How to Write After Midnight

Ha! You thought I’d open with a clever bon mot about torturing your kidneys with pots of coffee here, didn’t you? Silly! I’m going to do that later in the post. No, first we need to talk about the best time of day to write. Simple: Any time you can. Of course, if you’re a freelancer like me, some projects require you to grind through successive hours, some can be grazed over a period of days, a paragraph here and a transitional phrase there, and some can be surveyed and then dispatched: I saw the hill of that essay, I saddled up my sentence steed, and I surmounted it, verily!

In that regard, learning how to parcel out your time when you’re working on multiple projects is a valuable skill, and one that will endear you to your clients. It has taken me a while to be able to judge how long it will take me to edit a 200-page book, write a case study or come up with an ad’s headlines, but now I’m much more comfortable about projecting (and meeting) deadlines. Until it’s second nature, it’s a good habit to track how long it takes you to work with a certain type of writing. One good method with new clients is if you’re given something lengthy to write or to edit, work on the assignment for an hour or two to see what it tastes like, and you’ll be better equipped to know when you’ll finish eating. Don’t give them your milestone schedule until you’ve snacked on the copy a bit.

Morning Becomes Electric (Coffeemaker)
Related to how much time you can or must spend on a project is what times are most suitable for for the spending. I’m a morning guy, love to get up early, coffee in bed with a magazine to start the day, and then to the computer before 7. Unless there is something truly pressing, I’ll sift through email, check out the antics of fellow Tribesters on Seth Godin’s Triiibes site, glance at the news, vomit over the news, and then begin work on whatever’s workable.

Now when I say working, I mean working with clients if I have some, or working on essays or magazine/newspaper pieces if I don’t–or a combination when everything’s clicking. I normally have a number of queries out to various editors, and also some just at the note-taking stage. Some of the material that goes into a query is boilerplate (like your writing credentials/clips and your sign-off), so if you know well the core of your proposed article, the meat of the query can be massaged (oooohh!) a bit and then quickly stitched with the boilerplate. It might take as little as 30 minutes to write an article query, so if you find a gap in your day, why not? Of course, it might take 30 months for an editor to answer your query, but we won’t address those sins here.

Back to those morning pages: I write with more focus in the morning, and with renewed focus after the afternoon nap (really, the miracle of the 20-minute refresh), but not with any real afternoon sustain. Thus, when my monitor’s eye begins to look as bloodshot as my own, I start to crank down its shade in the waning afternoon hours. Then, I’ll often do the busywork of cleaning out the inbox, boxing with the outbox, and wondering if I need botox. I’ve never been one of those types that can merrily scribble away in the evening hours. I’m both fascinated and horrified by (and middlin’ jealous of) those industrious souls who can bang out another five or six hours of writing after the five o’clock cocktail-hour bell has rung. (Though perhaps my religious adherence to that magic hour is what makes liquid all my after-hours writing resolve?)

In the Midnight Hour (Softly Snoring)
So, how to write after midnight? There is that coffee-pot cascade that I was talking about earlier. But since too much of that stuff makes me sneeze out automobile parts, I’d rather sleep. The only way I can write after midnight is to let the pinball machine of my brain zing around the bumpers and ping-ping-ping the lights while I snooze. I really have found that if you nest on a writing problem in the sunlight hours, you’ll sometimes find a fresh egg of a writing solution in the morning. Of course, that doesn’t help when you need a gross of eggs to finish a book, but it might help you realize that your main character should be named Zeke and not Arbogast.

(Oh yeah, I do keep a notepad by my bed and indeed I have jumped up to madly scribble an idea a’borning. But so often when I’ve eagerly scanned it in the morning, I see that I’ve inscribed something like “Blizzard muffins not naysayers. Harken Wheaties. Bilge, breathless, truth.”)

Better wait for the sun to come up; at least I spell better in the mornings.

Writing With Grandma Savvy

Back in the days when my children were in diapers (and believe me, there were several in diapers at one time – there were eight little kids running around the house who were all different ages!) It seems like there was never an end to baby diapers and bottles back then, but a few years passed by and it all faded away. Those same little ones back then are now producing babies now, and the diaper and feeding saga is on once again! And Grandma is taking the slack off these tired, bedraggled mama’s who just don’t measure up to the kind of mama I once was years ago! And one or two of these mama’s only have one baby to care for – I had eight!

Looking back – that was over twenty years ago, I spent at least four hours a day writing stories, and submitting them to different markets. Rejections were constant but in the midst of all those rejection letters, I received hundreds of published pieces – most were paid in copies but that was a good thing. With over six hundred published credits in two hundred or so small press publications – it sure looked good on my writing resume – the clips added up! Between the dirty dishes and dirty laundry, sick kids and washing cloth diapers out by hand and hanging them on a clothesline in the sun, I found time to write. I made time to write.

This Grandma is still tending to kids when I can and pursuing a career in writing like there is no tomorrow! Why? Because it is what I do – it’s what I have always done for many years. Writing is my refuge, my strength, my way of life. Take it away from me and you might as well put me out to pasture because writing is my pressure valve! Tending to kids is another part of my life that I love to do… but just not anyone’s kids! They’re either mine or my grandchildren – there isn’t enough time for any others, I’m afraid.

Writing is a wonderful talent and a great way to earn money – in different kinds of ways. I write press releases, ad copy and things like this every day of my life for a variety of reasons – I don’t always get a byline for my work but still earn money from it nevertheless. When there is time, I write for a variety of markets and earn a little cash here and there, as well as a credible byline and a published clip. So I am still writing – it’s just a different way of earning money from it.

The nest is empty these days and the grand kids come at least three or four times a week – I make time for them in spite of my work. If they call me and need me for something, they know they can count on me if I am the only solution. At the same time, I make time to write as well. That’s what we writers do – we make time. This Grandma might be getting older, but she hasn’t stopped writing and probably never will. With the dawn of disposable diapers and all the new-fangled gadgets that are supposed to make our life easier, why can’t these new-aged mama’s find time for extra activities like writing? If I had had some of these things back twenty five years ago, there’s no telling how many books I would have published by now! Or how many I would have completed.

At the present time, this Grandma is editing four completed novels and a reference guide for writers – my plan was to have them on the market by the first of last year but I am behind schedule and will bump it up to next year. In the meantime, I am working on two new novels and a variety of articles for a series of travel websites and markets. That’s what I do everyday of my life – I write. That’s how I stay sane – I write!

And in order for you to become a professional writer with published clips under your belt, it’s time to write like there is no tomorrow! Don’t wait till you’re a grandma – what’s wrong with right now? The babies have to nap sometimes. Why not then? Get up an hour earlier and write for thirty minutes and breathe in the fresh morning air another thirty minutes – free your mind of the cobwebs and the excuses that hold you back.

There’s no time like the present to start writing that short story you want to submit to that contest or that romance suspense novel that’s been bouncing around in your head for the last few years. Start writing now!

Write with the savvy or a mama at war to tackle the day jobs or with a grandma savvy that gets the job done! Just write!!!