The Nighttime Novelist

When do you write? Do you have a schedule, or are you a “snatcher of time”? Mornings? Evenings? When the kids are in bed, or before they’re off to school?

We talk here often, in posts and in the comments, about day jobs and family life and finding time to write. Let’s face it, most writers do not have the luxury of lounging on a balcony overlooking the ocean, waiting for inspiration to hit them as the butler delivers another Piña Colada. (During this economic downturn, I had to let my butler go).
So, yeah, it can be a struggle not only to find time to write, but to know exactly what to do with the time you find.
That’s why it’s a pleasure to recommend a new book from Writer’s Digest Books, The Nighttime Novelist. (I need to mention that WD publishes my own writing books as well, but I would have recommended this tome regardless. You’ll just have to trust me on this).

The Nighttime Novelist is by Joseph Bates, who teaches creative writing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. It’s laid out in a logical order, from developing ideas all the way to the revision process. So it’s possible to go from beginning to end and write an entire novel using the tips in this book.
But the greatest benefit is that you can go to it for help at any point in your story. 

There are three main sections: Beginnings, Middles and Endings. Each section is further broken down into areas like “Developing Initial Ideas” and “Crafting & Maintaining Suspense.” There are subsections, too, color coded as Technique, Hurdles and Going Deeper. So you may be having a problem, say, with one of your characters being flat. In the section called “Character Concepting” you’ll find a Hurdle called “Rounding Flat Characters.” Here you’ll find two pages of tips to solve that particular problem.

Or maybe your plans for Act Two seem a little forced. You can turn to Going Deeper in the “Middles” section and find advice on “Leaving Room for Organic Story Growth.”
Each section is relatively brief, so you don’t have to wade through a lot of generalized theory. I like to teach nuts and bolts, actual techniques that work. This is the approach Bates takes as well. It’s like having a reliable writing coach available for you any time of the day or night.
And that’s really the point here. No matter when you write, or how long you have to do it, you can use this guide to give you a little jolt of creativity or direction when you need it. The subtitle of the book is: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time.
The book also includes 27 worksheets, which are helpful for systematically filling out your own material. Giving focused thought to your story through these worksheets will help you fill in gaps you might have missed.
Here’s a sampling of some of the sections:
·      Finding an idea that’s “never been done before.”
·      Developing your supporting cast.
·      Finding your subplots.
·      Finding your voice.
·      The elements of effective description.
·      The shape and function of the second act.
·      Raising tension through dialogue.
·      Keeping your scenes kinetic.
And my favorite:
·      If you and your story could arm wrestle, who would win?
I’m all for writers getting any help they can, and having The Nighttime Novelist on your desk as a quick reference will definitely do that for you. And as I said at the outset, if you want to use it as a guide to writing a novel for which you only have an idea, you can follow it step-by-step to get to the finish line.
So when is your time to write? 

And what do you do when you reach a hurdle in your manuscript? You come to a “problem” you’re not sure how to solve. What’s your strategy for getting over that obstacle?

20 thoughts on “The Nighttime Novelist

  1. If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s a new book on writing. It’s like an addiction. LOL! And this book sounds like it’s got potential. I wonder if it has hit the shelves at B&N yet? For once it would be nice to go in looking for a particular book and actually find it. Nothing better than a successful book hunt.

    As to writing. Mornings are best. Then I squeeze in what I can at breaks at work.

  2. I write mostly in the evenings and on weekends. And in airports, airplanes and hotel rooms. When I’m on travel and eating alone, I’ve been known to bring a pad and pen with me to the restaurant.

    The closer the deadline, the more manic the schedule.

    John Gilstrap

  3. Bates new book sounds like a great writing tool, Jim. Thanks for sharing it with us. My best writing time is in the afternoons. By dinner, I’m done.

  4. So now we have an afternoon writer. Those are rare. I find the hours between 2 and 4 in the afternoon my “dead zone.” I try to get a power nap in (15 – 20 minutes). Maybe I should move to Spain.

