When people ask me if I have a writing partner, I say yes. And its name is sleep. They laugh even though I’m very serious.
When writing books, you must plant seeds early in the story that won’t take root until much later. Like a thoroughly knotted necklace chain, these seeds and how they come to life can be incredibly gnarly problems to untangle. Some seem completely impossible.
Whenever I hit a snag, I try to write my way through it or I make lists of solutions. Most of the time neither of these two actions work.
Then I’ll try research. That doesn’t usually provide a solution to my plot challenge at-hand either though it often leads me to interesting discoveries that I use elsewhere in the book.
You know what really helps? Going to sleep and not thinking about the problem. I go to sleep imagining myself in one of three scenarios: diving off a cliff in the Grand Canyon and flying instead of falling, swimming up to a whale in the deep sea (for years this whale has shown up in my dreams whenever I’m feeling particularly in need of comfort), or scuba diving through a kelp forest meeting all kinds of friendly sea creatures.
This happened to me last night (and it was the kelp forest for the win!) I’ve had a looming problem in my second Emerson Page book that I just couldn’t solve. It’s actually THE looming problem: the explanation of the key action that drives Emerson’s entire journey in the second book which leads to the basis for the third, and final, book in the series. It’s been a frustrating problem to solve because none of the resolutions I wrote felt right nor good enough because honestly, they were all terrible.
I woke up much too early this morning. Looking at the ceiling, there was the answer seated comfortably in my mind as if it had been there the whole time just waiting for me to see it. It was so much simpler than I realized. I wrote it down in three short paragraphs in the early light of morning just now.
The relief I feel this morning is immense, like dropping a heavy weight that’s been on my shoulders for years. It’s like solving a terrible problem in a relationship that’s prevented the relationship from moving forward. Finally lifted when I least expected it, I can just get back to the joy of living in this world I made and writing my way through it.
Good news for those of us who read before I bed: it’s one of the most relaxing activities we can put into our bedtime ritual. Research shows that reading, even for as little as 6 minutes!, can reduce stress by as much as 68%. However, before bed, keep it light—no horror, excessive violence, or grief, and no self-help that requires intense introspection. The emotions stirred up by those genres can disrupt sleep and increase stress.
Happy bedtime reading, friends! Say yes to a good book.
“The miracle is that we are here, that no matter how undone we’ve been the night before, we wake up every morning and are still here. It is phenomenal just to be.” ~Anne Lamott, Stitches
Have you ever noticed the perspective that comes with sleep? We can feel agitated, angry, anxious, and upset, and the next morning we have the chance to try again. Getting back up after being knocked down isn’t easy. It doesn’t always feel good. There are times that we wonder why we even continue to try. And I’ve found that there is something powerful and empowering in the act of rising, head up, eyes ahead. I literally narrow my eyes, drop the tone of my voice, take a deep breath, and will myself to speak up and take action.
The chance to try again, every day, is a gift. And it is ours to use.