Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lousy Sleeps Aren't All Bad for Writers

A few years back, about twelve of us from the mid-morning writers’ group had gathered together when one of us began yawning. She’d had insomnia the night before, which wasn’t uncommon for her. Another writer said that she hadn’t slept well either, as did another. I’ve always been a light sleeper accustomed to interrupted sleep, so I asked the group how many of them also had sleeping difficulties. Just about everyone raised their hand. Now admittedly, no one in that particular class was under forty and more than half of us were well beyond that, but I found it interesting that, despite chronic sleep problems, all of were still writing regularly.

This week, I came across a blog by a writer named Claire Simpson, who wrote about creativity and insomnia. Claire has had insomnia issues off and on since childhood. She maintains that after three hours of sleep, she often feels good enough to write, pointing out that insomnia is not the same as a restless night’s sleep.

Claire writes that studies have shown that sleep deprivation can actually help with creativity. Apparently it’s to do with the way our brains are wired. A poor night’s sleep might not be good for analytical thinking, but it can be good for letting ideas come forward. It’s a left brain-right brain thing. Sleepiness lets the right brain bring random, outside-the-box thoughts forward, which often connect with other ideas.

This was exciting to read because I’ve experienced this for years, but didn’t realize how common it was in others. After a really bad night, I stay away from heavy editing as I can’t concentrate long enough to make much progress; however, if I let my mind wander and do something mundane like washing dishes, ideas start jumping forth and connecting with current WIPs. For this reason, I don’t really stress anymore after a bad night’s sleep. After thirty years of writing, I can pretty well tell what kind of a writing day I’m going to have based on the previous night’s sleep.

This blog is a classic example. I often do my reading and come up with ideas for the next entry on Saturday evening, after a day of errands, chores, and editing. The ideas gel, I make a few notes, and start to write the opening paragraph. But on Sunday mornings, the analytical part of my brain kicks in and the words flow quickly in the order I want them to, most of the time.

Incidentally, all you chronic insomniacs should take heart. As Claire points out, Charles Dickens, Marcel Proust, Mark Twain, and Frank Kafka, along with many other famous writers, were also insomniacs.

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