Recently, someone asked me for a biography, and as usual, I sent them my short, 3 paragraph generic blurb. Basically, it says where I live, a little about me personally, and a short statement about what I do. As it turned out, it was too long, and that person edited it for me. When I read it, I was a bit surprised; the words were all mine, but condensing it to the bare bones gave me an odd perspective of myself.
What stood out most was the idea that I’m a full-time writer. Oddly enough, it’s true. While I don’t make my primary living from writing, I do have the freedom to devote most of my day to being an author, if that’s what I choose to do. I’m a caregiver to my disabled niece, and I get paid a stipend for being with her full time. During the hours that she’s awake and keeping herself busy, I generally read, take care of my email, and sometimes edit. These are all things that I can do while watching over her. When she’s sleeping or at school, I compose.
I don’t have a rigid schedule like many writers that I know. When the mood strikes, I work. Considering that I have insomnia a good deal of the time, a lot gets done after midnight. I remember a few years back when I was working an office job; those sleepless nights were simply torture. Lying awake, I’d stress over trying to go to sleep. During the day, I’d fight the need to nap in the afternoons. It felt as though I was in a constant battle to control my mind and my body. Giving up my day job was a huge sacrifice, not only monetarily, but socially. I fell out of touch with friends, and in many ways I felt like a failure. But the bottom line is that it was simply impossible to balance my career with the needs of my niece, and also with my mother’s failing health. But like all things in life, there were benefits to the choice that I made.
Last week, I woke just before the sun came up, after perhaps three hours of sleep. Instead of feeling distressed, I allowed my mind to follow the train of thought that brought me awake. It related to a book that I’ve slowly been writing. It’s not been coming easy, and the insight that I drew from that sleepless hour gave me some understanding of a character that I thought I knew well. Once I had a good idea of what I wanted to do, I took notes and then rolled over and went back to sleep. I didn’t fight it as I usually do. Instead, allowing the process to occur naturally seemed to help me back into a restful sleep.
Creativity is such an odd beast. I try to stay disciplined; after all, the muse might just go on walkabout right before a deadline. Having discipline gets us through those times when inspiration isn’t there. Yet I’m sure that many of us draw ideas from odd places and at odd times. The human brain simply never stops, even when we sleep. Sometimes I wonder if that’s one of the causes of writer’s block and creative dry spells. Our minds simply become overwhelmed, and we put up a wall to hold it all back.
Next time you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, give yourself time to listen. Try to hear what your environment is telling you…is the wind blowing? Is everything hushed with the silence of a snow fall? Do you smell the dampness of rain or the perfume of the soap you showered with? Stimuli works its way into our subconscious, invading our thoughts and dreams. Scented lotions or candles near your bed (Not lit!) will affect your mood as you sleep. The sound of water or white noise can be calming to some, distraction to others.
Take a pen and paper to bed with you. If an idea or an image comes to you in a dream, it will be fleeting. Write it down and capture it. Perhaps later it will make no sense, but on the other hand, it might be the answer to a problem that’s been vexing you. If you find yourself unable to sleep, give yourself over to it. See what your brain is trying to say. It might be nothing, or you might find yourself chasing down something wonderful.