May 14 – 20: “Do you prefer to write during the early morning or the dead of night?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re joined by ITW Members Mariah Fredericks, Erica Miner, Sanjida Kay, Judy Penz Sheluk, Mitchell Silver, Paul D. Marks and Arthur Kerns as they discuss when they write: Do you prefer to write during the early morning or the dead of night? Why? Early birds should scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along!


Sanjida Kay is the author of three psychological thrillers, Bone by Bone, The Stolen Child and My Mother’s Secret, published by Corvus Books. Bone by Bone was long listed for the CWA Steel Dagger Award, nominated as one of the best crime and thriller books of 2016 by The Guardian newspaper. Her thrillers are available on Audible as audiobooks. Sanjida lives in Bristol, England, with her husband and her daughter


Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries (THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE and A HOLE IN ONE) and The Marketville Mysteries (SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC). Her short crime fiction appears is several collections. In addition to ITW, Judy is member of Sisters in Crime, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves on the Board of Directors as the Regional Representative for Toronto/Southern Ontario.


Mariah Fredericks was born and raised in New York City, where she still lives today with her family. She is a graduate of Vassar College with a BA in history. She has written several novels for young adults; her novel Crunch Time was nominated for an Edgar in 2007. A Death of No Importance is her first mystery for adults.


Mitch Silver was born in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island. He attended Yale (B.A. in History) and Harvard Law School (“I lasted three days. I know the law through Wednesday, but after that…”). He was an advertising writer for several of the big New York agencies, living in Paris for a year with his wife, Ellen Highsmith Silver, while he was European Creative Director on the Colgate-Palmolive account. A previously published novelist (In Secret Service —S&S/Touchstone), Mitch and his wife Ellen live in Greenwich, Connecticut and have two children: Sloane is a nurse at Wake Forest Medical Center and Perry is an actor and the drummer for Sky Pony, a band in New York. Mitch also won the American Song Festival Lyric Grand Prize for “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed.” His blood type is O positive.


Former Metropolitan Opera violinist Erica Miner is now an award-winning author, screenwriter, journalist and lecturer. Her journal-based debut novel, Travels With My Lovers, won the Fiction Prize in the Direct from the Author Book Awards. Her screenplays have won awards in recognized competitions. Erica’s Met Opera-based thriller Murder In The Pit won raves. Her just-released sequel to Murder In The Pit, Death by Opera, takes place at Santa Fe Opera.


Paul D. Marks has written three novels, co-edited two anthologies and written countless short stories. He’s won a Shamus Award, was voted #1 in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s 2016 Reader’s Choice Award and been nominated for Anthony and Macavity Awards. His story “Windward” was chosen for The Best American Mysteries of 2018. His short fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Akashic’s Noir series (St. Louis), Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Crimestalker Casebook, Hardluck Stories, Hardboiled, and many others.


In March 2013 Diversion Books Inc. released the acclaimed espionage thriller, The Riviera Contract followed by the sequel, The African Contract. The Yemen Contract was released in June 2016. Arthur Kerns joined the FBI with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. On retirement, he became a consultant with a number of US agencies, including the Department of State. His lengthy assignments took him to over 65 countries.


  1. May 14 – 20: “Do you prefer to write during the early morning or at dead of night? Why?”

    Oh, if I could only write early in the day. Then the rest of the day would be free knowing my target number of pages were written. The guilt hanging over me for not being at my desk working on my story would disappear (I was a long distance runner and if I missed a day running went into a funk). One of my fellow writers, a respected Scottsdale mystery writer, tells her classes that she starts writing at 4 am and ends at 9 am. Then she has the rest of the day to rewrite and edit or do whatever she likes. I’ve tried it, but get distracted, like going to the gym, reading the newspaper (Yes, I read newspapers), drinking coffee, tending my garden. It seems I just can’t get myself into the creative mood at 4 am. By 7am I can edit and rewrite what I wrote the day before, but usually it isn’t until after midday that I can sit at the computer and start my original drafts. Very seldom do I write at night.

    1. “Oh, if I could only write early in the day. Then the rest of the day would be free knowing my target number of pages were written. The guilt hanging over me for not being at my desk working on my story would disappear”

      That’s exactly why I write first thing in the morning. I can’t stand the guilt. Knowing I wll have to get those pages done eventually is too much, I have to get them done. It’s not superior will, just pure neurosis.

  2. May 14 – 20: Do you prefer to write during the early morning or at dead of night? Why?

    This is an easy one: dead of night. I’m a night person. A denizen of the dark, a habitué of the Nite Owl Café, off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush.

    And every time I’ve had to live a more normal sked as soon as I no longer had to do that I drifted back to being an all-nighter guy. These days my bedtime is around 7am. I don’t sleep any more than anyone else, I just do it at a different time.

    Aside from any “historical” (with me) or biological reasons, I like the night. And even though nothing good ever happens after midnight, whatever does happen is good for mystery and thriller stories. And it’s quiet, no interruptions. It sets the mood for most of the things I write. Dark. Thriller. Noir.

