Writing in the middle of the night

Allison Tait blog
Posted on September 30, 2013

saulbellowquoteI have my best writing ideas in the middle of the night.

They arrive either just after I’ve gone to bed, creeping in like a burglar so as not to wake The Builder, who does not subscribe to my Night Owl hours (mostly because he has to wake with the sun).

So I slide in next to him and lie there, waiting for sleep, watching the pattern of light on the ceiling (stripey, thanks to lovely old shutters).

My muscles relax, my breathing begins to even out, I’m standing at the top of the slippery slope into Dreamland when… wham! The world’s best idea shoots through the night air and into my mind.

My eyes fly open, my heart races. Should I get up and write it down? The Builder stirs in his sleep next to me, muttering in his dreams.

If I get out of bed, I’ll wake him and, knowing him, he’ll then lie awake for hours unable to get back to sleep. Not really fair.

Down the hall, I hear Mr6 call out in his sleep, caught on the cusp between waking and rolling over into a new phase of REM.

Mr9 is quiet. The whole house is quiet. That deep, dark quiet that can be pierced by the squeak of an office chair, the tippy-tippy of fingers across a keyboard.

I have other people to think about. My idea will wait until morning. An idea like this, sharp and clear and brilliant, will surely still be there in the morning? I entrust it to my subconscious and fall into the pit of sleep.

When I wake in the morning, it’s gone. I feel around in every corner of my mind, blowing the cobwebs out of the darkness, but no. That shining light has dimmed into a vague murmur of thought.

All I can do is to hope that when I do get a chance to sit down, with my cursor blinking at me from the glare of a white, blank screen, it will somehow slither back out of the recesses and arrive fully formed on the page.

In a recent interview with Clive James, he talked about the selfishness of the writer, who would wake in the middle of the night, thoughts and lights blazing, and blast out several hours of work.

I’m guessing that most writers who work like that are not thinking about the sleep patterns of small people and the fact that their other halves have to get up for work the next day. They’re not thinking of school lunches to be made in four hours, the squeezing pressure of editorial deadlines, the book stall at the school fete.

Saul Bellow once said: “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” I guess I will have to wait a while longer to find out if that’s true.

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  1. Charlotte Harris

    Wow. Read this after waking up with lots of ideas and for once deciding to furtively write them down in notes on my phone so as not to wake other half (carpenter with an early start). Intrigued to see that I’m not alone in this! Looking forward to reading my notes in the morning- will thry seem so good then or be goobilydegook?

    • Allison Tait

      Thanks for the comment Charlotte – I hope they turned out to be pearls!

  2. river

    The moment before sleep is when sentences or whole paragraphs come to me. I no longer have family to worry about, so I run out to the table and scribble it all down, but only if I’ve forgotten to replace the pen and paper I usually have stashed in the bedside drawer.

  3. JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter)

    Occasionally I get up during the night if I have an amazing idea but only to jot it down quickly. I find my ideas come late at night on the couch which usually means I get them down but then realise it is 1am and freak out that I will be so tired tomorrow (or today!)

  4. Katrina

    I got up once and started typing in the study – woke everyone in the house. They didn’t understand my urgency to write. I haven’t done that again. Instead I have perfected typing on my iPhone in the notes app.

    • Allison Tait

      LOL! Pretty sure that’s what would happen here as well.

  5. Courtney

    I use Evernote on my iPad – the problem then becomes the light off the screen tricking my mind into thinking it’s time to get up. Takes longer to get back to snoozy town.

    • Allison Tait

      I have that problem after working late at night – my brain thinks it’s the middle of the day and refuses to turn off.

  6. Kym Campradt

    I’m also with the notes on my phone. I only recently found out that my husband receives these as emails and they appear in his notes on his phone. He’s raised a few eyebrows at me after some nights! I find it hard as I’m ready to write at night. I hurriedly write as much as I can but I do find that I still have tweaking to do in the morning. Usually by then I’m so tired that I have to wait until the next night for the spark to come back. Makes my usual “day” job plus looking after toddlers a little draining… Hoping the balance will restore one day!

    (I also have a Builder husband, who if woken will be up for hours, so I have to hide my phone down the side of the bed!)

    • Allison Tait

      LOL! And yes, here’s to balance!

  7. Alana

    I usually try and covertly open up my notes on my phone and write the key points down and hope my brain will fill in the blanks in the morning. I try to hide the screen glare from my husband and I have the phone on silent, but my husband is a heavy sleeper and will nod off quickly again if disturbed. If I hear a child stirring I will put the phone down and hold my breath. I have some pretty interesting notes on my phone!

  8. Sam Stone

    Nope. I really should though. Like you, this is when my brain seems most tuned to the great ideas for blog posts, articles, stories etc.
    I am too scared to move out of bed when the house is quiet though. No doubt one of the little ones will hear the floor creak and be ready to party!

    • Allison Tait

      And therein lies the problem…

  9. John James

    I do get a lot of idea during the middle of the night, but I tend not to fuss about them… I always think the best ones stick, and the unimportant ones don’t… so if they’re still there in the morning, then they were meant to be.

    But then again, I also get a lot of my best ideas sitting on the loo… sorry for that mental image… 😉

    • Allison Tait

      Shaking me head in an attempt to dislodge that image – but I hope you’re right about the ideas that stick.

  10. Megan Blandford

    I have to say, I find a lot of writing advice from men (massive generalisation) completely unrelatable. As mums we have so much else going on that writing has to come at least second, but preferably third or fourth.

    • Allison Tait

      I hear what you’re saying.


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