  5. Hi Jim,
    Thanks for the tip on the new book. Miami University in Oxford, Ohio caught my eye. It’s very close to Cincinnati (Go Reds!)where I live. Like BK I love a good book on the craft. I’m quite addicted to The Art of War for Writers.

    I’ve been trying to train myself to be a morning person prior to the beginning of my day job which begins at 8:30. Not working. I am an afternoon writer, but that doesn’t happen at work. So I write whenever I can. Weekends, evenings, standing in line anywhere. It’s a challenge. Will check out The Nighttime Novelist.

  6. I’m a nighttime writer. I prefer the kids in bed, the husband in bed and the house dark. It helps me to ignore distractions like dishes that need doing and toys lying about like they own the place. With both kids in school (finally) this year, I’m hoping to start utilizing my afternoons for writing as well. Mornings are my dead zone. I am not a morning person at all. The best I can do then is take care of email and yahoo groups.

    The book looks really interesting. I might just have to check it out (I’d be a total devotee if it could get me past this little middle issue I’m fighting).

  7. Jillian, you are a “snatcher of writing time,” and the book may be a real help for you. That’s how it was designed.

    Seleste: Glad you have some kid-free writing time. Do check out what the book has to say about middles.

  8. This book sounds like a worthwhile investment! I write best in the afternoons into the evening. I think I developed it from my early working days when I worked from 2 – 11 p.m. or 4 – 11 p.m. at a grocery store.

    Thanks JB!


  9. I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jim- my butler just handed me a pina colada.
    Count me in as an afternoon writer. I exercise first thing in the morning, then deal with email and other minutaie. After lunch I turn off my wireless connection and start writing. I wish I had an easier time writing on the road- I[‘m envious of people like John who manage to do that. I tried it while on tour last year, and univerally everything I wrote was terrible and had to be tossed in the next draft. For some reason I can’t focus outside my usual element.

  10. I’m a time snatcher as well (and my schedule has suffered now that my kids have quit playing soccer).

    My getting-over-the-hump strategy depends on the hump. If I don’t know what to do with a scene, sometimes it helps to quit it and write the scene that follows. I can fill in the gaps (usually not as cavernous as I thought) once I know where I need to end up.

  11. Night-time for me. My most productive period was when I worked swing at Taco Bell. I’d get up at noon, go to work 2-12, come home and write from midnight-ish to five in the morning. What ELSE was I going to do?

    Now I have a day job and a kid, and find it very frustrating when my writing brain is waking up just as I must be going to bed.

    I write earlier anyway–I just hit “the zone” at bedtime.

  12. Well, there are more afternooners than I would have thought. Just shows the brain wiring is different in all of us, except for one thing: all writers share that odd compulsion that keeps us pounding out the words.

  13. With my “day job” or sometimes “all day and night job”, I find I am a Saturday morning writer. All week long, I think about the story and take notes. I am a post-it queen. And, by Saturday, I have what I want to say figured out. I start at seven and by noon I have an almost complete chapter (save grammar mistakes). Sadly, this seems to be my only productive writing time and I have all week to formulate the next chapter.

  14. I am in the middle of a terrific book called, ‘Plot and Structure’! I will most definetly check out this new book recommeded by one of my fave writing coaches! Thanks for the tip. I am writing this is at 12:50am, so I guess that makes me a nighttime writer. Less distractions. Another fun fact – I am a Miami U grad.

  15. I’m a time snatching night writer. Which is to say, I snatch whatever time I can get during the day between customers and projects then try to put an hour or two into the work at night.

    One of these days, I’d love to be more regular but part of the fun I find is grabbing the time to write whenever I can.

  16. Actually right now I’m struggling to find my momentum. That drive you talked about is waning. I started a new job six months ago and that threw off my (very successful) groove of writing mid-day for hours. Add to that a SERIOUS set of hurdles in my current WIP and I’m struggling to find the energy to get writing done even once a week.
    SO. I might pick this up. I need all the help I can get. I miss writing!


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