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Nap Your Novel Into Existence

by Jennifer on July 1, 2010

By Ryan Lind

All the conditions were perfect for writing: it was Saturday, my wife and children were swimming, leaving the house quiet, and my real work was mostly done. The Excuse List was empty, yet I sat staring instead of typing.

Technically it was coffee that saved the day.  I made an afternoon pot.  The coffee made me use the restroom, which is where I discovered the culprit behind my anxiety.

I looked into the bathroom mirror to curse my existence and to make obscene gestures at the reflection.  During one of these uncouth mannerisms I took good, hard look at my face.

I was a mug shot, a three day bender en route, except that I had only been drinking coffee.  The whites of my eyes were highlighter-pink, underneath my eyes were some sort of mushroom-y growth.

Fatigue is a sneaky bandit.

I should have caught myself; but productivity lends itself to invincibility. Conquering some of the demons of procrastination leads one to don the cape and belt of a literary super hero.

I peeled off my Saturday Camus uniformnand spread out on my bed.  I read Cold Mountain for about 47 seconds before the need for rest won its victory.

You could slog out a thousand mediocre words before naptime.  But if you rest first, there is the possibility that you might resurrect into
brilliance.

My first 33 years were mostly spent warding off sleep in order to make something of myself.  The last two I have spent sleeping and doing work that sometimes reads like that of a professional.

Even people with real jobs (the ones you dreamed of working before you sold your soul to be a writer) are taking naps.

A 30 minute nap is all it takes.  Often 20 will do, especially, I’ve found if you can get your feet above your heart.

Set your alarm for writing time.
If you have 90 perfectly-conditioned minutes to write, I do not think it is a waste of time to spend 20 to 30 of those minutes clearing your headspace with a nap.

Some days you just have that funky cloud following you.  A short snooze is a graceful way of calling: “Do-over!”

Take a book to naptime.
Sometimes I still struggle with sleep-guilt.

Reading is part of the job of a writer.  Falling asleep while reading means that you could not have possibly worked any harder; that’s what I tell myself anyway. If it is a lie; then it is a productive lie.

I usually choose something literary and heavy, even overwritten, because my goal is to fall fast asleep.  It might take me a month to knock out Cold Mountain.  OK, a year.

Don’t take something from your light summer reading list.  No James Frey. The short sentences lead you to stay awake.

Read Melville or Thoreau.  No Updike, don’t risk waking any of your latent senses, if you catch my drift.

Don’t forget your notebook.
If you’re a new writer, you probably still call it a journal.  Relax, it will become your goddamn notebook in a few months, once writing becomes a discipline.

You’ll have a killer thought right before you close your eyes. Write that down.  No, you will not remember it in 30 minutes.  Then allow that thought to simmer in your dreamscape.  Don’t worry, you wrote it down!

Right after your alarm sounds, and I do mean right after, you’re likely to have one more powerful thought.

Your pre-sleep idea and your post-sleep idea will leave you with two items to compose; more than you can possibly cover in one writing session.  Tomorrow you may not need a nap.

Clearly, you are now prepared for the next time your tailbone begs to be numbed by all of your upright work.

Nap your way to your next bit of dialogue, the next scene, that twist of plot that your short story’s heroine needs to survive.

Over the last month I have even tried this sleep method for writing projects as mundane as copywriting.  Guess what?  It works for copy too.

If you set your alarm the coffee will still be hot when you wake up.

About the Author: Ryan Lind is a pretend writer.  He ghost-writes most of the blogs you like and read (not really).  He is currently a house-husband, father of three and a freelancer but has been other things in former lives.  He blogs for human readers, not SEO, at http://reamofpaper.com, where he writes about writing.  His blog often includes actual writing!  By August 2010, he will be hosting his latest venture, a podcast: http://fiveminutefiction.com, bringing internet exposure to emerging novelists and short-story writers.  If you are writer consider dropping him a submission.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Missives From Suburbia July 7, 2010 at 7:35 pm

I’ve also found that putting someone else down for a nap (like my eighteen-month-old) and the sheer boredom that follows is a ripe land for creativity.

2 Stormy July 7, 2010 at 8:00 pm

This is hilarious and so true! The alarm is the key (and the coffee 😉 )!

3 Monica Rodriguez July 7, 2010 at 8:26 pm

You’ve made a great point, Ryan. Sometimes, after an afternoon of productive writing, I still battle with the urge (or need?) to write more after dinner. I have occasionally been able to tell myself that I don’t have to write until I’ve run myself into the ground. Fatigue is not a writer’s friend.

But I’m a terrible napper – as in I rarely am able to fall asleep during the day. I still may try out the idea one day, just in case. I could always use a burst of creativity.

4 ryan July 7, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Hey Monica,

I used to be a terrible napper too. I accidentally became a morning person; don’t ask how – I don’t know. The earlier I get up and get working, the more self-indulgent I become in the afternoons. Terrible, but I’m going with it for now.

Missives from the burbs – This is true!

5 Violeta June 4, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Mhm. Agreed, esp on the notebook part. I have so many notebooks and so many pens that usually escape me exactly when I need them, pesky little buggers. But yeah, I like that: ‘Fatigue is a sneaky bandit.’ That is its secret power. 🙂

6 Clifton Hill October 11, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Great points, I used to think naps were for kids and ole folks, but power naps are awesome. I discovered the amazing ability to lay down and fall asleep almost instantly and get 15 minutes of rest. Does wonders for tired eyes, stress and, most certainly, creative dead ends.

Only problem is when my mind is running too fast. Then when I lay down ideas keep tumbling around and I can’t get any relaxation.

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