Thursday, July 25, 2013

Writing in My Sleep

The other morning, just after 4 a.m., my cat woke me up as she does every morning. She stood at my side of the bed, pacing back and forth and crying, waiting for me to get up and throw her out of the house. I cannot ignore her meows. Cleaning up a mess in the other room is quite a nasty job. So each morning I crawl out of bed, make my way down the stairs, and let her out into the last hours of darkness before the dawn.

Getting back into bed for what I hoped would be another cycle of much needed sleep before the start of the workday, my mind woke up. Visualizing. What I was seeing, in crystal clear clarity, was the next chapter of my work in progress. Dialogue, movement, setting - everything came into place.

I ran downstairs to jot down my notes. I couldn't afford to lose this important epiphany! My next novel was coming together, while I was sleeping!

An hour later I was sitting in the coffeehouse I visit each day before reporting to the office. I typed away furiously on my laptop, the notes I had taken bringing back the scene with all its details, exactly as I had pictured it in my mind while still in bed. The chapter basically wrote itself. I was pleased with the result.

Creativity has a way of hitting me when I least expect it. While taking my morning exercise walk, a luxury I only find time to do on the weekends, ideas pop into my mind. Descriptions of characters. Things they say to each. Things they are thinking. What they are wearing. More and more of my upcoming work of fiction is becoming real to me.

Sometimes I come up with ideas as I am driving. Other times plot lines appear while I am sitting at dinner, or when watching television. I never know when a writing idea will arrive in my head, eagerly waiting for me to put it to paper.

I go to sleep at night, not knowing where the next day's spur-of-the-moment inspiration will take me. Maybe I should thank my cat for waking me up each morning at an hour when my mind is at its creative peak.

The idea for this article, by the way, came to me while I was sleeping.

When do you get the best ideas for your writing? Comment and let me know!

Related articles: 

Daydreaming Is Part of a Writer's Job


  1. Hi :) I find this article very interesting because just last night (or early morning) I had a dream where a singer I like was singing a song I've never heard before. I was so surprised and woke up immediately, got up and found a piece of paper to write down the lyrics (though a couple of lines) before I forget them.

    I am not a writer in the meaning of an experienced professional writer, but several moths ago I decided to give a chance to any interest of mine which I really enjoy, so in the future I won't regret that I didn't let my talents create beautiful things. This is how I came up with the idea to try writing lyrics. At the beginning I had difficulty in finding inspiration easy but it was only because I had some negative thoughts and distractions at that time of the year. Since I eliminated anything harmful to my inner peace I find inspiration very often and ideas come easier than ever.

    Sometimes lyrics come to me while I'm cooking or do the dishes (I enjoy singing while cooking), this is when I free myself, sing louder and let my mind do the rest. Sometimes I just play with rhymes in order to give a start to my thoughts and it works. Other times ideas strike when least expected, for example I wrote a complete song after watching an exciting stage of Tour de France on tv :) I know it sounds strange but sometimes strong impressions and emotions give me ideas, other times I don't even expect anything but words come while practicing yoga, watching tv, walking to the store and my favourite is when I dream my lyrics while sleeping, that's why I always keep a notebook and a pen close to my bed :)

    Whenever writing ideas come they are invited :) I suppose they come easier and often when we find peace in life, feel happy and grateful and enjoy life at all ;)

    Hope you have many more exciting and unexpected writing ideas!


  2. I do the same while I'm writing a story. And my cat likes to wake me up at dawn too. Maybe he knows...
    Sometimes there so much people talking constantly in my head that I need to go to my Zumba class to fast evacuate.

  3. Many of my ideas come as I'm driving. Sometimes, I repeat a few sentences over and over to myself to memorize them, so I can write them down later. I wonder what other drivers think of me, animatedly talking to myself?

