Are You A Lark Or An Owl?

Adam Cairns
4 min readJul 13, 2019

I’m trying to squeeze more writing hours into my day. I work full time so I reckon there are two choices — before work or after work. I read around and find there’s a kind of cult out there about being a winner by getting up before you go to bed. Maybe you’ve seen them:

​” ​I get up at 4.30 and run ten miles, then write a chapter of my novel all before having breakfast and taking the kids to school.”

So I try going through that door…

Ngh. Nug. Ugh.

That’s me first thing in the morning. At my peak. Before 9.00.

I’ve got double the trouble at the moment because I work in the Middle East where the day already starts way too early for me. I’m always at my desk before 6.45 AM. To get up any earlier, I’d be tucking myself in at night at like 8.00PM.

A grown man can’t do that.

Early Bird? Not me.

I’d love to pretend that getting up earlier is something I can do — but it’s not.

The BBC recently ran one of those pieces of scientific journalism with a headline like — ‘ Driving a car with your eyes closed is dangerous, study reports.’ The article I read said this:

‘Brain function of night owls and larks differ, study suggests.’

That’s not much better is it? I mean, really — they had to study that?

Still, reading the article there were some interesting points.

‘The tests — performed between 08:00 and 20:00 — found night owls had less connectivity in brain regions linked to maintaining consciousness. They also had poorer attention, slower reactions and increased sleepiness. Researchers said it suggested that night owls were disadvantaged by the “constraints” of the typical working day.’

There you are then — conclusive proof that owls should have a lie in. But seriously, why am I going on about this nonsense?

What’s it got to do with writing?

Here’s my point — better late than never.

Figuring out whether you prefer dawn or dusk could do more for your writing than you might think. For a start, if you continually force yourself to work at a time that’s not your special time, it doesn’t go well.

Trust me on this — I’ve tried.

I ended up hating what I was doing, and the writing shrivelled up like a ten-day-old apple left in the sun. When that happens it can feel your writing muscle has died, when in fact you’re just trying to do the equivalent of push ups and squats when you’re half asleep. Here’s something else to think about…

Writing and editing require two different hats

Writing IMHO, requires that you wear two different hats. Mine are a battered stetson and a brown felt bowler. I put the stetson on when I’m heaving myself into the saddle for a day’s keyboard tapping.

That’s my creative hat, whereas I wear my trusty bowler when the bureaucrat’s required to do some editing. Editing’s all about decisions. These involve big choices about plot twists and turns, characters and language among others.

You don’t want to be messing with your good prose when you’re tireder than a tired thing. No, you want to be pin sharp when you take a red pen to your precious text.

The Takeaway

So here’s the takeaway — in fact there’s three for the price of one.

  1. Some of us are larks and some owls. It’s just the way we’re made. If you try to do your best creative work when all your brain wants to is curl up in a corner and sleep — your writing will not fly.
  2. When you’re editing what you’ve written it’s even more important to feel fresh, fully charged and optimistic.
  3. Here’s the kicker. If you keep trying to work against the grain, you will end up hating what you do. That’s as good a way as any to kill your enthusiasm and whither your talent on the vine.

I’m definitely an owl. If you drag me in early doors, I know I’m less productive. I could do the same work in half the time later in the day. Deciding when you’re all there, versus when you’re struggling to be fully engaged — that’s a big deal.

Knowing your optimal time of day means you can time your most difficult decisions or most challenging work to coincide with when you are at your peak.

You can take a quiz to work out whether you are a Lark or Owl here.

Quiz adapted from Horne, J. A. and O. Ostberg (1976) “ASelf Assessment Questionnaire to Determine Morningness to Eveningness in Human Circadian Rhythms”, International Journal of Chronobiology, 4, 97 to 110.

Originally published at on July 13, 2019.



Adam Cairns

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