Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Writer Insomnia - It's a Real Thing

Writer insomnia. If you’re a writer, you’re probably familiar with it. Personally I find it easy to fall asleep, but hard to stay asleep. I often wake up in the middle of the night with my mind whirring with story ideas or lists of writing-related tasks. I’m tired but wide awake. Ack. Talk about aggravating.

I used to blame lack of exercise, which makes sense, somewhat. Writing is only a notch above watching television as far as energy expended. But I’ve noticed that other sedentary people sleep just fine. Not only that, but when I do have active days, I still have sleep interruptions. 

Another writer I know has a theory about this. Writers, he said, spend so much time in the equivalent of a dream state that our bodies think we've already slept a good many hours. So then, when we do sleep, it seems excessive. His idea sounds logical to me. Sometimes after a particularly fruitful writing session, I do feel like I've awoken from a dream.

Some time ago, a story idea came to me during one of my middle-of-the-night sessions. I saw it clearly in my mind. There was a guy, a teenager, who couldn’t sleep, so he began to go out walking after his parents had turned in for the night.

The story started out like this: I couldn’t believe it was happening again. Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sleep. It was a Monday night; school started the next day at 7:20 a.m., and I was exhausted, but my body didn’t care. I shifted in bed and punched my pillow into different shapes, like that would help, even though it never did before.

I knew he would witness something amazing during one of his nighttime walks, and he did, but even I was surprised at how the plot unfolded. Turned out my main character, Russ Becker, saw a strange astronomical event and then later found out that he had superpowers. The book I eventually wrote is titled Edgewood and it is now book one in a three-book series. The books were big fun to write and I’m happy to say they’re getting great reviews.

So I can thank writer insomnia for the inspiration, and my subconscious for putting it into story form. Now when I wake up in the middle of the night, I don’t fight it. I just get up and make lists, read, or get some writing done.  Because you never know when the ideas keeping you awake might just turn into something more.


Amber Dane said...

Good post, Karen. I keep a 200 pg memo pad and pen next to me in bed,lol. What I would not give for a full night's sleep, but I also love and don't want to give up the ideas that come during that time. I sometimes write w/one eye open, surprised I can read it, but it's part of being a writer I guess.

Karen McQuestion said...

Thanks for leaving a comment, Amber. When I found out this was a common thing, I was happy to hear I wasn't the only one. As you said, it's just part of being a writer. :)

findingtimetowrite said...

So glad to hear it's a common thing. I used to fight it and toss and turn half the night. With the result that I was exhausted the next day.
Now I just go off to the guest room and write mad poetry or read until I'm ready to fall asleep again.

Karen McQuestion said...

Hi findingtimetowrite (love your moniker, BTW!),

I think your strategy of using the time to write or read is a sound one. I used to fight it which was counter productive. Might as well get up and get something done!

Kayla Evan said...

That is so interesting. A writer's insomnia and the idea that they stay in dream state when writing so it confuses their mind and body when they are actually sleeping is very interesting. I've never thought of it that way. Hopefully, we can dig deeper on this because it seems such a profound topic. I would actually give my time and effort on this theory as well. Do keep us posted please! I would love to hear more. :)

Kayla Evan

Karen McQuestion said...

Thanks, Kayla! If I hear more on the subject, I'll definitely follow up.