    I’m an L.A. guy. When I was a kid, L.A. was more like a big, spread out small town. And even though it’s becoming more of a “big city,” it’s still not open all night like NYC. That’s really the place I should be. Where I can go get a pizza or find a deli open at 3am. There are places here, of course, but it’s not like New York.

    So that’s me. Good for conversation at 3am, not so much at 9am.

  3. I like the idea of writing all night, sipping whiskey as owls hoot softly in the darkness and the world sleeps. In practise, I get up super-early and power my way through the morning with spinach smoothies and black coffee.

    Most of us have an ideal time to work and to come up with our best ideas; we’re naturally either larks or night owls. I’m definitely a lark and it’s hard to wangle a coherent sentence out of me past 9 pm, let alone a decent word or two.

    Pre-children, and before I was a full-time novelist, I would get up early and write for a couple of hours before starting my day job, which was as producer/director in TV and a freelance features writer. I’d knock off around 4, as that’s when I have a complete slump in productivity. I can push myself physically, though, so I’d go for a run. If I needed to, I’d work again after 7pm for a couple of hours.

    Now that I have a family, I don’t have the luxury of as much choice. I exercise before anyone else in the house is up, and then work on my novel during the day, reserving that 7pm slot for admin. It’s not completely ideal in terms of my natural body clock, but it does mean I can fit my writing in around my family, as well as getting a workout in before anyone demands breakfast or a packed lunch. And I get to listen to owls softly hooting in the darkness as I’m drifting off to sleep.

  4. You guys sound so romantic, penning your crime thrillers at the dead of night…Very LA confidential, Paul! In England, outside of London, pretty much nothing is open past 6pm. Maybe a bar until 11!

  5. Sanjida, I guess we all have to write when we can, which isn’t always when we want to. My hours work for me, but it’s hard to coordinate with other people sometimes. My wife is usually getting up when I’m going to bed. Makes life interesting.

  6. This conversation brings up a parallel something for me. In the 1970s, I attended EST (remember Erhard Seminars Training? No?). It was a sit-in-an-NYC-hotel-ballroom thing where you worked on yourself psychologically/emotionally while 250 other people worked on themselves. Anyway, helpers with microphones would stand at the ready for people to raise their hands and ask questions from the floor of the “trainer”.
    We were encouraged to be spontaneous and say whatever was on our minds at the moment. Well, what was on my mind after about three hours that first day was how hot it was in that room. Stifling. So I decided to raise my hand to request the thermostat be turned down.
    The stranger sitting next to me, a dark-haired woman, already had her hand raised and they passed the mic to her first. Her question? “Would you please turn the heat up? I’m freezing in here.”
    It actually was a great lesson, one that EST would have loved to pound home: Whatever we think life consists of is shaped in large part by our own subjectivity, the place we’re in. And if you can recognize that, you can change…if you want to change, that is.
    Why does a 40-something-year-old memory occur to me now? Because this circadian early bird/night owl dichotomy seems to be the one thing that just doesn’t change. I work best, creatively and every other way, in the morning, while my wife Ellen creates her stuff late at night. one o’clock, two o’clock at night.
    I don’t know if there’s any volition involved at all.

    1. I think you’re absolutely right about the circadian rhythms we seem to be born with. But, I think we also need to adapt if we want to write, as life, family, day jobs, can cramp what would be our natural creative space.

    2. Mitch, how very authentic of you. Remember that key word? I attended the successor seminar, Landmark Forum, and had a similar experience. So happy to see my fellow scribblers also take time to workout. Ours is such a sedentary job we need the gym to keep things in perspective. As for me, I’m an early morning thriller writer. Up at 0400, gym, cycle 15 miles, high protein shake and light up my computer by 0630. Work until early afternoon then start on my magazine assignments and book marketing.

      Wouldn’t change a thing. I love what I now have the extreme privilege of doing.

      —Chris Malburg

      1. Wow, amazing Chris. I’m with you. I definitely need to workout to keep sane and counteract the sedentary job. I’m impressed with your early start. I think my husband would divorce me if I did that. He already hates me waking him up when I start my workouts at 6am! And agree, protein shakes, great way to begin the day.

        1. Sanjida,

          I’ve always thought that behind every successful writer is a very hard working spouse. Mine is among the best. She’s up at 4:00 am every morning with me–tho her schedule is much different. She’s a fixed income investment manager.

  7. Dead of night here too Paul…it’s the witching hour for writers!
    And yeah, I hear ya about la closing up shop too early. Us writers need those coffee dives that never close…where all the juicy stuff happens 😎

  8. My advice would be to try and write when it suits you best, according to your natural body clock – but if that won’t fit in with life / family / day job, then just schedule it in when you can. Being a writer is all about showing up for yourself with integrity and consistency. Even if it means sitting in front of a blank notebook or computer screen for two hours during your appointed writing slot. Where there’s a will there’s a way!

  9. Before I had kids and when I was working full-time in an office, I wrote one page a day in the evenings, two pages a day on weekends. I actually finished four novels that way, although only one got published. Now that I write full time from home and have kids, afternoons and weekends are out. So I write in the morning after breakfast because that seems to be when I have the most band width. If I let too many people into the day, the writing won’t happen. I just can’t hear the characters. Edits happen in the afternoon—and they’re necessary because my rule is two pages every morning, it doesn’t matter how bad they are, just get it down.

