The Rest of the Story by Pamela Mytroen

Does a writer’s waking time impact their creativity? This is a question worth asking, as the amount and quality of sleep have obvious effects upon our alertness and ability to concentrate, two skills that we all need.

Sleep Patterns Examined

Maria Popova, a Bulgarian writer, blogger, and critic from New York, asked this same question. She is known for her blog, which features her writing on culture, books, and eclectic subjects.

Popova wondered if there was any correlation between the sleep habits of famous writers and their literary productivity. She amassed years of notes from reading the biographies, interviews, and journals of famous writers, as well as from reading two books: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey and Odd Type Writers: From Joyce and Dickens to Wharton and Welty, the Obsessive Habits and Quirky Techniques of Great Authors by Celia Blue Johnson.

She ended up with a set of 37 writers from Honore de Balzac, the insomniac (arising at 1:00 a.m. to write) who lived from 1799-1850, to authors who are still alive today such as Stephen King. She handed over all her data to an Italian information designer, Giorgia Lupi, and her team at Accurat. Together they created a visual rendering of these authors using colors and bar graphs to indicate the time of their waking, the genres and number of works published, and the prizes they have won, namely, Nobel or Pulitzer.

Productivity Examined

Productivity was measured by two objective criteria: number of published works and major prizes won. However, because some authors lived in an era when the lifespan was considerably shorter than the writers’ of today, their productivity could have been limited to natural factors, throwing the “objective” data into a subjective realm. Also, some authors lived before the Pulitzer Prize and other major awards were available. So, there again, it may not be accurate to compare awarded authors across such a wide time frame.

Though still impossible to compare the great authors when it comes to awake times and productivity, some interesting patterns seem to emerge. For example, later risers, overall, produced more works but won fewer awards than early risers. According to the chart, an average or later riser would sleep until about 7:00 a.m. See Charles Dickens and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Both prolific writers and both arising at 7:00 a.m., neither won either a Nobel or Pulitzer writing award. C.S. Lewis and Leo Tolstoy were also very productive and profuse in writing. Both snoozed until 9:00 a.m. daily and neither of them won a major award either.

Compare these with Sylvia Plath, Toni Morrison, and Ernest Hemingway, who arose at 4:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m., and 6:00 a.m. respectively. They arose early and won major awards, but they did not produce as much as the later-rising authors. Then there are authors, such as Ray Bradbury, who throw the entire pattern off who arose at 9:00 a.m., wrote a generous amount across several genres, and won a Pulitzer Prize.

Conclusions Examined

What, if anything, can be learned from this data? Probably the best lesson to be gained from Popova’s research is that no specific rising time guarantees a creative pen. Rather, the important fact is that writers must have a routine and stick to it. “Showing up day in and day out, without fail, is the surest way to achieve lasting success,” says Popova.

Her large colorful scroll can be viewed here:

My next post will answer the question: What effect does sleep/lack of sleep have on the life of a writer?

Exec-Pam-Mytroen-2Pamela is an “English as an Additional Language Instructor” and “Language Assessor” in Saskatchewan. She loves baking, reading, and spending time with her family, which has grown to include a sweet grandson. She writes for her local newspaper and, as Acquisitions Editor for Fellowscript, she enjoys working with writers to see their ideas in print. Contact her at

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