How to Hang Onto Your Next Big Idea When You Need Sleep

You’re tapping that keyboard late into the night and tell yourself, “Man, I’ve got to get this writing out.”  But your Wise shoulder angel slugs your Writing shoulder angel and says, “You’ve gotta sleep!  There’s an early morning ahead of you.”

What do you do?  If you stop writing now, you can get some sleep and be well-rested for the day ahead.  BUT, if you stop writing now, you’ll forget this brilliant idea that’s flowing out of you.  You won’t be able to capture the emotion that’s consuming you right now and bleeding onto the page.  The great debate gets thrown into the ring.

Sleep v. Writing

Eventually, you’ve got to choose sleep.  And you’ll be more creative when you do.  Creative people need more rest than anyone on the face of the planet.  (Unless you’re a mom.)  So, when you can’t neglect this thing called sleep any longer, here’s what you can do to hang onto your idea for the next time you come back to your screen.

  1. Write down what you’re seeing in your head.  Don’t get caught up in the details, just map out your path.  Write phrases, not full sentences, and separate the bits by commas.  As long as you come back to the idea within a few days, you’ll be able to figure out your notes (since it was in your brain anyway), and then you can step right back into the story.
  2. Tell someone about your brilliant idea.  Use caution when waking your significant other, dog, cat, plant–whatever your sounding board is–in the middle of the night.  He, she, or it may not be friendly.  But if you’re a person that has to hear things, you need to let yourself speak out your idea.  Plus, as an added bonus, if you forget something, there’s a good chance the person you tell (not applicable to pet or plant) can jog your memory.
  3. Program your idea into a song.  Listen to a song at least seven times on repeat and watch your scene happen over and over again like a movie.  But the song shouldn’t just be any song.  It’s a song that should capture your emotion in the heat of this moment before you quit writing.  That way, when you’re ready to write again, play the song, and let your brain take over.  I think you’ll be amazed by how your memory leaps right back into the song, plays your story line movie for you, and churns your emotions.
  4. When you’re refreshed and ready to write again, read everything that you wrote the previous day when you were all wound up.  Every time I’ve done this, I get sucked right back into what was happening and what I was feeling before I shut down for the night.

Next time sleep comes calling, you’ll be ready.  What do you do when you need to hang onto a good idea?

  • I tend to do this. I’ll write a small paragraph about what needs to come next if I don’t have time to complete the scene (or if I think I’ll get stuck if I do write all the way through it and have to start a new scene). Sometimes it’s nice to start in a scene you’re already enthusiastic about.

    And in regards to programming your idea like a song… I’ve done a couple variations on that, too. One is to listen to an old song that I listened to while plotting, because it can rekindle the ‘mood’ of a scene. The other is just to keep daydreaming that same scene over and over, until I have it fully fleshed out. Much easier to write the description because it’s all there in my head. 🙂

    • Neat! I’m not the only one to use the song idea. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

      • The song idea came in handy when I first started rewriting my current manuscript. It’d been years since I worked on it, but those older songs still came with that original connection to the plotting. 🙂

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