Monday, April 18

Evening: time to write?

If like me you feel you work best in the evening (and are downright sluggish in the morning, even after a few strong coffees) then you'd probably describe yourself as an 'evening person'.

It seems to be a common trait among people working in creative fields, and psychologists have found an association between late hours and creativity, too.  A good scientist will immediate question cause and effect here - could it not be that creative types tend to choose the stereotypical creative lifestyle, stays up late, drinking, smoking and, well, being creative?  The relationship could even be a self-fulfilling prophecy, with people who see themselves as creative choosing that lifestyle, and therefore getting used to late hours.

So what is the research?  In one study, Giampietro and Cavallera (2006) used a questionnaire to classify people as morning, evening, or 'intermediate' types.  They then tested their creativity.  The results were quite clear - evening people scored best on the tests, all of which involved creating or modifying images, for example creating a picture out of a selection of straight lines.

An obvious flaw with the study is that the self-report could be inaccurate.  People who see themselves as creative might choose to present themselves as evening people, because it fits an image of disordered, bohemian lifestyle.  Perhaps they also choose that lifestyle, getting used to later hours.

However, if the relationship could be explained by creative individuals choosing a more bohemian lifestyle, then you would expect some of the relationship to diminish with age, as at least some people will tend to settle down into more conventional habits.  This wasn't found - the relationship between creativity and preference for evening hours was just as strong in older people.

What makes some people prefer later hours?  I don't think it can't be put down just to choice or lifestyle.  As a parent, it seems that this preference starts early in childhood and is very difficult to influence.  In fact, the systems that orient us through night and day, making us (as a diurnal species) prefer to sleep when it is dark, are under biological control.  It is therefore not surprising that there should be genetic variation.

Kerkhof and Van Dongen (1996) reported that this 'biological clock' can differ by as much as two hours between morning-loving and evening-loving people, and even when life circumstances force us to lead different hours, this preference remains.

Personally, I'm still unsure as to why being an evening person would make you better at creative tasks.  Perhaps society and life experience support doing these sorts of activities in the evening, so if you are not at your best during those hours, you don't build up the creative faculties as well.

If you are a morning person, don't worry - you are in good creative company.  Many writers including Sylvia Plath and Mary Higgins Clark have chosen to get up at the crack of dawn to produce their creative works (Cummings, 2011).

Images in this post: Night desk and 
Vintage clock with perpetual calendar by H is for Home

Alexander, P. (1991). Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath. Da Capo Press.
Cummings, T. (2011). The Productivity Tricks and Daily Habits of Famous People. Retrieved April 17, 2011, from
Giampietro, M. and Cavallera, G.M. (2006). Morning and evening types and creative thinking. Personality and Individual Differences, 42(3), 453-46.
Kerkhof, G.A. and Van Dongen, H.P.A. (1996). Morning-type and evening-type individuals differ in the phase position of their endogenous circadian oscillator. Neuroscience Letters, 218(3), 153-156.