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Craft of Writing, My Novel, The Writer's Life

Does Your Writing Stand Up in the Light of Day?

With a daytime job, a crazy dog, reading for TLR, and a host of house showings[1], I do most of my writing at night. It’s the only time the real world calms down enough to allow me the focus needed to keep my novel’s fictional universe, with all its conflicts and characters, in perspective.

Usually, I’m satisfied with what I’ve written during those evening sessions. On occasion, though, I have a few hours to work on my manuscript in the daylight. It’s then that the writing sometimes takes on a different quality. The intent authored by the nighttime mindset doesn’t always come through—sentences seem aimless, character actions inexplicable.

The reverse is also sometimes true. At night, the daytime writer can read as flat and uninspired.

I’ve noticed this is even true when I read works by other writers. The daytime me and the nighttime me interpret things differently. Daytime seems to want to read things literally; nighttime wants inference and emotion.

Can it be that the more rigid structure of the daytime world has conditioned me to think like it does, to seek its logic and conformity? And only when darkness falls are those constraints removed, and I can write fluently, from the gut, the heart, the soul?

Surely, the interruptions of the daytime have a lot to do with that. As evidence, the writing of this little 300-word blog post was interrupted seven times: two Henry needs, three realtor calls, one telemarketer (unanswered, but still…), and then my lunch was ready (my bad). It’s hard to go deeper into one’s writing when you’re constantly distracted.

I suppose there’s a positive that can come out of this divergence. I realize that I should both write at night and edit during the day, and edit what I’ve written during the day after night falls. Once both the day and swing shifts of my writing brain are satisfied, then maybe I’ve got something people might want to read. Does that make sense? It should—I wrote this in the daytime.

I’m curious if other writers encounter this Jekyll-and-Hyde issue in their writing.

 

[1] No, no movement yet.

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About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.

Discussion

18 thoughts on “Does Your Writing Stand Up in the Light of Day?

  1. Funny you should mention this, but I’ve also noticed this. I write early in the morning (while still dark), so I’ve had similar issues. They don’t always conflict, but I have noticed them. And I do think there is a Zen-like issue, as you’ve raised. As to any resolutions, I think the basic day/night writing “thing” also mentioned can definitely mitigate it…but also to just keep writing. I think, in the end (this is where writing skill comes in), it will all “come out in the wash.” Writing and editing. It’s the name of the game.

    Posted by fpdorchak | May 3, 2014, 3:25 PM
    • The two writer personalities help keep me grounded while writing. However, when I’m out in the “real” world they can cause some problems if night guy is walking around in the daytime. But I don’t think I could produce any fiction worth reading if day guy was in charge all the time. He was okay when I worked as a journalist, though. As you said, the balance between the two is the best compromise.

      Posted by jpon | May 3, 2014, 3:57 PM
  2. Fascinating, Joe. I always, always write in the morning and now I’m wondering if I should try something else. I wonder if there are certain books/authors who do the same, and if I like them because they’re morning people, like me.

    Posted by girl in the hat | May 3, 2014, 3:36 PM
    • Having seen a lot of your writing I’d say you don’t need to try anything else. But I would also be interested in finding out if oft-published writers experience the creative divide. Maybe you can tell by reading them. I know Elizabeth George, the crime writer, and know that she is a daytime planner and writer, and her work shows that. Proust wrote in bed–how much more disconnected can one be while writing? Anyone know of any others?

      Posted by jpon | May 3, 2014, 4:01 PM
  3. Yep. Jekyll-and-Hyde is a good way to put it. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s one of the many reasons revision is so important. Day Joe and Night Joe both have something to add to the pieces you write. One is not better, both are needed. But no piece is finished until you put it away for awhile, and then let Objective Joe work his magic.

    Posted by Darrelyn Saloom | May 3, 2014, 3:39 PM
    • Objective Joe started working here about a year ago, when I had so many writing projects going at once that I could no longer edit and send too quickly. We call him in on an as-needed basis, sometimes in the day, sometimes at night. He still has and entire book of short stories and half a novel to get through. (And people wonder why writers are weird.)

      Posted by jpon | May 3, 2014, 8:06 PM
  4. Hi, Joe! It sounds like you’ve somehow got the best of both worlds, especially if you can blend the two tendencies in each piece of fiction before you publish it. Have you heard of a book called (something like) “Writers Dreaming”? While I’m not entirely sure of the title, I can remember vividly being fascinated by some of the things writers have in their minds in the wee hours of the night and morning. Do you keep a dream journal at all, or do you regard that as a ridiculous frivolity? When I was younger, I had trained myself (vis-a-vis a psychology course on sleep and dreaming) to wake up just after each period of REM sleep in a night and write down my dream, then go peacefully back to sleep. It helped a lot with creative thoughts, though whether or not it actually helped with the daily writing I did the next morning is entirely speculative. Anyway, I think it’s best to write when you feel you have something to say, morning, noon, or night, and then let it sit per usual for the “editing fever” to deal with it. (Also, maybe Henry isn’t as much an interruption as he is an inspiration, trying to remind you that you promised to write a book about him some day soon! If he keeps annoying you, give him a copy of Mary Oliver’s recent book of poems about her dog Percy called “Dog Songs”–maybe he can chew a few pages off and be satisfied. Ha! ha! Actually, such things have happened–my brother’s new dog actually chose to chew up “The Call of the Wild” within about a month of coming to the house, so don’t tell me dogs can’t think!).

