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 http://www.annie-west.com