I'm trying to sleep here.

by Stella.

This post is about inspiration. Not what gives inspiration or how, but when. I know that sounds silly. “Now that’s a silly question.” You might say, or, “I’ll go watch videos on YouTube instead of reading this post.” Which would be a mistake. Not life-threatening, of course, but one of those I-Shouldn’t-Have-Left-the-Light-on-in-the-Hall mistakes. You see, I’ve noticed a pattern in my inspirational cycle. We all get ideas from many things at many times, it’s often surprising as to what and why, but I usually get ideas either when I’m supposed to be working on something that’s not my own fiction, or – and this is constant – when I’m trying to fall asleep.

I’m snuggled under the covers. I’m trying to clear my head. At last I start to drift off and-

“Hey, you got a minute, honey?” My inner-voice. (Actually, an inner-voice. I’ve got several. They take it in shifts; it’s more efficient that way.)
“Is it important?” I ask; weary.
“Of course it’s important. Do I bother you when it’s not?”
“I’m not answering that.”
“Come on, I have an idea.”
“So do I. It’s called sleeping.”
“You’ll be sorry when you wake up in the morning and I can’t remember it.”
“You’ll remember it. Your memory’s not so bad.”
“But I might forget. You know I do.”
“But I don’t want to get up and write it down. I’m comfy. And you know I’ll get caught up and it’ll be a half hour later and that means less sleep.”
“You’re getting cranky, you know.”
“Wordsmith’s prerogative.”
“Don’t sneer. It’s rude.”
“Come on, just write it down and I’ll shut up.”
“Alright, but this better be good. You haven’t always been so brilliant.”
“Okay, okay. Get a pen.”

Obviously I have some issues, but other than that, the point is that exactly when I try to shut off my brain, my imagination gets going. Not that this pre-sleep inspiration always produces gems. Some nights I’ve written down ideas only to throw them out the next morning. Yet the inspirational vibe is there, sometimes more so than when I’m in front of the computer screen actively trying to figure things out.

It does make sense that trying to clear my head before sleep would inadvertently help me focus on what’s making my head cluttered. Besides, you should respect an idea that comes knocking on your door, even if it’s at an inconvenient hour, because we all have those days when we wish they’d come knocking but don’t. Days which subsequently lead us to consider forsaking writing and taking up hobbies/professions that a) don’t involve using extended metaphors, and b) don’t make us regard inspiration superstitiously. Which would be a mistake. Not necessarily life-threatening, but of the I’m-Being-Nagged-on-the-Inside-by-Regret variety. And so it goes on. Sweet dreams, everyone.


Mike French said...

I get a lot of my ideas whilst shaving.

I hate shaving.

Not sure what that says - if it is my minds way of escaping the mundane and routine?

As for sleep - I have the same as you Stella - best not to fight it and just go with it - it saves time in the long run - otherwise you'll only get woken up at 4 in the morning with a "Haven't you written that down yet?"

Imagination is so demanding.

Paul Burman said...

I think your voices are moonlighting as my voices, Stella. Although, when they're with me, they'll sometimes wait until I've been asleep for a couple of hours until whispering those sweet words that just have to be jotted down.

However, in an effort to change this behaviour, I've been getting up at 6:00 and forcing them to talk to me then in the hope that they're just too bushed the following night to keep me awake.

It seems to be working. Unless I'm too tired to hear them at night anymore.

kathleenmaher said...

After the midpoint in a story, whomever I'm writing about start bickering every night. I read somewhere that when that happens a writer should step back; take a break; stop pushing.
So far, when I've tried that the monsters turn on me. When I suggest they go kill each other, the next thing I know, I'm dreaming that they're out to kill me. Better to stay awake and plug my ears with an iPod. Much better to read a good book.

gary davison said...

Hi Stella, I can totally relate to your inspiration time. When I'm nodding off in bed I'm often thinking of the story I'm writing. To be honest I'm always thinking of it! Anyway my point is that sleep is THE time to find out exactly what's going on upstairs with you, your writing, your story and a whole load of other stuff your concious mind hasn't yet started to pick up on. Yes you've guessed it I've researched sleep and dreaming and many of the meanings of dreams for one of my characters, and boy does it work.

In my second novel the main character analysis his every dream and searches for new ways to go deeper into his subconcious and I tried them all out myself. The one that worked the best was warm milk before bed. Deepest sleep and the dreams are crazy. Not as naughty as being on LSD, but naughty! And you get to know plenty of what you are thinking about and more. Worth a try to tap into the mind?

Stella said...

Mike - I know! Sometimes I really wish there was an "off" switch or at least "hibernate".

Paul - 6 AM? You are far, far more disciplined than I. 6 to 7 AM is my monosyllabic hour.

Kathleen - I'm glad that we all have the noisy voices in common. It'll make me question my sanity a bit less.

Gary - I'm afraid my dreams are already pretty crazy so warm milk might be dangerous. But thanks for the suggestion :)