Monday, February 13, 2006

Sleep Writing

Kathleen’s excellent post on Habits alluded to night-writing friends, and I’ll confess I’m one of them. I don’t know what it is about the evening hours, but my muse starts to dance whether I’m sleepy or not. Maybe it’s because I’m working frenetically 9-5ish on freelance writing, and in the evening I feel all loose in the brain, able to dive into more creative ventures. I almost always give into the urge to do something—anything—on my story when this happens, and I’ve discovered a secret benefit to working on my WIP right before bed.

Breakthroughs.

It’s the strangest thing, but after a wee-hours workathon, when I’m lying in bed waiting for Mr. Sandhunk to toss some of the Hawaiian coast into my eyes, story solutions wink to life at the periphery of my mind—like stars in the sky, they just weren’t perceptible until after all else was dark. And then the dilemma: get out of bed, grab a pen and paper to jot down these brilliant ideas, or sleep?

Personally, once I’ve reached the threshold of sleep, little short of a sick child is going to coax me out of bed. A writer friend once recommended something called a Night Writer Pen, and what a find this was. I keep a notebook and my firefly wand on the bedside table now, and I usually don’t mind rousing an arm and turning my head to jot down a gem or two. But for those nights when I do, I’ve developed a pretty reliable alternative: structuring a picture memory. For example, I may think up scenes or plot points regarding an important letter, a gondola ride and a shaggy dog. I'll remember all three of these scenes by picturing the shaggy dog holding the letter in his mouth, riding in a gondola. (And it's not just me: Studies show memories are easier to retrieve from the mind’s vault if you have two keys—one based on words, the other on pictures.)

In the words of Elizabeth Barret Browning:
There, that is our secret: go to sleep! You will wake, and remember, and understand.

3 Comments:

Blogger Elena Greene said...

I'm usually the opposite: one of those disgusting morning people. I only write at night if I'm really under the gun on a deadline, and sometimes the characters get a bit deranged and I have to do damage control the next morning.

But I do think there's something about nighttime that awakens the muse (or the subconscious mind for those who wish to be more scientific about it). Some authors swear by dreamwork. I haven't been that structured about it, but sometimes I deliberately think about a story issue before I go to bed. Quite often the answer is there in the morning.

Elena :)

9:24 AM  
Blogger Nienke Hinton said...

Once my nighttime muse gets going, however, say goodbye to getting any sleep. I think writing it down would shut up my brain so I could sleep.

2:19 PM  
Blogger thea mcginnis said...

i think i get so blocked up by my left brain responsibilities that it isn't until i am asleep that my mind can relax enough, allowing ideas to enter/leave my head. in fact, my latest w.i.p. came to me in a dream. i've also dreamed up solutions to plot problems. i too lay the problem out right before sleep and sure enough, solutions do seem to appear, although not right away sometimes.

3:59 PM  

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