    If I can safely turn it on, I use the voice recorder on my smart phone, but I also have a dedicated voice recorder that I use when I'm making a speech. I've used both on walks to talk through problems I'm having with scenes. The only time I can transcribe my thoughts from the recordings and use them are when I'm working on dialogue.

    I prefer audio recordings over writing notes, because I can't write fast enough on paper. I need the speed of speech or of my fingers on the keyboard.

  4. I agree with the driving thing, Deb. I got my idea for my novel while in traffic on the way home from teaching. One class of students and I were planning a trip to a museum, and I was teaching a novel on the Salem Witch Trials in another class. The novel is kind of a mash-up of what I talked about that day. :)

    In addition, I get many ideas, especially for lines of poetry or broad metaphors, while walking in nature. I actually recently wrote about that process in my first blog entry if anyone feels like checking it out.

    Thanks for the question, it was fun to think about it.

  5. I've gotten ideas for my writing while sleeping, too, but usually when my mind is slowing down just as I am trying to get to sleep, which is so annoying. That's when I reach for pen and paper just to get the ideas down.

  6. My cat just stares at me until I wake up. Lol!
    I get a lot of ideas while I'm doing random stuff, like watching TV, driving, playing a computer game, and just before I go to bed. I keep a pad and pen by my bed...actually, everywhere I go. And if I'm driving, I'll write it down at a red light or record a memo to myself on my phone. Gotta have multiple avenues. I never know when a problem might be working itself out in my head. ^_^

  7. I both love it and hate it when this happens to me! I remember my dreams most nights and can often apply them to my WIP. Gotta love the complexities of our subconscious.

  8. In the car. In the shower. At work. Everywhere that isn't pen friendly :-\

  9. I recently published a novel and the inspiration for the plot came from a dream. I seldom remember my dreams in the morning (I wake up in the night and vow I am going to remember the dream, but in the morning, I only remember that I had a dream!) However, this dream (a terrorist attack in London) stayed with me for days until I was compelled to write it down. From those brief notes, I eventually wrote the first half of my book. I like to day dream and often use driving to focus on working through an episode or a situation in my writing.
    Enjoyed your blog!

    1. Katherine: Try reminding yourself (out loud) as you close your eyes to go to sleep that you WILL REMEMBER your dreams. Say it every single night. When you wake up in the morning don't move a muscle, or open your eyes. until you ask yourself"What did I dream last night?". Then, try and recall a few major dream symbols, so that when you actually rise you will be able to remember important things. Good luck!

  10. For me. It's when I'm running or biking and it can't be on a treadmill either. It has to be outside. I guess I'm many to exercise and write. I actually think it's the rythmn that gets the poetry flowing in my brain.

  11. Hi, Ellis. I haven't tried any Israeli wine yet, (Twitter exchange) but here's my thoughts on your post. I like your point about inspiration for new plots coming when you least expect it. It's like looking for a mate. You'll never find Mr/Mrs Right if you go out hunting, but . . . you know the rest.
    I'm always people- watching for character ideas. Earlier this year I was in a departure lounge waiting for a flight to the UK to visit family. There were two people on my flight I couldn't peel my eyes away from. I wrote a short story outline in my notebook and polished it later. I sold that story to Woman's Weekly (UK). It comes out in their next fiction special November 2013. Plus, I sold a feature about the inspirational journey to a county magazine, linking the flight/characters/writer returning home etc.
    The point about sleep is interesting. I don't sleep well when I'm in the middle of ironing out plot problems. Writing issues wake me up about every two hours or so. The other night I woke thinking I'd made a huge mistake about how old a character would have been by the end of the novel. I was in a panic. The whole book would have been nonsense. My subconscious had got it wrong. There was no mistake about that character. BUT, there WAS a mistake with another, minor character. So, I guess my subconscious had found a way to make me take notice. I suppose the message there must be trust your instincts.
    Getting out and about frees my thinking, so I like to walk through the vineyards around my home. And I like a previous comment re: singing. Singing unblocks something inside.It's cathartic. I sing with a choir. You have to put your heart and soul into it and give it everything you've got. Afterwards, you feel satisfied. You're free to move on to something else.
    Thanks for the post, Ellis. I look forward to visiting your blog again.
    Celia Micklefield

