If Morning Is the Best Time to Write, Why Does Inspiration Strike at Night?

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I’m driving home, minding my own business, thoughts jumping all over the place, from the uplifting choral concert I just attended to all the necessary housekeeping things that I have to do when I get home. And for some reason, my novel decides to join the mix. I don’t know why. I’ve given it a rest while sending out queries to literary agents. It’s no good thinking about what I should have written because the letters are all sent. I know they’ll all be rejections, so why dwell on what’s going to turn into a bunch of nothing in the end?

I can’t help it, that’s why. I’ve invested an awful lot of time and effort over the past decade into this unpublished book and its sequels. I’ve written my soul into it. And is it even any good? I’ve had two other writers (neither one related to me) read its latest revision and praise it. The pacing is good, the plot is solid, the fantastical elements aren’t too out-there, and even the ending is satisfying without wrapping it up too neatly. Sure, they suggested a few tweaks, which I made. So why am I not happy? Well, because I can’t sell the damn thing, that’s why. And you know I’m frustrated if I start throwing the D-word around.

As I’m driving along, enjoying my little pity party and wondering what else I can possibly do to make my story a little clearer to someone who doesn’t know me from Eve, an analogy pops into my head. It’s pretty good, too, one that should make my fantasy kingdom understandable to people who live in this world. Not perfect, but it’s the start that I need. I can get it on paper, show it to my mother, ask her if I’m crazy, then do a lot of research to make sure I understand what I’m trying to say. . . And hope it works.

Yay for me. I only wish I wasn’t in the car at 9:45 P.M. with my children in the backseat, a million things to do between having access to paper and pen and the actual chance to use them – and my alarm is going to go off at 5:00 A.M. if I like it or not.

I call these kind of out-of-nowhere ideas brainwaves. And they usually come at completely inconvenient or inappropriate times. Sitting in the pew at church? Good time for a plot twist to finally gel. Washing my hair? What a great moment to have a story-changing revelation! In a meeting, in the classroom, in the middle of the night – that’s when these things happen. Not ever when I plan to sit down and write. Good stuff happens then, too, don’t get me wrong. But not life-changing. Not story-altering. Rarely revelatory. It’s why I carry a little memo pad in my purse, and I use the digital notepad in my iPhone all the time (and email my notes to myself afterward, just in case they accidentally get deleted).

A couple years ago, I read that early morning (we’re talking pre-dawn) is the best time to get those creative juices flowing. At the time, I was pregnant and exhausted all the time. I dreaded even thinking about getting up before six to get my son to school, especially with a second child on the way. Fast forward to now, when I get up at 4:30 during the school year and 5:00 during the summer. The problem is, I don’t do it to write: I do it to exercise. I can squeeze writing in during odd hours, but I can’t fit a workout into five minute increments during the day, not to mention that if I’m going to shower after exercising (and believe me, that’s a must), I have to do it while my kids are asleep. That doesn’t mean that the writer in me stays quiet and waits patiently, though. On a day when I really need to shed the extra pound or two that I packed on by overindulging the night before, a brainwave inevitably hits, and I end up chasing a wild hare down a winding path that doesn’t end until after the sun’s up.

So why not wake up half an hour earlier? What’s thirty minutes, anyway? I suppose I could. But inspiration doesn’t pay attention to alarms. It comes with its own alarm bells, especially when I’m already running late and don’t need another distraction.

Even so, I love those moments.

If I didn’t have them, I don’t think it would be worth it to keep on writing. Of course I write on days when I’m not inspired because I know I have to – and because, thank goodness, there is a happy medium between writer’s block and writer’s, um, diarrhea. But if I never had that spark of inspiration to begin with, I don’t know if I would have been motivated to write for the love of it in the first place. Maybe that explains why so many people who can string words together beautifully don’t have the passion for it that others of us do.

Brainwaves grab me, distract me from things that were important moments before. Granted, they kind of turn me into a monster if I get interrupted, but the jubilation that comes when I’m done makes it worth slogging through dirty dishes and loads of laundry and long car rides – and the bags under my eyes and frequent yawns the next day. Those epiphanies, few though they are, keep me excited about writing. And I hope they make what I’ve written worth reading.

4 thoughts on “If Morning Is the Best Time to Write, Why Does Inspiration Strike at Night?

  1. I feel your pain and joy here. Regarding the workout, I’ve boiled mine down to The Scientific Seven Minute Workout so I can write in the mornings. I’m trying to keep first things first and, right now, writing must be first. I love those brainwaves too!

  2. […] talked about the different forms of inspiration before (and it applies to me specifically as a writer, but I’m sure it applies to other forms […]

  3. […] because I just don’t have time to browse. I can listen to music while driving or be struck by random brainwaves any old time. Slowing down and taking the time to study Judy’s art, however, has reminded me […]

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