Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Hours I Keep

Writing fiction at night was rather rare for Tengo. He enjoyed working when it was light outside and people were walking around. Sometimes, when he was writing at night while everything was hushed and wrapped in darkness, the style he produced would be a little too heavy, and he would have to rewrite the whole passage in the light of day. Rather than go to that trouble, it was better to write in daylight from the outset.
      --1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

I'm the opposite of the novelist Tengo in Murakami's new novel: I get itchy if I write during the hours of full daylight.  All that hustle and bustle under the sunny glare of the nine-to-five clock can be a distraction for me.  I need to work under the suffocating blanket of a black sky.  On the other hand, I don't generally write at night.

I am a zero-dark-early writer.  Friends are always shocked when I tell them I set my alarm for 3:33 a.m. (yes, I'm a little bit OCD) and make my way to my basement office where I station myself in front of the keyboard at an hour when cab drivers, cops and waitresses at Denny's are the only other laborers here in Butte.  This has been my routine for the past four years and I find it suits me well.  It's just me, the cats, a cup of coffee, and the soft roar of the boiler furnace a few yards from my office.  And, of course, all those voices in my head which I can finally hear in this hush before dawn.  It's only when the house is at a standstill that I'm able to listen to my imagination.

Still, Murakami brings up an interesting point when he says that time of day has a direct influence on style of writing.  Tengo's compositions at night are dark and heavy, whereas the writing he does in daylight has, we are to assume, less sturm und drang.  Perhaps my fiction would be light as a cheese souffle if I emerged from my dim mole-hole in the basement of my house and took my laptop to Starbucks during the bright morning rush-hour.

Whatever the case, neither the fictional Tengo nor the very real Me have anything on the dynamo named Charles Dickens.  It's probably no coincidence Dickens rose to prominence during the Industrial Age in Britain--his work habits have all the force of a steam-powered factory.

Here's how Claire Tomalin describes his daily routine in the introduction to her biography, Charles Dickens: A Life:
He worked furiously fast to give himself free time.  He lived hard and took hard exercise.  His day began with a cold shower, and he walked or rode every day if he could, arduous expeditions of twelve, fifteen or twenty miles out of town, often summoning a friend to go with him.  He might be in his study from ten at night until one in the morning, or up early to be at his desk by 8.30, writing with a quill pen he sharpened himself and favouring dark blue ink.

Dickens, as is widely bandied about, wrote himself to death; he was still scratching the pen across the pen right up until the afternoon of the day he succumbed to a stroke.  I'll never have his level of energy, but at least I'm being as productive as I can in those few dark hours before the hurly-burly tumult of the day.


  1. Very interesting. Morning seems to work well for me, but the bustle of the day pulls me away from good writing mode too. Dickens is insane, btw, but I love him :)

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  2. Hats off to you, David! because at that time of morning I am zonked out. This post made me think of Trollope who supposedly wrote for several hours before setting off for his job. Lord knows he was prolific as well. Here's hoping your Muse is an early morning gal as well.