As you might imagine, my life has been a bit busy for the past two weeks. I’ve been moving to my new apartment slowly but steadily, so that I could sleep there for the first time on Friday. Everything went according to plan, but whenever I have a lot going on – planning, moving, cleaning, etc. – I have a hard time going right to sleep when I get in bed.
I’ve talked before about my (somewhat obsessive) love of planning. This does make my life extremely organized, in general, but also keeps the gears of my mind moving long after I want them to stop. During hectic times, I often lie in bed for a half hour, convincing my brain it’s time to close up shop for the night. This has been the pattern for me for almost as long as I remember. If nothing in particular is happening, I fall asleep in a minute or five, but not so much if life is busy.
To help myself fall asleep when I was a child, I used to tell myself stories.
Often I’d lie in bed and tell myself my own versions of fairy tales. Later, as I read more books, I’d make up the after-story for books I’d particularly loved. Sometimes I’d work on the same story for several nights; sometimes I’d make up a new one every night. Thinking back, I realized that even at the age of seven or thirteen, I had the penchant for writing.
Anyway, the reason I mention this is, infallibly, the night-time story-telling in my head would send me to sleep in half the time it might have otherwise taken if I’d just let my mind wander unchecked. Perhaps because my father frequently read to us at bed-time, I am inclined to be soothed to sleep by stories.
Even as an adult writer, I’ve found this technique both sleep-inducing and constructive.
For example, I’ve not really had time to write for the past month or so, what with the apartment hunt, Easter and the move. I’ve kept up with the blog, but I decided it would be wiser to let the writing rest instead of forcing it out while my mind is occupied with other things. However, last week I slept at my parents on an ancient spare mattress. My bed was already at the new apartment, so I had to make do while I was getting everything else settled for starting residence.
The bed was hard; my mind wouldn’t shut down. Finally, after a half hour of strategizing about curtains and kitchen necessities and a china cabinet I needed to purchase, I despaired. Obviously my mind was not going to let me go to sleep easily. So I fell back on my childhood solution. I’m working on editing a collection of short stories right now, and one of them I decided needed to be rewritten entirely. It is the oldest of the bunch and it just doesn’t have the same impact and polish that the more recent stories have. That being said, I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about reviving it in my mind, so that I’d find the inspiration to write it again.
So I lay in bed with my eyes closed and pictured the scenes as I wanted them.
A few minutes later, I was composing the opening paragraph in my mind. A few minutes after that, I was sound asleep. I jotted down the sentences I’d memorized the next morning, and now my story has a new beginning. Moreover, I was rested at work. It was a win-win situation, and the best part was that I got to make progress on my writing without having to carve a chunk out of a schedule already very busy with work and moving.
I often compose difficult sections of my stories in odd places: the shower and church are both good candidates. I work on poetry in my head while I drive. Now I’ve added lying prone on my bed in the dark, under the covers, as one of my ideal environments for good story-telling (pretty weird, I know).
The thing that struck me most, though, was that I simply stumbled back on a pattern which had worked perfectly for me as a child. One doesn’t tend to think that children really have a sense of who they are and what they want to be – or if they do, it changes every year (sometimes every week). Granted, when I was seven, I didn’t consciously want to be a writer, but nonetheless every night I lay in bed and told myself stories. Twenty years later I am still doing the same thing. In reality it seems that one’s path in life begins opening up very early on.
Anyway, I’ve been employing my rediscovered method all week, and I’ve got quite a bit of the first page of my re-envisioned story planned out in my head. I plan to transcribe it this afternoon. Then I can actually go back to normal, day-light hours story crafting, since the move is done and I’ll have a lot of time to work on writing in the evenings. In the meantime, though, I’d love to know if you have any tricks for getting to sleep, especially if they reflect somehow on your creative life.