Sunday, December 13, 2015

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?

This is a re-post from five years ago.

25 comments:

Tom Quigley said...

Although strangely I'm leaving this comment at 9:30 am local time, I'm also one of those people that function better after the sun has started its downward arc and after. I can't even look in the mirror at myself before 9:00 am. When I first moved to LA and was trying to break into TV writing, I worked at a department store in North Hollywood from 1:00 pm to 9:30, got home about 10:00, ate dinner, watched some TV and the late news and then sat down at my word processor and started writing until about 2:00 am, then went to bed and woke up about 9:00am again.

Peter said...

I'm exactly the same. I've tried to write one of my spec screenplays during the day but I hate the feeling of being cooped up indoors in the daytime. In the evening I put on one of the rolling news channels in the background, as I need a little bit of ambience, as complete silence is depressing, and then I can write.

I admire Stephen King's work ethic. He says he gets up at 7 or 8am, can't remember which, and goes into his writing room and works all day, breaking for lunch, and finishes around 5pm. I couldn't do that, but it does explain why almost every book he writes is the length of a phone book.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

There was recently a study conducted that suggests the 9-5 workday is pretty much the equivilant of mental torture because it goes against most people's internal sense of time. But apparently, the 9-5 workday was first regulated back in the 18th century (or 1800s, I can't remember) to better divide people's time throughout the day: eight hours of work, eight hours of recreation, and eight hours of sleep.

But I agree, I'm a night person too - I can't stand getting up before eleven.

Bill Avena said...

Most of the writers I admire had full time day jobs and they squeezed their writing in when they could. Maybe it's easier to find inspiration when there's a Third And Final Notice on the bill pile.

Earl Boebert said...

On my last project I found the first sleep/second sleep pattern that some claim is "natural" to be very effective. Do intense googling and source material reading in the afternoon, go to bed early. Wake up at 3AM with ideas. Make notes for an hour or so, back to bed and sleep like a log. Pound text in the morning, relax for a bit, repeat. YMMV.

Michael said...

Granting that it's a repost, how could you, in light of the anniversary the day before, include Sinatra's "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning"?

Your comments bring to mind something Sinatra said about the place where I live: the problem with Las Vegas, he said, is that there's nothing to do between 8-9 a.m.

Rich Mitchell said...

Before his success, Stephen J. Cannell had a full-time day job working for his father and then would write for five hours in the evening, seven hours on Saturday and a half-day on Sunday. In his later years, I believe he said he would start writing at about 5 a.m. each day for about five hours.

Eric J said...

@JosephScarborough
More like the 20th Century. In the 19th Century (1800s), most were working 12-16 hour days, 6 days a week.

gave us the 8 hour day, 40 hour week in the early 20th Century. Republicans are trying to make it even better by giving us the 20 hour week in a WalMart vest without troublesome vacations, sick days or health benefits as the standard.

Eric J said...

Second paragraph begins with "UNIONS gave..."

Tried to use to bold UNIONS and it tossed the whole word.

Stephen Marks said...

"Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise" Ben was an idiot

Chris said...

I used to work MCR (master control) at a PBS station in college and the shifts were either 5:30am-3:30pm or 3:30pm-midnight and as soon as I was trained enough to work solo, I stayed on that night shift for YEARS. Never mind that it was better for my class schedule, but I left the morning shift feeling like a damned zombie. No thank you.

Plus working the PM shift meant I essentially got paid to watch Bill Nye, Mystery, Masterpiece Theater and so on. Oh. No. Anything. But... LINE!!!

Palolo Lolo said...

I spent 18 years doing over-nights in radio in Honolulu and loved it. Shopping when the stores are empty,except for the hookers and the cops. No traffic. I loved it. Now retired, I wake at 7am and hate it.

Pete Thompson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
VP81955 said...

Transplanted easterner, still trying to get used to some midweek MLB and early Saturday college football games starting at 9 a.m. (Though I recall back in the late '80s, the Dodgers played a game in Pittsburgh that began for some long-forgotten reason at 10:30 a.m. ET...which meant the first pitch was at about 7:30 a.m. Los Angeles time. Vin and breakfast.

MikeK.Pa. said...

