Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Writer's Wednesday - Sleep, Our Secret Weapon

Columnist Annie West writes on a topic dear to her heart: Sleep, the writer’s secret weapon.

As I write this my eyes are tired and a little blurry and I feel fatigue creeping over me. Last night I didn’t get anything like a full eight hours sleep. Not quite sure I can remember the last time I got that much sleep in one stint, but I am used to some interrupted snooze time. Unfortunately it’s not just babies who get ill in the night…
So today my lovely day of writing is shot. With one of our family down for the count it was a busy, distracting morning with extra jobs and a long delay in getting to my computer. Yes, I could then have sat down and struggled to create, stifling yawns as I’ve done in the past, and dosing up on caffeine, but instead I opted to do all those other bits and pieces that keep getting shoved to the back of my ‘to do’ list. Things that don’t require me to delve deep into my hero’s psyche, or my heroine’s fears for the future.
For me, writing is so much easier when I’ve had some sleep. Of course, sometimes it’s like drawing teeth even if I’m fully rested, but I guarantee the characters’ voices in my head are more real if I’ve slept. Plus I’m more aware of the story and when I’m going wrong, so I can fix it if I need to before getting bogged down in a dead end I’ll have to rewrite a few days later.
Days when I push through regardless (and let’s face it, if there’s a deadline looming we don’t usually have any choice in the matter), I find I’m more likely to tackle the same point several times in my story, slowing the pace with repetitive dialogue or introspection that could have been handled better.

Lack of sleep can breed other problems. Too long without decent rest and I find I’m more likely to see challenges, like editorial ‘tweaks’, as impediments the size of Everest, rather than something I can hurdle with a bit of effort. Stress levels rise without sleep and creativity seems to wane. Yes, I can get by, but after a period of sacrificing rest in order to keep up with the needs of the book, the family, the day job, the renovations or whatever, I feel like I’m taking from the well and not refilling.

Factoring in enough sleep time has to be a writer’s secret weapon. Even if it’s almost impossible to achieve, it’s worth trying.

And then there’s the other huge benefit, the one I’d never have believed in the days before I wrote. Sleep, or even letting yourself drift in that almost-sleep state of relaxation, is a wonderful way to connect with your story. It must be the sub-conscious ticking away while the rest of you nods off. Sometimes I go to bed pondering how on earth I’m going to achieve something in my story and wake next morning to an idea which gives me a way forward. Other times I wake to the certainty there’s something wrong with the text I wrote the previous day, like a sleep-induced alarm going off. So far it’s been right every time!

I’ve met writers who dream their first scene before they ever have a notion of the story, or even wake with a title in their head. For me that little relaxed period between sleep and full waking is when characters often drift into my head and reveal things about themselves that will make the next scene so much easier.

Have you ever found you dreamed the beginning of a new project or the solution to a problem? (And I don’t just mean writing projects). Have you woken to inspiration you thought you’d lost?

Annie’s thrilled to say she has two books available. BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INNOCENT WIFE is a May UK Modern release and
THE GREEK’S CONVENIENT MISTRESS is a Presents title at the end of this month in North America. To read excerpts visit Annie’s website at


  1. Oh, I hear you, sister! I'm utterly hopeless if I don't get lots of sleep. And by that I mean more than six hours a night. Hope you catch up on your shut eye soon. We want more Annie West books to read! By the way, congratulations on your latest US release, The Greek's Convenient Mistress. It's an absolute corker of a story!

  2. Oh and uninterrupted sleep! Boy I can't remember when I had a full night without being woken up by barking dogs, alarms going off, rining phones or kids who are sick!

    As for eight hours??? Sigh ... if only!

    Looking forward to reading this month's Modern!

  3. Great post, Annie - and I really hear you about editorial tweaks feeling like Everest. (Mine do, right now.)

    My biggie is that I'm a lark and DH is an owl. And he needs less sleep than I do. So I can't remember when I last got eight hours.

    Have to admit, I'm one of those who wakes in the morning after dreaming the first scene. The new one (that I'm desperate to write, but have to get the revs done first) is a case in point. I'm claiming it's an office romance. Note that I haven't said what the business is :o)

  4. Anna, I'm still aiming to catch up on some vital sleep. Wouldn't it be nice? Of course the sick one is now chirpy and full of energy and I'm dragging myself around, finding it difficult to focus on writing. Isn't it typical?

    Thanks for the lovely comment on The Greek's Convenient Mistress. So glad you enjoyed it!

  5. Hi Amanda, I hear you on the dogs barking. With the wonderful luminous full moon we've just had all the local dogs have been talking to each other (and to the prowling cats and possums) in the night!

    Ooh, I hope you enjoy my Modern when you get to it this month.

  6. Kate, I hope you get some good solid sleep and that afterwards your tweaks look like a little sand dune instead of Everest!

    I'm a lark too, the one who wants to snooze early then get moving in the morning. It's a shame when the body clock isn't in synch with the rest of the family, isn't it? But it means I get some quiet time before they all wake.

    I'm intrigued by your new story. The hero's not a mattress salesman is he? A sleep researcher? I envy you dreaming your first scene. How terrific. I sometimes wake with a solution to a plot point or knowing what I need to fix in the scene I just wrote.

    Good luck with the tweaks...

  7. I used to dream new stories a lot. Now not so much - I usually have so many characters waiting their turn it's not necessary.

    I'll tell you what does happen though. If I've taken a break from writing, I know it's time to go back and start creating again when I start having WEIRD dreams. And they do get quite strange.... LOL!

  8. This is slightly off topic but....what I hate is when I am having a saucy dream that is just getting good and my hunk is about to earn his stripes when all of a sudden the alarm goes off....and I wake up!

  9. Mari - that's the WORST!!!!!!!!! I agree....

    and I love your name. Is it short for something? The heroine in my latest release is Mari, and it's short for Mariella.

  10. Donna, that's really interesting that you don't dream your new stories now, and that you start dreaming strange things when you're not writing! Maybe writing is a way to keep the weirdness at bay (G). I've never thought of that connection between unusual dreams and whether I'm using my creative 'muscles'. I'll have to pay more attention.

  11. Oh Mari, I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes I wonder how that works. It's almost as if I've somehow known exactly when the alarm was going off and built a dream just the right length so that the alarm comes at the wrong time. So annoying!

    Donna, Mariella/Mari is such a pretty name for your heroine.

  12. I love the 3rd picture! Been there, done that! It looks like a better position than the several I've found myself waking up in at the desk lol!

  13. Hi Lacey! I had fun looking for pictures. Isn't it awful when your desk or computer keyboard looks as comfy as a down pillow?