Monday, September 29, 2008

Let Me Sleep on It

Now here's an idea other writers may find appealing. Struggling to come up with the key idea that moves the story? Sleep on it.

This is not exactly a new idea. And in some ways it should seem obvious. Get some sleep and you'll look at a problem with a clearer perspective.

But it can be difficult, sometimes, to accept such wisdom — especially when a deadline is looming or you know that you've procrastinated enough already to deserve to sleep. (Actually, procrastinating writers probably should not spend another hour in the schnazzy looking nap-pod. They'll never get out.) I'm yawning; it's 10:30. I should probably go to bed now. Or at least let my mind shut down for a while and tackle such difficult tasks as cleaning the litter box or take the garbage out for tomorrow's pick up. ... ok, did the garbage.

I was a little surprised the article, which includes a description of famous dream-inspired discoveries, didn't include Friedrich August KekulĂ©'s dream of a snake that was biting its own tail — which led him to envision the ring-structure of benzene. Of course, that tale could be so oft used already as to seem unnecessary to repeat. But I enjoyed reading about Elias Howe's dream; that was new to me.

Inspiration comes from anywhere and happens all the time. A fresh mind can make the connections between seemingly disparate concepts. This is how innovation works.

Anyway, my point is writing is a supremely cerebral activity, regardless of how important it is to simply keep doing it in order to accomplish anything. And even if you keep writing, as Anne Lamott called them, "Shitty first drafts." So if you're struggling with a character or a scene, you can do a few things: keep writing, sleep on it and see what you come up with later, or write something else and let your subconscious mind work out the problems on its own. It'll tell you the answer eventually. You just need to be ready for it.

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