The Elves Inside My Sleeping Brain

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday morning, the cat woke me up for the second time. (I had already sleepwalked through the 4:30 a.m. feeding.) Full blown in my mind, from a dream I was having, were a couple of scenes from a Christmas story I’ve been thinking about writing for the past few years.

I popped out of bed, tripped over the cat, avoided the dog, bounced off a few walls, and pushed the hair out of my eyes before I finally put my hands on pen and paper. (Somehow I had totally forgotten the notebook and pens I keep in the table next to my bed for just this purpose.)

I spent the next hour writing out five pages of notes and ideas for a story I wasn’t even working on.

“Hey, I do that, too!” a whole bunch of you are saying.

I was at a writing conference this summer, and one of the sessions discussed how to tap into this exact thing. It was nice to know there was scientific stuff to back up what I thought was a pretty crazy process.

When we sleep, our unconscious is busy trying to tidy up our minds. Often, solutions manifest themselves as dreams. It is possible to consciously tap into this creative process, but we have to be careful not to push too hard.

I know that, when I think too hard about something – something I’m writing or a problem I’m having in life – my subconscious either ignores me or produces nightmares. (How many of us have been victim of the dreaded “walk naked and unprepared into a test” dream?)

I have to place the idea into the middle of my mind table and saunter away so the elves in my brain can creep out to work on it. Sometimes I wake up to a beautiful creation. Sometimes, not so much. (Those brain elves can be a fickle crew.) The trick is to make sure you catch it all before it fades away.

“That’s great if you write fiction,” you may be thinking, “but what about non-fiction writing?”

The good news is that it works for any kind of writing! I confess that I have used it to write some of my blog posts. I go to bed thinking about my subject but not having a clue how to write about it. Presto, chango! When I awake, I may just have a great blog all written out in my mind. (Okay, “great” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but that is how it feels.)

Look, writing is hard enough. Why not tap into that wonderful, multitasking, creative machine inside our skulls for some help? Put those lazy little brain elves to work for you. Just don’t forget about the writing supplies next to the bed.