  10. For me, it’s all about the morning. That’s when I’m freshest and my thoughts are most coherent. That capability decreases as the day goes on! By nighttime, my brain is generally fried when it comes to creating on a blank screen. This is all somewhat contradictory, when you consider that in my previous life as a musician at the Metropolitan Opera (authenticated in my first thriller, ‘Murder in the Pit’), I would still be playing my violin at midnight!

  11. I’m probably better in the morning, but I write whenever I can snatch a few minutes or hours from my crazy schedule. But late night — not for me — I’m definitely a daytime writer. I do, however, try to write every day when I’m on a project to stay connected to the story.

  12. It really is interesting to see how everyone is so different. As long as the job gets done at whatever time of day or night I think we’re doing good.

  13. I fall into the Sanjida/Judy/Erica/Mariah camp. When I wrote my first book, In Secret Service, I was still working as a creative director at Young & Rubicam advertising in New York and taking the train into Grand Central. Every morning, when the empty 7:53 or 8:12 rolled into the Harrison station in Westchester, I’d take the last seat in the last car (opposite the conductor’s cubicle) and write for 45 minutes.
    At lunchtime, I would type up what I’d written (a page, maybe two) and print it. Then, after work, when my creative mind had been logged off for hours (don’t tell my boss!) I’d get back on the train and edit what I had. Two short years later, voilá! A thriller.

    1. Mitch, do you find now that you are not working as a creative director (I’m making the assumption) that you still follow the same ritual of writing a page or two, then writing up?

    2. Mitch, I also used to take the train into NYC and found it a perfect milieu for getting s one writing done. I’m spoiled now that I can work from home and set my own schedule. It sounds like you were tremendously disciplined and organized: write on the way in, edit on the way out. I like it!

  14. I’m impressed with you snatching time when you can / could, Judy and Mitch. I find that I need to have ‘flow’ and get into a zone. Obviously, you work with what you’ve got, and, as Paul says, we’re all doing good. Because I don’t have much time, even though I’m a full time novelist (I write while my daughter is at school), I try and achieve this flow state by turning my email and social media off and concentrating on the writing so I’m immersed. I imagine I’m in the world the characters inhabit and the action is taking place in front of me, as if it’s a 3D film, and almost transcribe it. Hard to do if I only have a few minutes. How about you guys?

    1. I think you’re right about turning off social media, Sanjida. I enjoy it and it does get our names/books out there, but it’s also a time drain. And, though I write full time too, I also find it amazing how little actual writing time there is after doing all the other things that need doing.

      1. Paul, how do you do it? I can’t seem to tune it out, even when I’m writing. It’s a terrible fault, and I admit my guilt. But in my defense, with a brand-new book just released, I feel I have to keep those channels open in case reviews, comments, etc. come in. I try to keep it at bay when I’m deeply in the throes of writing something of importance, however.

        1. Erica, I don’t turn it off enough. And I agree with you completely that you have to keep those channels open. I’ve actually found social media to be great boon to getting the word out. So if you have a new book out I would definitely keep the channels open. And also use it as much as you can, whether Twitter or FB or whatever, to get the word out.

  15. I was last working full-time in advertising more than 10 years ago. So no, I don’t write in longhand and type it up later. I do it all on my Mac, though I used to think the pencil was essential to my creative flow. (Maybe, if you’ve read my latest, you’ll think it still is.)
    And, as a curmudgeon, I try to avoid social media. I don’t post, I don’t read. Strange, right? I still think I’d rather write something new in the time it would take to keep up with all those connections…”brand platform” or no. So, Paul, we have that in common.
    My other job, apart from fiction, is sportswriting for the local paper. I go to high school games—Rye High, Rye Neck, and Rye Country Day in Westchester County, New York— and write them up. Since all those teams play in the afternoon after school, I have to get my own writing done before the school bells ring at 2:40 p.m. Discipline of a sort, I guess.

    1. Mitch, I think I might not have been clear. I do social media and wish I could turn it off more. But I find it useful in a lot of ways. But that’s not to say it isn’t time drain. I went kicking and screaming onto FB at the behest of a friend who was a PR/publicity person. And it took me a while to find my footing, but I did. And I find I like it – maybe too much… That’s the problem 😉 .

      1. Paul, I totally relate to what you’re saying. I was also kicking and screaming when my manager convinced me to try FB. I have never been sorry. Yes, I do like it ‘too much’ – but for me there’s no better way to connect with other writers and writers’ groups. There are so many on FB. And as a promotion tool for my books, I’ve never found better.

  16. You’re right, Paul. I love writing, but the actual amount of time spent writing one’s book is a relatively small, compared to all the other stuff you need to do to actually bring a novel into being. Right now I’m ‘meant’ to be editing my next one before sending it off the publisher. A hard deadline in every sense as my editor is pregnant and her due date is in a month!

  17. Sanjida, these days (and maybe always to some extent but in different forms) writers always have/had to be PR people one way or another. I think we’d all rather be writing, but we have to give in to the reality of the world. And good luck with your editing!

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