  12. I think inspiration for writing always comes at unexpected times. I think it's because a) the mind needs to ruminate on things sometimes and b) answers come when we are in a relaxed state, i.e. when we are sleeping, exercising, showering, etc. Recently I've begun to have dreams about what I should write about. Sometimes when I wake up these thoughts seem so profound, and other times they seem, well, like really bad ideas! :) Always interesting to see how the mind works.

  13. My best ideas come after a walk. If I am having trouble writing, I take a walk. Taking a walk seems to unclog whatever stagnates the flow.

  14. Hi, Wow! That's great to see I'm not alone in getting ideas while sleeping or dreaming. Sometimes I'm too scared to say out loud how a story or some ideas came to me because I'm afraid of other peoples' reaction or negativity. But this article has inspired me and I do keep a note pad and pens on the bedside table for the times I wake up with ideas. Thanks from Tiia

  15. I dream write. I see whole scenes or sometimes just a turn or action that inspires the rest as I am writing. About seven years ago I dream a whole novel literally. It took me about three weeks to write it all, but then it has been sitting waiting for me to edit it and publish it. Unfortunately it is number five in the series I am working on publishing now. I've only published the first installment, but that is better than it was six months ago.

  16. My best ideas strike just as I'm falling asleep. I keep a notebook beside my bed so I don't go crazy trying to memorize all the good ideas!

  17. If you turned the cat into a dog, I might have written that blog myself. I am always amazed at how much creativity can occur during a dream state. I wonder if you also 'lucid dream'?

  18. I find my best work comes when I am asleep. I will either be drifting off to sleep, or in a deep rooted sleep dreaming about plot, scene, storyline, dialog, doesn't matter. Ding, ding, ding, idea popped into to my head and I must wake up! I by must I mean, I must get up and write like crazy so I don't forget. Occasionally, my ideas come to me as I am waking, but this occurs less often. I find it very intriguing how the mind works. I also have learned, either I listen to the call to arise when the thoughts are there, as I will remember in the morning fails me every time. I would say, roughly half of my writing for The House of Thoth came from my either my dreams or while I was asleep. I was constantly writing in the middle of the night. Made for a horrible day at work, but I sure was able to capitalize on some great ideas. Great post Ellis!

  19. Thanks for posting at my site! I love how ideas hit at random moments. You are far nicer to your cat for an early-morning wakeup than I am with mine :)

  20. Oh, this is the third time I'm entering this comment as they keep disappearing~

    I get my best inspiration when the rest of the world is nodding off to sleep (on my side of the world that is). At bed time I'm wide awake and the ideas start coming. OR weekends. I work full time and it takes some time to chill out first. I like it quiet.

  21. Some of the best things I've put down on paper have come from dreams. The more often I write them down, the quicker and more vivid they come back to me. Dreamy inspiration! :)

  22. Just before I fall asleep is often when they come. Your description is very familiar to me. I too will often have a scene thought out before I actually sit and write. I'm thinking all the time. While I'm driving, cooking, cleaning. Oh, I just realized have a hard time not thinking about what I'm going to write next. I'll call that a good thing.

  23. Great post! Glad to see we've all got characters and stories that pop up the the most unexpected times. For me, when I'm doing the dishes is the time they crawl out. The challenge is drying my hands fast enough to reach for pen and paper and draft our as much as I can. I've had some of the best stories come through my sleep too and I try desperately to stay as still as possible and slowly open my eyes to keep it there until I can - again, slowly - reach for my pen. If I move too fast, they're gone. I hate when that happens.

  24. Ideas often wake me up in the middle of the night. I keep a notebook next to the bed now for fear of losing them!