To Sleep, Perchcance to Create

By day I am a high school teacher, filling young minds with Algebra, Geometry, and—this year—Psychology.  After school hours I am a writer, pouring the inner workings of my mind into notebooks and Word documents.  I have always taken great pains to keep those two sides of me very separate.  I know of too many teachers who have been sanctioned or even fired for things they’ve posted online, activities they take part in on their own time.  I’ve also read too many books that get self-righteous and preachy, as though the author (or narrator) knows more than the reader could ever hope to.

But this week, my two worlds collided.

In a pretty cool way.

My Psychology class just finished up a chapter on the brain, and we’re heading into one on consciousness.  So I was sitting at my desk the other day with my lesson plan book on one side of me and the textbook on the other, when I ran across a very interesting factoid.

It seems that many scientists believe a person is most creative during the Twilight phase of sleep.  No vampires or werewolves here, merely the relaxing period of time just before you drift off.  It turns out that this is a wonderful time for problem solving, for understanding situations in an unusual way, for seeing things just a little differently than you did before.

Of course!

How many times had I had a brilliant idea (for a lesson, a chapter in my WIP, a way to deal with my family) just before I faded into Dreamland?  Ah, but how often had I forgotten my inspired solution by the next morning?

These scientists believe that, if you practice, you can actually train your brain to recall your ideas from the night before.  You basically just concentrate on your thoughts as you’re falling asleep.  The more times you try this, and the more serious you are about it, the better you’ll remember your Twilight creativity.  The other option is to keep paper and pen beside your bed so you can jot things down before you slide into sleep.  When you wake the next morning, you have a written record of your genius (or what passes for genius when you’re literally half asleep).

I’ve been having issues with a balky character who refuses to participate in his own romance, and I’ve been wandering around Twilight land with him for several days now.  Tonight, though, I am going to re-read the old WIP then head to bed early.  Perhaps if I’m a very good little author, his lordship will come ’round and explain himself.  And if I’m a very, very good little teacher, I’ll be able to remember his revelations come morning and explain to my students how I did it.  🙂


6 thoughts on “To Sleep, Perchcance to Create

  1. Cora,

    I’ve used this technique and it works until my brain gets more engaged in the story than in sleeping. Kelly Stone has a book on how to do this, Thinking Write. Another place I have brainstorms is in the car on the way to work. The music is going and I’m in line creeping to work. The mind wanders. I should be thinking about work though, right?


    • Thanks for the book title, Amy! I may be able to use it personally, and I think it might work in class, too. I used to brainstorm in the car, too–stuck in Miami traffic there wasn’t much else to do. Now I mostly do it when I’m walking the dog or doing the dishes 🙂

    • My muse seems to like two-a-days! Though it’s the lesson-planning muse that’s active in the morning, and the chapter-planning muse that comes out later in the day 🙂

  2. I always love hearing how people deal with this and it’s especially interesting to me to see that you split your days (or at least your Muse likes the two-part day) for different things. I have found that works for me as well. In the afternoons I’m better at free-form anything goes writing. But my wake-up Muse is the planning time where I plot and schedule the best. If I have something already plotted, evening seems to work best for deeper emotions. Thanks so much for this article!

    • I’ve been a split-day person since I started teaching. There are just too many ways things can go bad if I’m evening thinking about writing during the school day, so I compartmentalized. I never write at school, even after my students are gone for the day…and now I don’t think I even could! I’m so used to writing at home, or “outlining” in the car now 🙂

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