Trance Time

Olga Ernst, Sunset at Long Beach (South Africa); Wikimedia Commons

Photographers and cinematographers have long known the power of the “golden hour,” when the sun is low in the sky, the shadows are long and dramatic, and the blue is all filtered away, leaving only golden orange.

But I would say that it’s the responsibility of all creative people to know what every time of day is good for. And that’s different for most of us, but the fact of being capable of different things at different times of day is just a fact of our own diurnal clock. It may be hormonal, related to our differing production of cortisol. It may be environmental, having to do with when the rest of our family leaves us alone. (Joyce Carol Oates, in her otherwise abysmal MasterClass lecture series, says one illuminating thing: that for the most part, writers are less hindered by lack of talent than they are by being interrupted.)

Whatever its source, there are times of day when we’re better suited to some things than others. For myself, I know a few things (all times approximate but pretty darn close):

  • Mornings (6:30 to 10:00) are for sustained, focused work.
  • Late mornings (10:00 to 1:00) are for chores, picking things off the list in ten-minute bits. Great for e-mail, household chores.
  • Mid-day (1:00 to 4:00) is social, the times when I can get on the phone or have a meeting.
  • Evening (4:00-8:00) is relational and transitional. It’s the time when Nora and I catch up, when Derrick stops by to show us what’s come from the garden, when we’re planning and cooking dinner.
  • Night (8:00-11:00) allows the return to sustained, focused work.

If you slow down for a day or two and pay attention, you’ll find similar patterns in your own life. The times when you can get things done, and the times when you lose track of yourself and fall into the trance. I’ll speak in particular about writing: I can tell the difference between editing—shoving words around, being analytical and diagnostic—and the loss of self and context (what psychologists might pejoratively call a “dissociative state”) that is necessary to genuinely inhabit other selves and other contexts.

You need to know this about your own relationship to the clock and the day. And you need to be ruthless about protecting trance time. Block out your calendar, don’t waste time online, leave your e-mail until later, and let yourself fall.