The Night Muse

Five years ago, on my birthday, Litreactor published an essay by Peter Derk called The Pleasures of Writing at Night. I’ve read it several times now because it makes me laugh.

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.


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.

Ha! Indeed. Writing after dark can be a delight.

Writing at Night

I love working at night because the world is quiet, dark, and still. We live in a one-room studio in the center of a noisy city, so eleven at night to three in the morning is the best time to find that serene environment.

Of course, staying up until three a.m. can wreak havoc on one’s schedule. I’ve tried napping mid-day to take the edge off my daytime bleariness, but that doesn’t work. The spirit is willing but my brain requires a solid chunk of slumber.

More recently I’ve had some success in splitting my writing across two sessions, afternoon and late evening, with my second session done by 1am so I can sleep from 2am-10am. That’s my compromise schedule. Late enough to embrace the night, not so late that I disappear from the daylight world entirely.

At night, I sit at my keyboard (or journal) with only the soft glow of a computer monitor or a single book light to bring my focus down to a small area. It’s far easier to see imaginary worlds in the dark.

The Night Muse

First you get as comfy as you can in your chair, and then you turn out all the lights, and you sit very still, and you wait for The Night Muse to arrive. Then she whispers something in your ear, a little hint, and you chase-chase-chase it until next thing you know it’s two in the morning and your eyes won’t stay open. It’s fun to chase the story! It flows!

But I’m not claiming this routine is a practical one. At all. It takes up a lot of time. And each writer has to figure out what works for them.

So much advice given to writers seems to consists of routines. So-and-so writes every morning while chain smoking menthols, while that other bestseller writes every morning and then takes a brisk walk. The implication is that if famous writer does X, perhaps you should do X too. This type of advice strikes me as entirely useless.

It amuses me to imagine a podcaster, Tim Ferris probably, interviewing Picasso and asking him to detail his daily routine and what brand of paintbrush he uses.

To which I hope Picasso would say: I’m freakin’ Picasso, dude. Hand me some old Q-tips and silly string I’ll make something that’ll blow your damn pants right off.

Whenever I hang out with the Night Muse, she reminds me that an optimized writing routine isn’t what I want or need. Instead, what I love most is staying up half the night chasing a story around dark corners, letting it surprise me. And once in a while, when the words flow real easy, I want to keep at it for as long as I can and then crawl into bed just before sunrise, my eyelids heavy and my hair a wild tangle, feeling like I’ve barely escaped from some parallel universe. Passion is what makes night writing such a joy. And passion is easier to come by under the cover of darkness.

Whenever I have a night like that, I feel exhausted the next day. But also very happy.

Some things are worth losing sleep over. For me, a good writing session is definitely one of them. 🙂