    Posted by shadowoperator | May 3, 2014, 5:09 PM
    • Henry only chews up books that other people have loaned to me, so I have to purchase replacements. Honestly, I rarely remember dreams. I must wake up in those non-REM periods. I’m not complaining, though. My mind drifts so much while I’m awake, it’s kind of like dreaming :)

      Posted by jpon | May 3, 2014, 8:25 PM
  5. First, a writer’s writing habit—the time window, the writing quirk—is unique. So whatever said here is true only to the writer himself. He works at his best, I think, when “the real world calms down enough” for him to write, be it daytime or nighttime, dictated by a day job or a night job. But, I think, the writing will stand up when a writer can lose himself long enough in his task with minimum interruption; otherwise he’ll find himself thinking in bits and pieces, and his writing becomes perfunctory. Though writing is creative, and editing is analytical, both need a calm environment to function each at its best. You can’t edit what you wrote to your deepest satisfaction, if you’re nagged by constant interruptions, and to succeed in writing, at least to be able to start and finish a short story, a novel, you’ll need that god-awful dedication to exclude all the unnecessary distractions that revolve around you in your daily life.

    Posted by Khanh Ha | May 3, 2014, 6:17 PM
    • I’ve read in several places that writing is a selfish activity, meaning that we have to sequester ourselves away from those who need our time and attention (family, friends… telemarketers?) in order to write well. Personally, I have to balance the guilt I feel when I tell my wife I need time to write, with the satisfaction of the process of creation. It is a necessary, but not a fair trade.

      Posted by jpon | May 3, 2014, 8:15 PM
  6. Very interesting thought, Joe, thanks for sparking this discussion. I sometimes write when I am half-awake at 5 in the morning and later on wonder what on earth I was going on about. At the same time, I do feel that I am often more honest, or have a direct conduit into my subconscious at that hour. I also suspect I would be too tired to write without cliches in the late afternoon/early evening.

    Posted by MarinaSofia | May 3, 2014, 7:19 PM
    • The exhaustion factor is probably the hardest part about writing at night. Usually around 10 pm I can barely read what’s on the monitor (I know that doesn’t sound too late, but I get up at 5 am to go to work). Still, I have to force myself to quit, knowing that the writing can soon turn into nonsense.

      Posted by jpon | May 3, 2014, 8:17 PM
  7. Yes! That’s absolutely the case with me as well. I rarely write at night so I don’t run into it so much with my own stuff, but I often find I have to reread the books on my nightstand–or parts of them, at least–with my morning brain. Totally different experiences, though I couldn’t say why. Could be simple fatigue on my part. Maybe emotion is all I can process at the end of a long day.

    Posted by Averil Dean | May 3, 2014, 7:35 PM
    • Good point. The minutiae of the day can be exhausting. When we finally have a chance to relax and let the creative side of the brain take over, it wants a diet of emotion, not details.

      Posted by jpon | May 3, 2014, 8:20 PM
  8. I can not, not, not write at night. I reserve after-dinner time for reading and editing. Writing has to happen when I’m awake and alert and that does not happen at night. Add to this that Seattle winter days are incredibly short and that explains why I wake at 5 am. This is in your future Joe!

    Posted by Sharon M | May 4, 2014, 8:43 PM
    • Yes, it’s hard to believe Seattle is further north than where I am in Michigan. At least the weather should be nicer.

      As for “Writing has to happen when I’m awake and alert,” I can only say that when I write at night, I’m awake…

      Posted by Joe Ponepinto | May 4, 2014, 10:29 PM
  9. Very interesting thoughts, as usual. I do very little writing or editing in the evening hours. Not only are there too many distractions with mom responsibilities, my mind is toast by the time I get home from the day job. I admire those who can burn the midnight oil, but I’ve never been one of them. That’s why I’m up before sunrise, which seems to horrify the masses.

    Sorry to hear there’s been no movement on the house.

    Posted by Gwen Stephens | May 5, 2014, 12:01 PM
    • I certainly understand the relationship of writing to parenthood, Gwen. It’s tough enough to write with Henry the dog around. But at least I can wear him out during the day and have him crashed by the time I sit down to write. With kids it’s not that easy.

      Posted by Joe Ponepinto | May 6, 2014, 3:59 PM

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