a peek inside the fishbowl

29 Jun, 2010

The writer’s mind

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

The writer’s mind is an odd place.

It’s deep. And can be rather murky. And there are nooks and crannies where things hide away, sometimes never to be seen again. I liken my mind to a creaky old attic with generations of crap tossed in there along with some shiny new things and a couple of buzzing beehives.

Beehives in the attic. I like that.

I’ve been wondering what other writers need in order to get their work done.

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted a question to my fellow writers. I asked them what font they used when submitting their work. The results were varied and pretty interesting (at least to me) because the selection of fonts is such a personal one. (I like Calibri, size 11.)

When I’m writing on the computer I need my font. And I need it to be quiet.

I need to be able to concentrate, without distraction, for an unbroken amount of time.

I also need coffee. It also helps if I’ve eaten and showered.

My biggest problem is that I feel like I can only write in the morning, that it’s my only “good” time. Somehow I have convinced myself I am at my best – the most creative and smartest version of myself – in the hours before lunch and not at any other time. Therefore it is pointless to sit down and try to write something in the afternoon or heaven forbid, at night. I use my “off” hours to do website updates for clients and rote things that don’t require the power of language (and spellcheck).

I think this was a bad rut to fall into and I regret letting myself get to this point. Perhaps it has its beginnings in the days when I started to work from home when I was pregnant and nursing and had to give in to my body … napping at odd hours and eating when I was hungry as opposed to being on some kind of schedule.

Technically speaking my brain matter is all there, right? And always the same? It’s not like I’m using one brain and switching it for another in the afternoon. I shouldn’t believe that if I’ve been writing all morning I am spending any kind of quota. There is no limit on creativity. It’s really not like a well that runs dry, or a car that runs out of gas, or an insurmountable wall.

What do you think? How do you keep that tank filled up? Are you able to flip a switch and dive into work mode at any waking hour? What’s in your toolbox?

7 Responses to "The writer’s mind"

1 | Stefania (Ingredients for Life)

June 29th, 2010 at 7:47 am


I’m like you. I can’t imagine writing something at night. I was like this during university too. I didn’t understand how people could pull all-nighters writing essays when I couldn’t even string a sentence together beyond a certain time. I do my best work in the mornings, however, I’m getting stuff done in the afternoons after lunch. Beyond that I’m useless.

2 | lacoop

June 29th, 2010 at 10:33 am


If the morning works for you, don’t fight it. And if your habits make you feel comfortable, consider yourself lucky. I think it is best to work with our strengths. And to be a bit of scientist about it, it is possible your brain functions differently at different times of the day, so there may be some science to support why you prefer mornings for creativity. From what I recall about great writers, they found the system that worked for them and they stuck to it…they didn’t defend it to anyone. I think the same goes for many great athletes…they find a system that works for them…it makes them feel comfortable and that helps calm their mind and allows them to focus on their work.

3 | meanie

June 29th, 2010 at 10:59 am


i am lucky enough to know a real, live, best selling author. she gets up at 4:30 a.m. and is at her best then – she churns out some quality work for a few hours before her world gets “noisey”.

4 | Wendy

June 29th, 2010 at 12:15 pm


For me it’s not so much about the time of day (although I’ve tried writing at 6 a.m. and my brain is just too foggy) but the level of distractions present.

So what I’ve started doing is listening to music – but it has to be either be instrumental or a language I don’t understand. Anything with lyrics kills my focus.

It’s great because whether I’m in tucked into the corner of a busy coffee shop or sprawled on my sofa with my computer sitting on my lap while hubby watches TV, I can focus if I listen to the right tunes. Jazz is usually best and I really love Buena Vista Social Club.

Hope that helps :)

5 | Sarah Brown

June 29th, 2010 at 1:01 pm


I can only write in the morning (unless there’s an imminent deadline!) and only in Times New Roman! I also translate everyone else’s documents to Times New Roman before reading them. Hmmmm. Maybe I’m in a rut, too.

6 | Carla

June 29th, 2010 at 5:18 pm


I am a creature of the night. If I could, I would work noon – 8pm or oh 2pm-10pm. I submitted a thesis when my first was 7 months old, which I wrote between 10 pm and 3 am, which although mostly a function of the arrangement we could manage with caring for the babe, suited me just fine. And I often get a surge of energy at 10 pm, which is really not helpful in my current schedule.

I like the night for the same reasons others like the early morning: it is quiet, there are no errands to run (darn those 24hr shops though) and no serious organising to do (don’t want to wake up the kids/neighbours), and it feels just a bit mysterious.

As for how to push oneself, nothing beats the fire of a looming deadline. Often I also have energy to focus on work (where I do a lot of writing) after exercising, so I go to the gym during lunch hour, it helps. I find coffee just makes me distracted. Green tea is good, and oh I loved gingko biloba tea during thesis writing too. I am not the best in the morning, but if I have to, then I just pump the stuff out, better prompt than perfect I say.

7 | AlisonG

June 29th, 2010 at 10:58 pm


You might like this article from Charlie Gilkey at Productive Flourishing about heatmapping:


I am also a morning writer. I can force myself to write at night but it doesn’t feel good — I’m very aware that I’m working and would rather be sleeping, and I don’t like the writing process because of it. I’ve decided that any gain in “productivity” by writing at night is offset by the crankiness and resentment it creates towards my writing.

Are you trying to figure out how to get more writing done in a day? You could try to experiment with afternoon and evening writing, but my guess is that many of us only have 3-4 hours of “hot” time during the day when we can do peak creative work. So you may find you work longer but produce about the same.

comment form:


Me and my pet projects

Ottawa Bucket list

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


Connect with me at these places too!

All hail the mighty Twitter