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Famous Writers’ Sleep Habits vs. Literary Productivity

30 December 2013

From Brain Pickings:

“In both writing and sleeping,” Stephen King observed in his excellent meditation on the art of “creative sleep” and wakeful dreaming, “we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives.”

Over the years, in my endless fascination withdaily routines, I found myself especially intrigued by successful writers’ sleep habits — after all, it’s been argued that “sleep is the best (and easiest) creative aphrodisiac” and science tells us that it impacts everything from our moods to our brain development to our every waking moment. I found myself wondering whether there might be a correlation between sleep habits and literary productivity.

. . . .

We ended up with a roster of thirty-seven writers for whom wake-up times were available.

. . . .

[W]e settled on a set of quantifiable criteria to measure “productivity”: number of published works and major awards received. Given that both the duration and the era of an author’s life affect literary output — longer lives offer more time to write, and some authors lived before the major awards were established — those variables were also indicated for context.

. . . .

The most important caveat of all, of course, is that there are countless factors that shape a writer’s creative output, of which sleep is only one — so this isn’t meant to indicate any direction of causation, only to highlight some interesting correlations: for instance, the fact that (with the exception of outliers who are both highly prolific and award-winning, such as like Bradbury and King) late risers seem to produce more works but win fewer awards than early birds.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings where you’ll see some cool data visualizations for various writers.

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10 Comments to “Famous Writers’ Sleep Habits vs. Literary Productivity”

  1. Darn! I thought it was going to correlate hours of sleep and naps (or not) with output. Just wake up time? Huh.

  2. There is no legitimate correlation to be made. Everyone is different, and requires different amounts of sleep. Every writer has his or her own favorite time to write, or knows when they’re most productive. It took me ages to realize that my best work is done in the morning, when I’m freshest. Which is not to say I can’t, or don’t write at night. I tend to write more when I have the whole morning to write.

    • Oh, totally agree. I was just curious! I’m a morning writer, too. No good in the afternoon, but I sometimes sneak in a few extra words in the evening.

    • Seriously. And there’s absolutely nothing on writers who didn’t/don’t wake up until afternoon. There’s no way Bukowski was the latest riser. No way.

      As for writing times, there seem to be a lot of morning writers, but I think a lot of writing advice advocates way too hard for working in the morning. My best writing times are 2am to 5am. Arguably that makes me a morning writer, but not really because that only works if I’m still awake from the previous day. Makes holding a day job and working at my optimal time impossible. But if you want it bad enough, you’ll write at whatever time you can get.

  3. Silly waste of research time.

    • And of the time spent by the graphic artist.

      And of my time looking for any useful information.

      The only thing that works is giving writing first priority in a regular way – if you can. And accepting that sometimes you can’t. (End of year tax day today.)

  4. Here’s an article from The Guardian which goes into actual details about the routines and picks out some pointers that could be useful. Worth checking out instead:


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