Night Scribbles


I woke last night with a half formed idea for a blog in my head. Something about rejection and happy thoughts and yet acknowledging it was tough yada yada.

I tossed and turned and mumbled about it, then went back to sleep, a smile on my lips, certain I had a nice post for this morning. But when I woke up the idea that had seemed so good at whatever-o-clock in the night now felt kind of silly. And the thoughts that had held it together and made it seem workable were breaking apart, like tatters of silk in the wind.

A friend once said to me ‘Go to sleep on a question, wake with an answer.’ This is actually a pretty good way to address things sometimes – it’s certainly worked for me with several character issues I’ve had. One character, who I had written as quite awful, had been whispering in my ear, insisting he wasn’t that bad, that he had reasons to be the way he was. And he was right.

But then how could I justify him doing ‘the very bad thing’ heΒ  needed to do in order for the plot to turn out the way it did? For there was no way around that – I’d thought on it for weeks and there was no other option. So I went to sleep, keeping the idea in my head, and when I woke the answer was there. I suppose you could say this is a form of mindfulness, of targeted thinking with a desired result, and so that’s why it worked.

The tatters and rag-tag ends of ideas that come to us, unbidden, in the night are quite different. Some of them are excellent and worth keeping, while others, like my post, are not. I have on occasion woke with fully formed sentences wanting to be written down, or characters insisting to speak. But for the most part they are things like this classic Tumblr post, which always makes me laugh.

So how about you? Have you had an amazing idea for a story arrive in the middle of the night? I do confess I keep a notebook next to my bed, just in case inspiration strikes. But for the most part it is rag-ends and bobtails, disappearing like mist as the sun rises.

41 thoughts on “Night Scribbles

  1. I find that if I sleep on something I either find an answer or (more often) forget all about it until something reminds me later in the day. As for amazing ideas – I have to note them at any time of day as they seem to fade quickly and my memory is not what it used to be.

    • I think we all suffer from that in some ways – life is so busy it’s easy to get distracted and forget ideas or thoughts. Believe me, I carry a notebook pretty much everywhere, just in case!

    • Yes, I get a lot of ideas when I’m out walking too, though they seem to be much more solid and fully formed than the wispy bits of subconscious I run into during the night πŸ™‚

  2. Yes, I have my brain to blame for that too! “Hey Ellie, here’s a great idea! I’ll remember it for you so you wake up inspired”
    More often than not, the (genius?) idea is gone by morning. Maybe a notebook is the way to go but in any case, I have always found the “sleep on it” advice to be very wise. Actually, the French expression goes “the night brings you advice” which I think is a nice phrasing. πŸ™‚

  3. Yes. Theres more to dreams than most of us will admit. I wrote a poem in honour of Preuss’s The Little Water Sprite (still a fave book, because basically, I havent really grown up yet!😁). I wrote it when I was 14, and woke up with it just tumbling out of my head. Its on my blog actually. It was a marvelous experience!

    • Wow, that’s amazing, Ali! I will have to read your poem, what a great experience. I did have an experience where I couldn’t sleep because a character was insisting on talking to me, so I got up, typed a page about her, then I could sleep. And another time I woke with an image and the first few sentences of a story – haven’t written the rest of it yet though πŸ™‚

      • Oh I have had some very strange dreams! Not many, just a few. I knew they werent ordinary run of the mill dreams. A bit of research proved that. Sometimes a dream ju9st doesnt feel dreamlike… thats because its not! And if your characters are visiting you there, you cant ignore them! Sometimes I wonder if they are made up characters at all…

      • Ha, yes – though it could also be a ‘sure, crazy lady’ blog post LOL. I had a couple of dreams about places in Europe I had never been to before, then recognised when I went there. Then I had a regression and went back to an event I’d experienced in a dream. It all seems very real to me, but I can understand how these things can be subjective and seen as ‘imaginings.’

      • I think those who deny it are probably afraid of something they dont/ cant understand. Unfortunately, there are lots of wacky, completely crazy people out there which lead society to believe that anyone who has these experiences are all off their rockers! Anyway, I am intrigued by your experiences, and I know, having met you, that you are quite sane and normal… whatever that is lol! 😁

  4. I love how creative solutions and ideas come to us just before sleep or as we wake. I also get them while driving (and it’s hard to jot it down!), walking, and showering. I can only explain it as our conscious mind being receptive to hearing our inner mind at these times, which of course it can’t be when we’re trying to remember all the things we have to do that day, etc. As you say, not every idea is a great one, or even if it is, it doesn’t always work, but that’s part and parcel of writing, I think. πŸ™‚

    • Yes, that happens to me too – I agree it seems to be our mind having space to hear ideas from our subconscious, as we are doing activities that require less surface thought. I find walking to be quite meditative anyway – there is actually a type of meditative walking where you time your breaths to your steps, though I’ve not tried it – worried I’ll end up in the road! πŸ™‚

  5. Umm, I am asleep when I am dreaming. And I will not wake up, because once I am awake I am awake and there is no getting back to sleep. My ideas pop into my head when I am driving and listening to the radio – maybe I am dreaming, but I think I am driving, but then you would think I would get in a lot more accidents. So I must be awake. Usually at a traffic stop I will scribble the thought down, or I will just repeat it all the way home, like a telephone number I don’t want to forget, over and over and then I dash in the house and scribble it down in my little notebook.

