On Embracing the Night: Why Writers Thrive After Dark

Guest Writer // Jagger van Vliet

I believe, truthfully, that the night belongs solely to the writer. 

When it comes to that question of what time writers are most productive, it should be of little surprise that the hours of the very early morning have produced more revolutionary art than coincidence can allow. Something in that noxious evening compels artists to act. Here, we find the names of literary greats etched into the night itself, all citing the darkness as their muse. Sylvia Plath, Franz Kafka, and Ernest Hemingway; all insomniacs, all afflicted by the fever which takes hold when the world is asleep. 

Sylvia Plath (credit: The New York Review of Books)

I suppose that this is not an exclusively writerly phenomenon. It must be conceded that many people are kept awake late into the night. In truth, it cannot be helped. In its current state, the world in which we live is, at equal times, oversaturated, overstimulating, or otherwise splintered in attention-draining shards. So, it should only be natural for any young person to cling to these quiet moments. In spending just one day, affronted by every imaginable attack on our peace, the night exists for most as an ultimate relief. 

So, it is the case that many people use the night as a certain personal therapy. It is a time, happily removed expectation, wherein a person can act solely for themselves. No one is coming to call. No one is demanding productivity. For most, the night is the rare moment when they might be fully free from the droning effects of a day. 

Now consider the writer, who is by no means exempt from all these daily abuses. The writer, as any modern person, is still subjected to endless streams of content and confusion. Yet, at the end of a writer’s day, there is still work to be done. There is, when the writer considers their day, a finite amount of time in which they might put themselves to their art. The writer will try, most likely, to carve out for themselves glimpses of time in between their other duties. They will endeavor to create in the meantime, grasping onto stolen moments when they can. This can be done well at times, and often, this is the only resort for a writer who is expected to maintain a modern lifestyle. Certainly, this is no way for a creative to go on living and so enter the wondrous night. 

Where the day is limited and constrained to hours and minutes, the writer sees the night as fluid. There are no hours at night, nor are there deadlines or parameters. There is merely darkness, ongoing and always, until, in a sudden realization, it is day once again. The writer swims into this ocean with relish, existing much as the night itself: unreal and curious. In the night, a writer cannot sense time as it is passing. There is no sun to indicate that many hours have passed. So the writer must assume that perhaps a few hours have gone bygone by, or perhaps only a few minutes. But this is no worry to the writer, who has already descended into their work and truthfully cares entirely little for time’s passing. 

Franz Kafka (credit: Morgan Library)

As a matter of interest, Franz Kafka often wrote while deeply sleep-deprived. He did this, at times, for weeks on end, to the effect wherein his mind began to collapse inward into bizarre and unreal visions. It should be of no surprise that his writing was as surreal and disturbing as it was. Although, it is here that we may find another attractive feature of the night. The writer, when devoid of sleep, is un-lucid. The sleep-deprived writer unlocks a newly unseen landscape within their own mind. It is a particular portion of the subconscious that remains withheld from the well-rested scholar. When operating without sleep, the writer’s inhibitions are dulled, made mute, so that every strange thought and hidden intrigue bubbles to the surface at once. A sleep-deprived writer cannot afford to self-edit, and so they are left to purely create.

Often it is assumed that morning might actually be the best time to write, wherein the mind is fresh and renewed. This may be true for certain writers, as no two are alike, but to my mind, writing in the morning is a distinctly different endeavour. To write in the morning, when you have woken from a good rest, means that every thought one has is hazy with content. 

Nothing has occured during the day to sour the writer’s mood, nor affect the writer’s outlook. As such, all writing done in the morning is happily naive, hopeful, and complacent. The writer who has endured a full day’s worth of interaction, struggles, and stress, approaches their art entirely differently. They come to writing, with the much needed edge that would otherwise have been lost to the warmth of a polite morning. 

The final phenomenon that is present when a writer considers the night is the needed rest that can occur thereafter. Writing, in many ways, is an entirely taxing activity. Mentally, a writer is made to strain against themselves to produce their art, always flexing the muscles of creativity and passion. As such, when the act of writing is over and the art has been dutifully completed, the writer is left feeling well and truly drained. This is no good when writing during the day. If, in the act of writing during the busy hours of the day, the writer is left feeling so exhausted, they are not given many avenues to solve their situation. As a result, writing during the day leaves a writer to spend their remaining hours hollow or otherwise worn out. Though the process of night writing often encroaches into the earliest hours of morning, there is some solace that a writer can take in knowing that once their work is done, they can sleep at last. 

So the night is for writers and artists. It is also for any person who finds themselves haplessly in need of a time to exist for themselves. But in the eyes of the artist, the night is meant for more. It is meant for feverish work. In the eyes of the writer, the night is the time to bring their wildest visions to life. Unweighted from the day’s pressures, the night is for all those lovely people who are searching for a time to simply… be.

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