To Sleep…Perchance to Write

A fellow-writer told me recently about the fantastic writing she composes shortly before falling asleep.

Does that ever happen to me? Of course.

The bed is so comfortable, I’m in that halfway stage between wakefulness and oblivion, and there’s all this stream-of-consciousness writing going on. I see where the work in progress is going, I draft excellent dialog, I think of the best blog post…

And I know I should get up and write it down.

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Most of the time I simply roll over and dip into sleep, convinced I’ll remember all that fantastic writing because it’s so…fantastic. How could I forget?

I wake up in the morning completely clueless.

There was one time I forced myself out of bed to write a blog post. Oddly enough, that was the post that resulted in the Freshly Pressed award.

There is something powerful in the ‘crossing places’ to borrow a phrase from author Ellie Griffiths. In her book with that title, she’s referring to the salt marsh, the place between land and sea. This time between wakefulness and sleep is the same. A place of transition. So it’s not surprising that a brain is freer to create. The daily grind is over, the body is relaxed, the breathing is almost to a trance phase, and the environment is soft, dark, and quiet.

Well, except for the dog across my feet, snoring.

But you get what I mean.

So if I know that place is a creative space, and I know that if I get up and write the words down the writing will be good, why don’t I get out of bed?

Well, the obvious reason is sheer laziness. Who wants to crawl out of a comfortable bed into a chilly room? Who wants to disturb that poor old dog?

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Strider and Art (don’t tell Art I posted this)

A bigger reason is that there have been other times when I have jotted down notes on the paper every writer is supposed to keep by their bed for just these moments. And while that one time I got out of bed and the writing worked, there have been many, many times when, in the morning I looked at the jotted notes and was clueless.

Whatever the words from that crossing place meant at the time I was falling into sleep, by the light of day the meaning was gone. Poof. Gibberish. I’m left holding the scrap of paper thinking ‘what the h…?’.

But for my friend who started this thought process, I advised her to get out of bed and write it down. Because you never know. Gibberish for a thousand nights, stellar writing for one night. Isn’t it worth it for that one night?

Does that mean I’m getting out of bed tonight? Afraid not. After all, there’s that dog.

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Skywalker von Stowe (aka Luke)

Art or Device?

I just finished The Round House, by Louise Erdritch. The writing soared, the characters tugged me into their world, and the ending left me hanging and wanting so much more. This is the first time I’ve read anything by Ms. Erdritch, and it’s safe to say it won’t be the last book by her that I devour. Depending on dialog, that is.

The author’s lack of quotation marks around dialog stymied me. My eyes are so trained to catch those tiny mouse-turd cues, that I stumbled over their absence. I use ‘mouse-turds’ on purpose because once there were some in a book I read, and I thought they were quotation marks in a weird spot.

I found myself reading along, captured by beautiful writing, only to suddenly realize I was reading dialog. Then I’d have to back up to pick up where people started talking, and work my way back to where I was interrupted and pulled out of the story.

If the story had been less powerful, I would have stopped reading simply because I dislike being taken out of the story world. The book was very bumpy to read because of that.

I wondered why the author chose to not use quotation marks. A dislike of the shift key? Some sort of artistic point I’m too dense to pick up? A signal that I was reading literature rather than just a very good story? Those questions also pulled me away as a reader. Which made me then wonder, when is something artistic, and when is it simply a device to make someone stand out, or to prove you can break a rule and get away with it?

A while back I talked about reading books by Elly Griffiths, who writes in present tense, and how skilfully she handles that. So well, in fact, that her ‘device’ never once pulled me out of the stories. Present tense isn’t a style of writing one sees often, and it could easily have failed. I’m glad it didn’t because I really do love her series.

It’s the same with this book. Whatever the author’s reason for not using quotation marks, The Round House was still a very good story. Unlike with Elly Griffiths though, I’m not sure I’d read another book without quotation marks around dialog. It was simply too disjointed, having to continuously back up and re-read. Interestingly, when I read reviews of the book on Amazon, I didn’t see any mention of this. Well, I also didn’t read all of the thousand comments, so who knows. Someone else might have missed the mouse-turds, too.

What do you think makes a writing device succeed or fail? Why do you think authors choose to create a story that breaks the expected rules? And do you like to read books that step outside the traditional format?