Literary Larks: 3 Writers on Why We Should Wake Early

Why I Wake Early: Mary Oliver
Why I Wake Early: Mary Oliver’s ode to
dawn and starting the day outside.

When it comes to mornings, we’re all very divided. While some us of leap out of bed without any need for an alarm clock, others aren’t quite so keen.

This is normal, researchers assure us: being a night owl or morning lark may be largely dictated by a gene known as Period-3. Scientists at the University of Surrey discovered there are two versions of this gene — a long version and a short version. Those with the long version are larks; the short version, owls. If you always eat breakfast within half an hour of waking, you’re probably a lark.

By looking at the brilliant Brain Pickings infographic of famous writers’ sleep habits, we can see that Haruki Murkami, Twyla Tharp and Vladimir Nabokov were larks (waking up at 4am, 5.30am and 6am respectively).

Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Scott Fitzgerald were probably night owls (waking at 9am, 10am and 11am).

But let’s focus on one side in this post.
Here are three writers with good things to say about waking up early, each focusing on how it relates to productivity, greeting the day at perhaps its most beautiful point, or starting the day right.

Emily Brontë

Waking up early may well help you out if you find yourself procrastinating or not achieving what you’d like to. As Mrs. Dean cleverly states in Wuthering Heights,

You shouldn’t lie till ten. There’s the very prime of the morning gone long before that time. A person who has not done one-half his day’s work by ten o’clock, runs a chance of leaving the other half undone.

I know I should pay attention to this advice: I work so well first thing in the morning.

Nature is one reason to wake up early
The Yorkshire moors, home to Wuthering Heights

Mary Oliver

When finding books on waking up early, Mary Oliver’s collection Why I Wake Early can’t help but come to mind. It’s a superb series of poems on the beauty of dawn and greeting the day in nature.

The opening poem, of the same name as the anthology, starts as follows:

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips…

The poem then culminates in this wonderful phrase: “Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.”

You can hear Mary Oliver read the full poem here, on YouTube.

Lemony Snicket 

Finally, Lemony Snicket, the author of the Series of Unfortunate Events books for children, states in Horseradish, his quotation book of “wit and wisdom”:

Horseradish by Lemony Snicket and getting up early
Horseradish by Lemony Snicket 

Morning is an important time of day, because how you spend your morning can often tell you what kind of day you are going to have. For instance, if you wake up to the sound of twittering birds, and find yourself in an enormous canopy bed, with a butler standing next to you holding a breakfast of freshly made muffins and hand-squeezed orange juice on a silver tray, you will know that your day will be a splendid one. If you wake up to the sound of church bells, and find yourself in a fairly big regular bed, with a butler standing next to you holding a breakfast of hot tea and toast on a plate, you will know that your day will be O.K. And if you wake up to the sound of somebody banging two metal pots together, and find yourself in a small bunk bed, with a nasty foreman standing in the doorway holding no breakfast at all, you will know that your day will be horrid.

For more uplifting and cheery quotes, Horseradish really is full of quotable goodies.

Putting it into action

Perhaps the best guide to waking up early – or at least my favourite – is by the talented Leo Babauta from Zen Habits.

For the lifelong night owls, you’ll feel less ignored after checking out B-Society, a Danish group founded by Camilla Kring which is aiming to make society more flexible when it comes to rising early.

Like more of the same? Subscribe to the Tolstoy Therapy Newsletter and receive a round-up of the week’s articles every Sunday to enjoy with your coffee. Click here to subscribe.


Retreat Into The Sanctuary & Enjoy Seven Days to Reset

Love books, feeling a little lost right now, and looking for some comfort and guidance forwards? I made The Sanctuary exactly for this.

It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at

Share This

Copy Link to Clipboard