Columns > Published on October 24th, 2014

The Pleasures Of Writing At Night

Believe me, if anybody has a job and starts at 9, there's no reason why they can't get up at 4:30 or 5 and write for a couple of hours, and give their employers their second-best effort of the day—which is what I did.

-Mary Oliver

Yeah, totally do that, but in reverse. Write at night.

-Peter Derk

Daylight savings is close. Your life is about to be way more night than it is day. I know that's a dramatic thing to say, something Winona Ryder would say in Beetlejuice, but it's true. Unlike most of the things Winona Ryder's character said in Alien: Resurrection. The fact is, night's about to get a lot longer.

What I'm saying is, you might as well get used to finding pleasure in the night. Especially writing at night.

What are the pleasures of writing at night? Glad you asked.

You Can Tell (Internet Article) Science Where To Stick It

Scientists, or maybe I should say internet article scientists, say a lot of wacky crap about the optimum time of day to do things. They tend to disagree on a lot of this sleep/wake/work stuff. And not by just a little. It's not like there's one study that says prime writing time is 11 PM and then another that disagrees with a controversial 11:14 PM. I’m talking about one study that says to do things right when you wake up, another that says right before bed, and then a third study that pretty much says both. There was one web site that, I’m not kidding, did back-to-back articles, one saying that you should get up 30 minutes early to engage in creative work, and the next article prescribing 30 minutes extra sleep to enhance creativity.

Feeling something and knowing something are two different things. It's why the Black Eyed Peas say "I got a feeling that tonight's gonna be a good night" instead of "I got scientific evidence that backs my thesis, which is that tonight will be a quantifiably good night."

I don't want to get overly Insane Clown Posse here, but scientists be getting me pissed.

I looked towards nocturnal creatures for inspiration once scientists let me down. The earthworm was the most interesting. It turns out their breeding activity goes way up at night. And it turns out their breeding activity is pretty weird. I don't want to come off as overly judgmental, but earthworms can't read, so I'll come out and say it: they are gross sexual deviants. Their reproductive process is so complicated. Worm sex must feel pretty amazing, because otherwise I can't imagine they'd even bother.

Just think, you could be reading an article titled “Night Moves: Spirit of the Earthworm.”

But you’re not. It’s for the best.

You’re reading about the pleasures of writing at night. Which is separate from science, right? From the facts of the matter? From weird worm sex that involves backing up through a mucus-y ring of your own creation to create a birthing cocoon (See? Told you it was weird).

Pleasure is a feeling, and feelings aren't always based in science. Feeling something and knowing something are two different things. It's why the Black Eyed Peas say "I got a feeling that tonight's gonna be a good night" instead of "I got scientific evidence that backs my thesis, which is that tonight will be a quantifiably good night." Although we ARE talking about a band that did a song called "Let's Get Retarded" so I'm probably not using the best example.

Let's forget science. Let's talk pleasures. Not the kind from the adult store named Pleasures, or the adult store called Pleasures with another word in front of it (Intimate, Illicit, that sort of thing). Simpler pleasures. Writing pleasures.

Late Coffee

The pleasures of night writing start before night time. They start in the late afternoon. The time when most people in an office cut off their coffee consumption.

There are the people who leave coffee behind after a single morning cup. Amateurs. There are people who go on a steady stream until a certain cut-off point. Junkies. I knew one person who ate apples instead. She said one apple has the equivalent wake up power of a cup of coffee. I call this person "monster."

And then there are night writers, those of us who laugh in the clock's face when it tells us, "Pete, it's 6 PM. You'll be up all night."  "Clock," I say. "That's exactly the idea."

With late coffee, in the afternoon or the evening, it's not even night and already you are living a different life. Outside the law of men. Night coffee is about a lot more than drinking an AM beverage in the PM. It’s a little sign of rebellion. A little flag you can wave that says, Hey, not only am I not scared to stay up late, I’m doing it on purpose. A small act, those sips say your evenings are more than the time you rest and get ready for work the next day. Those sips say your life doesn’t exist solely to support your job.

It's only a little sip on a coffee cup, but at night, it's a hell of a lot sweeter.

Good Company

Let's talk about another pleasure, the company you keep when you write at night. Again, let's stay away from science and reality, even though the reality means you're in good company too (Chuck Palahniuk, Darwin). Instead, let's talk pleasure, the crap that lights up a person's brain.

When you write at night, you're keeping company with the holy trinity of non-scientific insomniacs: Dracula, Santa, and Batman.

Dracula, the first leg of the triangle of great night people. Dracula might or might not explode when he sees the sun. That part is less clear all the time. In some realities, it seems he would burst instantly. In others, he would be afflicted with having gorgeous, sparkling skin without spending a dime in that crazy Proactiv vending machine at the mall. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle. Sun doesn't kill him, but what Dracula understands is that the day is the absolute worst time to get anything done. There are just too many people around. Too much going on. Facebook and Twitter are alive. TV, don't event get me started on TV. TV is like a toddler. It gets all excited, bounces off the walls all day, doing some especially heinous crap mid-day when you're not watching. And then, when it gets late, TV wants to keep going even though it's clearly cashed out for the day. TV might as well go to bed, just like a toddler.

