5 helpful hints for writing at night

Can’t devote time to your craft in the morning? Do not despair. You can set aside 15 to 30 minutes every evening, but there are caveats. Here’s how to burn the midnight silicon wisely.

Here’s what I’d do if I were the Queen of the World or had the supernatural powers of Harry Potter.

I’d give every would-be writer the determination to produce at least 250 words (or, better, 500) first thing in the morning, starting within 15 minutes of waking up. (Note: I’ve never promoted getting up at 6 a.m. or earlier to write unless you really want to do that.)

I’m neither the Queen nor Harry Potter. I also know that many writers are either parents of young children or night owls who—for a variety of perfectly sensible reasons—can’t possibly write in the morning.

If you must write in the evening, here are five suggestions:

1. Declare your writing time, and let everyone know about it. If it’s 10 p.m., tell your partner and your kids (if you have them). Let them know they cannot interrupt you for X number of minutes. I suggest you devote at least 15 minutes to writing and absolutely no more than 60.

By the way, if you really want to write for 60 minutes, start with something smaller and build up to it. Just as marathoners don’t run 25 miles on the first day of training, you shouldn’t leave the blocks expecting to hit 60 minutes on the first day.

2. Make your writing time late enough that it won’t compete with social or family obligations. If your writing time is 7 p.m. you’re essentially committing to never going out to dinner with friends, never seeing a nighttime movie, never going to a concert.

Make sure your time is going to work for you at least five days per week. (I always advocate taking a two-day holiday from writing each week.) If you read nighttime stories to your kids, make sure you don’t fall asleep in their beds while doing so—or assign someone to wake you up.

3. Have a dedicated writing space, ideally in a room with a door you can shut. If possible, make this a space you don’t use for anything else. If that won’t work, then figure out some way of symbolizing that this is your writing time/space.

You might want to put a special tablecloth or mat on your desk or table. You could simply place a dictionary at your right elbow, or perhaps you can use a photo, bulletin board or tchotchke as a signal. Do something to make it your writing space.

4. Know that your willpower will be lower at night—even if you’re a night owl. Imagine your willpower as a tank with a small hole. During the day, every decision you make causes your willpower to leak out. I don’t mean big, life-changing decisions, such as whether to take a new job or hire a new employee. I mean small, unimportant ones like what to wear that day or what to pack for lunch.

By the time evening rolls around, your willpower is going to be lower. Recognize this inevitability, and make plans to shore yourself up. For one thing, make sure you’re not hungry. (People who diet use much of their willpower on controlling their food intake.)

Second, do something to make your nighttime “job” more pleasant. If you can write while listening to music (I can’t), do that. You might begin with five minutes of meditation so you are calm and de-stressed before writing.

Finally, be sure to reward yourself for every session’s worth of writing. Plan what small treat you’re going to buy yourself the next day, or schedule a little no-cost indulgence.

5. Develop a way of bringing yourself down before bedtime. Depending on how late you write, you may need to take special measures to prepare yourself for sleep. Writing often keys me up—my brain starts racing, and after finishing, the last thing I feel like doing is sleeping.

Try to plan for at least an hour’s decompression time after writing. Go for a walk, read a book or flip through a magazine. Don’t watch TV or surf the Internet, though. The blue light of computer screens, iPads and most cellphones interferes with our melatonin production, making it harder for us to fall asleep. Experts say we should steer clear of such devices for at least an hour before bed.

If you do want to be on your computer or TV late at night, you might want to invest in a pair of blue-light blocking glasses. They are dirt cheap in the U.S. and a bit more expensive in Canada . I have a pair, and I find them amazingly helpful.

Regardless of when you write, you want to develop automaticity—the ability to do it without occupying your mind with the low-level details required. You shouldn’t have to make a decision to write; you should just write. You can best achieve this by writing at the same time every day.

Writing in the evening may be harder for many people than writing in the morning, but writing in the evening is clearly better than not writing at all.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.


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