When I wrote my two spec scripts, I did them after I got home from my day job. Usually I wrote from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. My first job out of college was at a major newspaper. I worked the 7 p.m.-3 a.m. shift, so I usually didn't get to bed until 6 a.m. I hated sleeping while it was daylight out. Fortunately, I only did that for two years. Now, I'm lucky to stay awake to see the beginning of the fourth quarter of MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL.

D. McEwan said...

This is so me. I am totally a night person. I felt exactly the same way about that army commercial. Roughly 75% of my books were written between midnight and six AM. For one thing, you don't get interrupted by phone calls then. The period of time when I was working on morning radio shows were awful for me, sleep wise. (Basically, I got almost no sleep at all during the week, and would sleep for 18 hours at a stretch on the weekends.)

My dad, who spent his life getting up at 4:30 AM, found my sleeping in obscene. He would complain about it. I told him: "Dad, most people get up in the morning, are up all day, and sleep at night. They live what? 70, 80 years? Count Dracula slept all day, was up all night, and he lived for 500 years." My dad rejected this logic, but now he's dead and I'm not, so clearly I was right.

According to Dr. Carl Sagan's Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Dragons of Eden, mammals developed "Sleeping" as a survival mechanism to keep us (Mammals, not humans, we're talking 100 million years ago) dormant during the day when the cold-blooded dinosaurs were active, and active at night, when the reptiles were comatose. We're SUPPOSED to sleep during the day! Morning people are unnatural! My dad thought he knew better than Carl Sagan. He didn't.

Cap'n Bob said...

I was born around 11:30 at night and have been a night owl ever since. No matter how tired I am, I come to life around 11 and can easily stay up to greet the sunrise if I don't have obligations. When I worked night shifts I was a dynamo. When I worked during the day I was mistake prone and semi-comatose. Thank ghu for retirement.

Also, I could be wrong but I thought the Army did more before six that anyone else, not nine.

Mark Fearing said...

A night owl from my very youngest memories. I love to work from about 8PM-3AM. I've finished numerous books in those hours and surprised editors and art directors with emailed files in NY at 6AM EST.

But as I've gotten older and had a child I have been known to get up at 5 now and work for a few hours before the day begins.

But I feel more focused and creative late.

Pat Reeder said...

You sound exactly like me. I embarked years ago on a plan to write my own radio comedy service that went out at 6 a.m. for two reasons:

1. So I could work at home and never have to deal with rush hour traffic again.

2. So I could follow my body's natural rhythms, sleep all day and work at night.

I like writing when it's dark and quiet. If I have to go to the store, I run to the 24-hour places at 4 a.m. I can park right by the door and never have to wait in line. And I just had a check-up at the dermatologist last week. No signs of sun damage or skin cancer at all. Just a nice, healthy moonglow. Those day-dwellers are insane.

Barry Traylor said...

Before I retired I was a night person which was a good thing as I worked 2nd and a few times 3rd shift. I could never get up early without stumbling about like one of the walking dead. Now that I am retired I have flipped and wake up like clockwork at 5:00 am. Go figure.

Roger Owen Green said...

I am a night person married to a morning person. So I don't sleep at all.

Pete Grossman said...

Night person. I call this segment of time "Artist Hours" I honestly don't know any creative people who go to sleep early, never mind at a reasonable time. Many just hitting their stride at 11:00 PM.

Jeff C in DC said...

Oh Ken, I've been meaning to ask if you're familiar with Jean Shepherd! And this fits right in, "The Night People vs. Creeping Meatballism". https://archive.org/details/JeanShepherdNightPeople1960 (let him ease into it), http://www.madcoversite.com/missing_night.html

Derek St Louis said...

That would've been a Dodger Talk worth listening to. David Vassegh's voice makes me run to turn the radio off. Was it a morning show back then or where you filling in on something else on the station?

Eric E. Durnan said...

I watched a documentary one time about life before artificial lighting. They said people used to have two periods of sleep, one in the evening, then after a period of several hours awake in the middle of the night, they would sleep the wee hours of the morning away until after sunrise. These periods were referred to as first and second sleep.

What is interesting is what these people did with their time during the middle of the night. This was the period of time that they wrote things, went visiting (no joke), ate, drank, and screwed. It is said that many of our most revered documents were written during this period between first and second sleep.

Fear not, for somewhere deep down inside of you, you have tapped into this long forgotten exercise of middle-of-the-night productiveness.