stay up late. Don't know why :-)

Dana Gabbard said...

Your mention of the Army ad reminds me of the old Navy ad which depicted some sailors having fun during leave riding around the Virgin Islands on horses, etc. Then the original SNL crew skewered it with their Port of Call: Bayonne, New Jersey parody. And I know you'll appreciate the action-filled toilet cleaning scene...

deva said...

full moon over Haleakala!?!

BOB said...

As Jack Nicholson said in his first Rolling Stone interview, "I like getting up at the crack of noon".

I too held down a morning drive shift once. It damn near killed me.

My most efficient time of day starts mid-afternoon and goes at goes past midnight.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

BTW, and sorry for the nit pick, but didn't the Army ad say they did more by 6 a.m., not 9? I seem to remember them sitting on a mountain watching the sun come up. I know we had to be up at 4 a.m. when I was in NCO Academy, but in a line company it was usually 6 or 7.

Gigi Kern said...

It is so nice to know that I am not the only night walker who writes when the sun is down, and the moon is bright.

Where I was at my last job, everyone was a morning person. Who gets up to do exercise at 4:00 in the morning then go work for 10 hours?? Several of the people I work it. And, if you weren't up by 6:00 am, then you were somehow wasting your day away.

I worked 7 days a week, and my half day - I slept till 12:30 in the afternoon, and I loved it.

Now, I have a new job, and it is pure torture. I haven't figured out how to go to bed before midnight, and I have to get up at 4 in the morning, because I have to be at work at 6:30 and it takes an hour to get there. Ugh! But, I figure I can survive doing that 4 days a week, and make up all the sleep I missed on my 3 day weekend.

Writing, I do my best writing after 11:00 pm. I don't know, my brain works better at night. I can write 55 pagers in an hour after midnight, as apposed to 10 pages in a hour during the day.

Go figure.

I just can't wait till I can write full-time, and actually sleep in.