May 8, 2012

Writers: Don’t sleep


Kafka burning the midnight oil

Kafka, Proust, James Joyce: just a few of many authors who preferred to write through the night. While you’re not going to pen the next Ulysses simply by starting after nightfall, there is new evidence to suggest that sleepy brains think more freely — and that applies equally to those who find themselves sleepy in the mornings. Scientific American reports:

Mareike Wieth, an assistant professor of psychological science at Albion College, and her colleagues divided study participants into morning types and evening types based on their answers on the Morningness Eveningness Question­naire (those who scored in the neutral range—about half of initial respondents—were excluded). Wieth instructed them to solve three analytic problems and three insight-oriented ones. No time-of-day effect was found for analytic problem solving, but subjects’ performance on tasks requiring creative insight was consistently better during their nonoptimal times of day.

We shouldn’t go expecting miracles: there’s altogether too much pop-science crap around at the moment that tries to reduce genius to a neuroscientific formula. Reading writers’ forums, though, there seems to a great deal of guilt about writing at a personal ‘nonoptimal time’. Published and unpublished authors alike who have to put in their time at a day-job often feel bad that they can only find a few hours, when they’re tired, to hone their craft. Here’s the evidence that they needn’t.


Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.