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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sleepy Brain

Today I read Roxana Robinson's essay in the New Yorker about how she writes in the morning, maintaining part of her dreamstate from the night before by avoiding noise (even a coffee grinder's noise), news, and conversation prior to writing. She's trained her husband to limit conversation in the morning. She doesn't appear to have kids or she'd know how futile it would be to try and train them to silence.

Yesterday I read the blog by Ellie Robins at Melville House advising writers not to go to sleep till the wee hours as "sleepy brains  think more freely" (which she admits, is true of brains still sleepy after waking up).

Would I like to access this sleepy brain? I would. But I already get up at 5 or 5:30 just to get on with the day and so does the rest of my family. I've tried getting up earlier than that to have some quiet creative time, only to have my husband and kids decide that since I'm up, they'll join me. I try to stay up late at night, but I'm exhausted from being up so early and on the go all day, and I end up falling asleep wherever I am. I do get writing in--in the early afternoon, which no one has ever advised anywhere. But that's when the people in my life are off doing their own things and I can be alone. I'm making it work, but without the bonus of the sleepy brain. (If I use caffeine to stay up late, does that count as sleepy brain?)

Some time in my life I'll have the luxury of trying out the effect of sleepy brain on creativity. It just isn't now.


Sandy Longhorn said...

While I do have the opportunity to indulge sleepy brain, I don't. I tried it. For me, it's overrated. Maybe it's a Midwestern thing. I love alertness & focus.

My motto is "whatever works!"

Jessica Goodfellow said...

I agree, Sandy, we just have to do what works. Thinking more about this sleepy brain thing, I'm guessing that what is really happening is that the brain is more able to access the subconscious state when sleepy. I'm a huge believer in letting the subconscious do the heavy lifting--when in grad school I solved difficult proofs that way. I don't think you have to be sleepy to do it though; however sleepiness may allow easier access.

I also find that when I fall asleep thinking about a particular problem in the poem, I often either dream the answer or wake up in the middle of the night with the answer.

So while it would be nice to try and do the sleepy brain, I don't think it's necessary. If your subconscious has something to say to you, I think it will. And if you are open to it, I think it will come, early morning or late night or not. I think those are just shortcuts to getting there.

Mari said...

I have better luck accessing the "subconscious" (or dreamspace, a word I prefer) after dark, which feels closer to that state of mind for me. I'm just not a morning person and have accepted, after all these years, that wearing the hair shirt of early morning writing is not going to happen (and just makes me grumpy!).

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Yep, whatever works. I always think I'm going to find a better way, but at my age, that's doubtful.
I don't mind early mornings but prior to kids was not a big fan. They made me get up and it's not bad. And now I'm too tired to stay up late! I wonder if I'll go back to late nights once my kids don't control my schedule.