I don't trust vampires when it comes to fashion or home decor, but when it comes to night work, they might be right. The night is a great time.

Everything is so loud and fast and crowded during the day. At night, everything is quieter. Easier. Whether you're writing or turning yourself into a bat, night is where you want to be.

Second leg of the triangle, Santa. Santa is a night guy, which is sort of weird when you consider he works with children. Although almost everything about Santa's gig is pretty weird when you consider he works with children. Let's not get into it...okay, real quick: breaking and entering, over-consumption of dairy products, militaristic footwear, drunk appearance, Coca-Cola affiliation.

The magic of Santa is he does his whole pile of work while everyone sleeps. He understands the beauty of waking up to a changed world. A richer world. The fun of waking up to a world someone filled with gifts while everyone else slept.

Santa understands something the night writer understands. The pleasure of seeing someone's face when they wake up to something unexpected and say, "Where did this come from?" Then, like Santa, you shrug, wink, drink a Coke, maybe steal an iPod dock and shoot up the chimney.

Batman. Final leg of the triangle. Batman is a billionaire during the day. But his real work, physically assaulting the mentally ill with punches and gadgets, happens at night. He's a night guy. He understands that the day is when he does his job, but the night is when he follows his passion. When he lives his life. When he smashes the face of an insane scientist dressed in a Mad Hatter suit. When he feels alive!

Batman is the embodiment of the American dream, circa 2014. Yes, he works two jobs. Yes, he is deeply troubled by the events of his youth. However, he still gets to do what he's meant to do. He makes it happen at night.

Writer as God

The pleasures of writing at night are about getting weird. Expansive. More in control. The later it gets, the more you feel like the Omega Man. The last person on Earth.

You control your destiny at night. You control the light. You're Ra, god of sun. You're GHOMAX, god of sheets over windows, who I just invented and will likely become very popular in my neighborhood.

The pleasures of writing at night are the clothes I wear. My own, terrible decisions on fashion. Old man slippers. My feet are warm while I type, and they're happy, and I'm happy. Sweat pants with holes in both pockets, so when I get up, I get a little shock down my leg before a pen spills out onto the floor. My worst sweats. My night writing sweats. You dress however you like. You're the boss, you set the dress code. No need for those khakis. Damn those khakis.

You set the light however you want, no stupid sun making that decision for you. You control the light. The beautiful desk lamp my mom thrifted for me. The string of patio lights above my desk. During the day, the light controls you. You can fight it, but you’ll never win. Unless your goal is taping up sheets and foil over the windows until it almost certainly appears you’re cooking meth inside. In that case, you win big time. Sort of.

At night, you almost start to feel like maybe you have a little control over the whole world. That the way you set things up in your story, you can have a little taste of that in real life. It's small, and it's petty, but pleasures can be small and petty.

Or they can be huge.

You control your destiny at night. You control the light. You're Ra, god of sun. You're GHOMAX, god of sheets over windows, who I just invented and will likely become very popular in my neighborhood.

At night, you're the boss, you're always right, you're Tim Gunn, you're GHOMAX, you're the sun god.

Night Versus Morning

The pleasures of writing at night are different than the pleasures of writing in the morning. Or rather, there's a different tone.

When you wake up to write, you have to imagine a session that's worth moving your feet out from under the blankets and pressing them against a cold floor. You have to break away from sleep and start something new.

In the morning, the pleasures always have an end. The clock moves, and it's time to stop your writing pleasures and get ready for the day. Whether that means a uniform or kids stirring in their beds. Whatever it means, a morning writing session ends when it ends. Not when you say.

When you write at night, there's no getting out of bed. There's no stops and starts. You only have to keep going. Stay out of the bed. The words you're putting down, the project you're finishing, all you have to do is not stop.

At night, the pleasures end when you decide. When they stop feeling good. If you're on a roll, there's always the chance you could roll all night. Never stop. When you're feeling good, making progress, there's always the idea in the back of that night mind that maybe you'll never go to bed again.

As long as I'm typing, I don't have to give up. Don't have to give up on today. If the last thing I do is type, then it's okay if nothing incredible happens all day before that. The most likely time for it is right before bed anyway, right here in front of the keyboard.

...In Bed!

The pleasure of writing at night ends in bed. In true rest. The pleasure of writing at night, you fall into bed, maybe a few hours and a few pages late, but knowing you did it. You don't have to reset and start in on your regular human stuff. You're finished. You earned a rest, earned the bed.

The pleasures of writing at night tuck you into bed after you've exhausted all the words. After you're out of things to say, to put on paper or tell yourself about tomorrow or about what you did wrong. All that's left is the bed, and you don't have to drag the words in there with you. They stay on the desk. Away from the blankets and pillow. They wait on your paper, in your keyboard. All those plots and pronouns and the little mannerism of the woman on the bus who sucked in a spot on her bottom lip through a gap in her teeth. All of them stay out of your bed. They wait for tomorrow night.

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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