Charles Dickens at his writing desk.

The Two Kinds of Morning Writer

While researching my book Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors, one of the most important habits I gauged was the time of day that successful authors get their writing done. Not surprisingly, more writers I studied do their best work in the morning than at any other time.

But I discovered that those with a morning writing schedule fall into one of two further categories: The pajamas contingent and the make-it-seem-like-a-job set. Some writers like to get going the second they wake up, with no time to spare for sartorial distractions, while others find the routine of presenting oneself to the day helpful in making the work seem urgent.

Below are the most compelling examples of each type of morning writer:

Working in Their PJS

Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence author became famous for getting down to writing as soon as she woke up, composing her works in bed and dropping the completed sheets of paper on the floor for the help to retrieve and organize. Nice gig if you can get it.

Salman Rushdie: Rushdie makes it out of bed, but he usually sticks to his PJs. “I’ve learned that I need to give [writing] the first energy of the day,” he says, “so before I read the newspaper, before I open the mail, before I phone anyone, often befor I have a shower, I sit in my pajamas at a desk.”

Toni Morrison: The nascent light of a new day, for Morrison, is the signal to start writing. For much of her writing life, she woke as early as 4am and got down to writing until her kids woke up. Then she got them ready for school and finally, herself ready for her full-time editorial job.

“Getting Ready for Work”

Richard Price: For Price, the writing comes easier if he frames it like a day job. “I go off to work as if I had a clock to punch; at the end of the day I come home as if I had just gotten off the commuter train,” he says.

Joan Didion: She has spoken of dreading the act of getting down to writing. In Didion’s routine, then, breakfast is a time to psych oneself up to head into the office. It’s a much-needed buffer between waking up and facing the task at hand.

Virginia Woolf: Woolf and her husband made a point of breakfasting together for an hour or so every morning,then started the work day by retreating to their respective writing rooms.