Night Owl, Morning Writer by Johanna Harness

31 Aug

I begin my writing day every morning at 5AM.

Never in my life have I considered myself a morning person.


I can’t stand anyone speaking to me first thing in the morning. At a breakfast gathering, I’m the one slouching and staring into my coffee cup, avoiding eye contact lest someone expect actual conversation from me.

I’ve practiced saying that line my whole life:  “I am not a morning person.”

Yeah, so that turns out not to be the case.  No one who knows me in real life can believe it either.

My late night hours began as a teenager.  I needed nights for one basic reason: I am an introvert. I needed space.

Growing up, I shared a bedroom in a smallish house with one bathroom.  No one had space.  I did what I had to do:  I outlasted everyone else.  In a family full of night owls, the last person would go to sleep between midnight-thirty and 1AM.  That left two hours between 1AM-3AM for me.  I had the living room and kitchen to myself.  I made cream puffs.  I wrote poetry.  I danced.

Then, early the next morning, I stared into my coffee cup and avoided eye contact.

It became a vicious cycle.  The more I craved alone time in the middle of the night, the more obnoxious mornings felt to me.  I couldn’t imagine anyone who would wake in time to see the sunrise–on purpose.

Then a funny thing happened: I became the parent of kids who are night owls.  I cannot outlast them. From the time they were born, they would outlast me. We would all fall asleep cranky and, the next morning, they would stare into their Froot Loops and I would stare into my coffee.  It turned out staying up late wasn’t worth it without the reward of being alone and we developed new routines.  Now we’re all night readers.  We tuck in early and read quietly together every night–each of us inside our own cone of silence–snuggling, but not talking.

When I started writing every day, I turned to early morning hours the same way I once turned to the stillness of the night. In the time between 5-7AM, my house is blissfully quiet, just as it used to be between 1-3AM.

I’ve discovered, however, that the magic of the early morning hours extends well beyond the magic of the late nighttime hours.

Dark mornings contain essential stillness. In these hours, I breathe well knowing my roof does not leak, my house is warm, and food fills the cupboards.  The presence of dreaming children contents me.  I see their fluttering eyelids and I know this blissful, stolen time is a time for dreams, written or otherwise.  It’s a time for deep imagining, a time to believe in the power of words and stories, a time to focus on the aspects of humanity that run deep.

I’ve discovered something so profound about mornings that I’m certain I knew it all along: mornings are not normal times of day and they should not be approached as if they are.  Mornings are a time when dreams break gently into reality.  Mornings are sacred.

Mornings are a perfect time for writing.

I still need my coffee.

I still do not speak.

But I am definitely a morning person.


Posted by on August 31, 2011 in inspiration, writing


Tags: , , ,

35 responses to “Night Owl, Morning Writer by Johanna Harness

  1. Carley Ash

    August 31, 2011 at 7:07 AM

    Beautiful post, Johanna.
    I love mornings. I love being awake precisely at day break when the light starts to fill the house. But I do not want to talk that early in the morning, and I don’t want anyone talking to me. Apparently I need some coffee to stare at.

    • Johanna Harness

      August 31, 2011 at 7:19 AM

      It’s good to know I’m not the only one enjoying mornings in silence! 🙂

  2. Janis McCurry

    August 31, 2011 at 7:11 AM

    Johanna, my son is a night owl from the earliest of ages. I am a morning person. I’m wide awake when I first open my eyes. Like a “good” mother, I first tried to establish a reasonable time for him to go to bed. Ninety minutes later, the little boy was still awake. When I gave up, we settled into a time he felt sleepy. I went to bed before he did! It worked out because now he’s a doctor working crazy hours on night rotation.

    Nice reminder of days gone by. Thanks.

    • Johanna Harness

      August 31, 2011 at 7:20 AM

      I love the story about your son! That’s so cool. 🙂

  3. Kerry Schafer

    August 31, 2011 at 7:24 AM

    “Mornings are a time when dreams break gently into reality.” Lovely. I have discovered a similar magic about mornings – except that I don’t write at this time. I am, however, up – so that I can have alone time before the family awakes.

    • Johanna Harness

      August 31, 2011 at 8:24 AM

      Alone time makes all the difference. Thanks for dropping by, Kerry!

  4. Jotter Girl

    August 31, 2011 at 8:31 AM

    Love this post!!!! You’ve turned a simple subject into a delightful little story.

    • Johanna Harness

      August 31, 2011 at 5:07 PM

      Thank you, Jotter Girl! And thanks for recommending the post to Barbara too! 🙂

      • Jotter Girl

        August 31, 2011 at 5:43 PM

        Actually, I liked it so much I shared the link on my FB Jotter Girl page!

  5. Liz Fredericks

    August 31, 2011 at 9:03 AM

    “Mornings are a time when dreams break gently into reality. Mornings are sacred.” I’ll have to echo Kerry on rewriting this phrase. Johanna – you’ve captured my preference for mornings and given me one of the truly most beautiful statements I’ve ever read. Thank you.

  6. Lisa Asanuma

    August 31, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    This is lovely, and a routine I would like to get into. Right now I’m trying to start my day at 6:45, and I do love all the quiet… I always feel more accomplished waking up earlier, too. And I love that you’ve drawn the association of being an introvert and needing space. I do think that’s very true. Thanks for sharing.

    • Johanna Harness

      August 31, 2011 at 5:09 PM

      Yes. I have a terrible time with the rest of my day if I don’t start it in solitude.

  7. d

    August 31, 2011 at 10:21 AM

    I’ve been trying to find the gumption to start getting up at 5 AM for a couple of months now. Of course, I have a 7 month old who has me up intermittently throughout the night, so that could be a factor in my lack of motivation. Thank you for the reminder that mornings carry their own unique qualities and “Mornings are a time when dreams break gently into reality. Mornings are sacred.” Indeed.

