It’s true that you typically are more productive and effective when you feel fully awake. When you are alert and energetic, you can focus your attention and apply your energy to the project at hand: composing your manuscript.
Write When You’re Tired
However, studies show that when it comes to creativity and insight into certain types of problems that relate to writing, being tired can prove helpful. In 2011, Mareike Wieth, an associate professor of psychology at Albion University, invited about 428 students to participate in a study related to optimal work time. She classified them as morning or evening people. As part of this study, she discovered that the time of day had no impact on the subjects’ ability to solve analytical problems. When it came to insight problems, the participants had better results at the time of day when they were less awake.
Wieth reasoned that solving difficult puzzles often requires getting past a block, and this requires seeing a problem from a new perspective. She reported that at the “optimal” time of day (such as morning for a morning person), people are good at focusing—sometimes too good.
“You’re screening out anything that’s not relevant,” Wieth stated in an article written by Olga Khazan writes for The Atlantic. “If you’re in your office and there’s noise, you can screen out everything else.”
At the “wrong” time of day (evening for a morning person), inhibitions are lower, which allows stray thoughts to enter the mind. The random thoughts combine with your main thought about the problem at hand. You then come up with a creative idea or solution. Wieth explained, “At your optimal time of day, you’re not going to have that random thought.”
Wieth’s work corresponds with research that shows creativity improves at times when our brain is not functioning at its best. For instance, a 2012 study called“Uncorking the Muse” found that people solved more creative problems when they were just a bit drunk.
This explains why in an article written by Marissa Fessenden for smithsonian.com Ron Friedman, author of The Best Place to Work, suggests scheduling creative tasks during a mid-afternoon slow-down or first thing in the morning. Of course, the best time for you to write might be right after dinner; it just depends on what time of the day your brain gets foggy.
My Late-Night Writing Schedule
Quite often, I write late at night—or into the early morning hours. I don’t find my work any worse for my wear. In fact, often I write my best pieces when I’m tired but push through to finish before I go to bed.
My blog posts always publish between midnight and one in the morning. If I don’t have a post previously written and scheduled, I might write right up to this deadline. In fact, I might not have a chance to settle in and compose that post until my work day is over—or until I’ve eaten dinner and everyone in the house has gone to sleep. (I often work to the sound of my husband snoring downstairs!)
I don’t have the luxury of not writing because I feel tired. I have deadlines to meet, even if they are self-imposed. I’ve only not published a post on schedule a few times in all the years I’ve been blogging, and I’ve never missed a deadline for a publication or publisher.
Professional writers write—no matter what. They don’t use excuses like “I’m tired” to get them off the hook from their work. Imagine if you had a job with a corporation. Your boss wouldn’t appreciate it if every time you felt fatigued you called in and said, “I can’t work today. I’m tired.” Eventually you’d get fired for not meeting deadlines, producing work or being a reliable worker.
Be your own boss. Don’t give yourself the day off every time you lose an hour of sleep or get a runny nose.
How to Push Through Fatigue
Occasionally, I suffer from drooping eyelids, though. That makes it extremely difficult to write!
If you feel so fatigued that you can’t keep your eyes open or focus, it’s time to generate some energy.
- Don’t drink coffee or tea! Caffeine focuses your brain in such a way that you lose the positive creative effects of feeling sleepy. It puts you into the awake state you have at your optimal time of day.
- Drink water and eat fruit or nuts (or some protein). Or take vitamins, drink a protein drink or eat a protein bar. When I do this, it keeps me awake for an hour or two…or more.
- Get up from your desk and move your body. Do a few yoga moves, sit-ups, or dance for a few minutes.
- Don’t move. Meditate or take a power nap for 15 minutes. I’ve been known to put my hands on the desk and my forehead on my hands and sleep right there for a few minutes. (Sometimes I set a timer for ten minutes.)
Get Eight Hours of Sleep
I’m not advocating that you lose sleep over your writing—although I’m known to do so when necessary. You will be more productive and effective if you get enough shut-eye each night. Most doctors and researchers still recommend eight hours of sleep, and most high-performers make this a daily requirement.
That said, don’t allow your inability to get eight hours of sleep and the resulting tiredness get in the way of your work. And don’t allow normal fatigue early in the morning or late in the day when you finally find time (or make time) to write stop you from writing either. Don’t make tiredness your excuse for not writing.
Instead, use your drowsy state to call upon your muse. Solve the problems in your manuscript. Get creative.
Then, after you finish your writing, get some rest.