Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Stories in the Night


I don’t know about you, but my best time to come up with story ideas is between 2 and 5 am.

I’ve often woken up in the middle of the night and, after a quick pee, realized I’d figured out an entire storyline while I was sleeping. I used to tell myself I’d remember it when I woke up, so I’d lay back down and fall back to sleep.

Somehow, I always forgot.

For awhile, I’d lay awake long enough to work out more details, try a few mnemonic devices. Then I’d go back to sleep. And immediately forget everything.

Eventually, I got smarter. I put a notepad and pen in my nightstand drawer and, as soon as the ideas came to me, I’d scribble away in the dark. I’m sure my husband dreamed we had mice in the house, with all my scritch-scritch-scritching. A lot of times what I write is illegible to even me, but there are always enough clues for me to piece together what I was thinking and turn it into something worth writing.

All this nocturnal creativity begs the question: why? This writing in the night is so inconvenient. I’ve woken up too many mornings after a particularly productive night of brainstorming with a splitting headache and bleary eyes, feeling completely unfit to do anything other than crawl back in bed. Parenting? Forget it! I long for the days of my office job, where I could sit in my cubicle and stare at my monitor, occasionally pecking out words of wisdom like Press ENTER to add the record.

I believe therein lies the answer: my days are so busy that those silent hours between 2 and 5 am are the only times quiet enough for my imagination to fly free.

I woke up last night with a solution to a writing problem. I’ve been working on something for an upcoming contest. Yesterday, I came up with a character and a setting, but I had no hint of a storyline, even after scratching out a scene. I’d tried to think my way through the story, during my walk with Julia, while cooking supper, between commercials during Dancing With the Stars. Zip. But in the middle of the night, I remembered something I’d written the day before, a line of dialogue offered tongue in cheek: All God’s creatures just want to be free.


At 3:30 this morning, it suddenly came to me. The idea of being free was the key to my story. Now I need to figure out how to show that through scenes, but that’s cakewalk once I have the key. I drifted back to sleep, pleased and content. Problem solved by my nighttime muse.

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