    • Johanna Harness

      August 31, 2011 at 5:11 PM

      I look back on those long nights with my babies and it reinforces getting up early to write. Some things in my life mean enough to me to go without sleep.

  8. Meredith Conner

    August 31, 2011 at 10:49 AM

    I’ll echo all the other comments- what a beautiful post Johanna.

  9. Sharla Lovelace

    August 31, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    I love mornings as well. I’m an introvert too, and I used to do the very same thing…stay up late late late as a teen so I had my version of the world all to myself. Now I’m old and can’t stay up late…lol! I work full time so my writing is generally after work. I’ve tried writing late at night but I fall asleep. I’ve tried writing early in the morning but I fall asleep… LOL! But I do love early mornings when I am the only one up…something magical about that time, you’re right. I’m not “productive” at that time, but I love sitting with my coffee outside watching the world wake up or even watching Twitter wake up… 🙂

    • Johanna Harness

      August 31, 2011 at 5:18 PM

      It’s great to hear from someone who did the same thing I did as a teen. Being an introvert is tough sometimes!

  10. Peggy Staggs

    August 31, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    Wow. “dreams break gently into reality.” I love it.
    I’ve always been a morning person. I’m with Carley, I love the stillness just before dawn. Everything is clear, and fresh, and full of hope for a new day. That and the rest of the house is asleep.
    Great post!

    • Johanna Harness

      August 31, 2011 at 5:19 PM

      Thank you, Peggy. I can’t believe it took me so long to realize how wonderful mornings can be.

  11. john ross barnes

    August 31, 2011 at 11:45 AM

    This is an EXTRA fine post Johanna. To me the paragraph just preceding the last is the fav. If the last paragraph is golden(which it is) the one just before is Star dust. You had me from Essential Stillness and sealed the (mind)deal with “Deep imaginings/aspects of humanity/Run Deep”.

    Thanks for this one.

    Note: There is sometimes a feeling of something Dark – dangerous, desperate, about up very late that is gone, replaced by quietly hopeful about up very early. Ever get that feeling?

    • Johanna Harness

      August 31, 2011 at 5:25 PM

      John–I do think you’re right. It’s the “going into the dark” feel vs. the “emerging from the dark” feel. But there’s also something fantastic about late nights. As a teenager, I remember that feeling of silence settling over the house, becoming deeper and deeper. Nighttime always carries a sense of urgency with it–a feeling that I need to spend just a few more minutes reading or writing or baking or dancing–or just generally seizing the day. Or seizing the night, I suppose. 🙂

  12. angela parson myers

    August 31, 2011 at 11:54 AM

    A beautiful, poetic post. But I’m still not getting up at 5. : – )

    • Johanna Harness

      August 31, 2011 at 5:27 PM

      LOL, Angela. I completely understand. One great thing about getting up early to write? I stay focused. I just ask myself, “Would you get up before the sun for this?” Very few things warrant a yes answer. 🙂

  13. Barbara

    August 31, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    Love this post. So glad my friend Jotter Girl suggested it.

    I was a night owl most of my life. Hated early morning no matter how much coffee I could consume. Then I went through a stage of tolerating mornings a little better. Now I find I’m a mid-afternoon kinda person. Must be the stages of ages?

    • Johanna Harness

      August 31, 2011 at 5:30 PM

      Mid-afternoon is my low energy time, but I’m sure I could adapt if that were my opportunity for alone time. And I think you’re right about ages and stages. Successful organisms adapt, right?

  14. ramblingsfromtheleft

    August 31, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    Joanna, how perfectly delightful this was to read. Thank you. My biological clock has been set and re-set for decades depending on work and children and now my “write-time.”

    I have enjoyed the witching hours at 3am when I am sure the phone will never ring and the house is still and in no need of my attention. Likewise, the early morning, those moments just before dawn when nature wakes from her slumber, are magical. I’m grateful that time and needs have given me the benefit of both … although if anyone expects a coherient thought to pass my lips, they had better way until high noon 🙂

    • Johanna Harness

      August 31, 2011 at 5:51 PM

      You’re exactly right about the 3AM time when nothing needs our attention. And how great is it that we have the power to adapt? 😀

  15. Mary Vine

    August 31, 2011 at 3:31 PM

    Beautiful, Johanna! I love the mornings after I get up and eat breakfast! I’ve never gotten up that early to write, so I really admire your dedication to it.

  16. Kristina

    August 31, 2011 at 5:02 PM

    You, my dear, are magical.

  17. Clarissa Southwick

    September 1, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    What beautiful words and pictures, Johanna. I, too, have teenagers who stay up all night. No, I can’t outlast them. I really need to make the switch to AM writing. Thanks for an inspiring post. 🙂

  18. Marsha R. West

    September 1, 2011 at 8:18 AM

    Good gravy, Johanna, you can turn a powerful phrase. Thanks for sharing those and the beautiful morning pictures. We have a couple of pics on our walls from a trip to Maine when we stayed at the Inn at Sunrise Point. Truly magical scenes, and healing to the soul.
    I got up at 5 every morning so I could get to my school by 7 before the mad rush began. 🙂 Don’t do that anymore, unless I’m getting ready to catch an early morning plane. Great post.

  19. Amy Hahn

    September 3, 2011 at 8:28 AM

    I am posting…..”mornings are a time when dreams break gently into reality” on my laptop. I am a big fussy pants because i have to get up before everyone to find my peace and quiet to write. Thanks for blessing me with a new vision!


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