    • Ha ha – yes, I get what you mean, totally. I do have quite lucid dreams that I wake from and then write down, though that doesn’t happen to often – like you, once I’m fully awake, I’m awake and it takes quite a lot to get back to sleep. This post is more about when you’re midway between dreams and waking and ideas come into your mind. Not awake enough to write them down, just awake enough to recognise them and then go back to sleep πŸ™‚ I do also get ideas while driving – I wonder if it’s because the action of driving is almost second nature, and it frees up our mind to think? Same happens when I’m walking, too.

      • That’s kind of what I was thinking, that driving is such a mindless activity (unless you are driving in LA or something like that) that your mind just kind of wanders and then bing! a little idea comes into your head and you think “Wait a moment, what is this, is this a brilliant idea I am having?”

  6. I tried keeping a notebook by my bed until I found that the ‘brilliant gems’ I wrote down tended to make absolutely no sense in the morning. Oh, ‘the fudge is in the melting pot’, hey? Thanks for nothin’, half-asleep Sam.

    Having said that, I have solved plenty of story problems by sleeping on them. Just can’t be trusted to not confuse ‘brilliant idea’ with ‘fragment of a dream that is complete garbage’. πŸ™‚

    • Yes, that’s the tough bit – I do tend to end up with more ‘the witch has a french fry for a wand’ ideas than anything brilliant, but once a story is in progress, like you, I can solve a fair bit of stuff simply by having a sleep (and what a good excuse it is to have a nap!) πŸ˜€

  7. Precious, precious sleep. Pre-children, I took it for granted. Now I need no excuse for a nap – I reckon I could fall asleep absolutely anywhere now, at any time. Give me a head rest and I could be down. πŸ™‚

  8. Great post, Helen, that’s clearly triggered some reflections from others.

    As it happens, I’m working on a new story at the moment, but recently realised I hadn’t plotted it out enough. One of the scenes I had in my mind involved a boat chase down a river I’m familiar with and know it has the potential to be dramatic and exciting. The thing is, I liked the scene but couldn’t work out how it was going to be relevant to the storyline. A week ago, I had a dream. It wasn’t related to the story (well, as far as I could make out, but then dreams aren’t generally that coherent, are they?), but an abduction took place in it. I think I was still immersed in it as I woke up, and as I struggled up into a world of consciousness something in my mind connected the dream with the story. By the time I was properly awake, not only was the link made, but the scene I wanted to include suddenly became crucial to the storyline and filled in another gap that had been bugging me.

    Never underestimate the power of the subconscious mind.

  9. Most of my ideas come when I am at the ironing board. I know it seems crazy but a character will appear and tell me their story and then I have to turn the iron off and write the story. I also talk to the dog a lot when I am out walking with him because he agrees with all the good ideas for posts I have. He never argues with me and never says “it’s a bad idea”.

    The ending for the recent part of my “The Truth App” story came to me at 03:06 on Thursday morning so, there you go Helen, yes I get ideas and help for posts and short stories in the middle of the night as well. Luckily I remembered the story rather than forgot about it when I woke up.

    • Lucky for all of us that you remembered – I’m looking forward to seeing how ‘The Truth App’ ends up! And yes, I work out heaps of stuff while I’m ironing – blog posts and plot twists and character ideas – then I have to run upstairs and write them down before I forget again.
      And I like that your dog agrees with you – he seems a good sort of companion to have on a walk πŸ™‚

    • I think it was Tillie Olsen who said she did most of her pre-writing work when she was doing housework. She got a residency at a writer’s colony–a major thing in her life, because she had small kids and not much money–and found herself frozen. She wanted a floor to scrub.

      • Oh, I love that! I do enjoy ironing and, even if I did earn enough one day to have someone else do my housework, I think I’d still like to retain that task for my own.

  10. I used to ruminate about my writing when I crawled into bed. I can’t say I ever woke up with an answer, but it took me forever to get to sleep because my mind was busy being awake. I shut that down now and I sleep better, which gives me more time to write. I kind of miss that writing-in-my-head time, but the trade-off’s been worth it.

  11. Pingback: The Turning Of The Year | Journey To Ambeth

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