Don’t All Writers Tell Themselves Bedtime Stories?


Apparently, I’m weird. Not that this is news, but a writer friend has confirmed it. Over our weekly lunch, she mentioned that she was having trouble falling asleep at night and asked if I had any suggestions, barring drugs which she was unwilling to take. I told her that I tell myself stories to fall asleep.

“You mean you read a book?” she asked.

“No. Well, I do that, too, but I’m talking about telling stories in my head. When I lie down, I think of a character, make up a world for her, and then follow the story until I fall asleep. It’s like counting sheep, but far less boring.”

“You are hopelessly weird,” she said.

Strangely, of all the things that I do, I’ve never thought that this one is particularly weird. I guess I’ve always thought that most people, especially writers, tell themselves stories at night. Why wouldn’t you? I’ve found that I get several benefits from it:

  • It takes my mind off of the 10,000 other things I could be ruminating about like laundry, paying bills, family drama, car repairs, and miscellaneous anxieties, none of which are conducive to sleep. It forces me to focus on one thing, much like meditation. When my mind is focused on the story, it eventually goes quiet and I fall asleep.
  • Sometimes a bedtime story can be worked into a novel, or it becomes its own story. It’s a creativity booster and an insomnia reducer. Win!
  • It reminds me of being a kid and the comforting feeling you got when mom or dad read you a story before bed. Since no one is going to read me stories nowadays, I do it myself.
  • It’s a safe place to explore the weird, crazy ideas that I wouldn’t dare tell anyone about or commit to the page because they are just so far out there. I can see where they go and no one is the wiser.
  • If I still can’t fall asleep, at least I’m being entertained. It’s like having a TV in my head. I can work through the story without bothering anyone else. Even if I’m not sleeping, at least I’m not lying there making myself crazy worrying about things I can’t control.

I don’t find this quirk of mine to be any different from counting sheep or focusing on your breath to help you fall asleep. They’re all exercises in focusing the mind and forcing it to quiet down so it will let you sleep. Sheep and breathing are boring to me, though. I’d much rather tell myself a story.

If you’re going to try this yourself, here’s a little advice:

  • Don’t come up with a different story every night. Often I build on the same story every night for a month or more, taking it a little further down the path. It’s more relaxing than coming up with something new every night.
  • Take the same basic story and change just a few elements of it. Starting from the beginning and changing a few elements gives me something new to think about, but it’s still relaxing because my brain already knows this familiar territory.
  • Don’t make your stories too action-packed. Big battle scenes and violence are not conducive to sleep. Try more character driven stories, fairy tales, etc.
  • Don’t worry about the ending. I don’t think I’ve reached the end of more than a few of my stories. Mostly I just try to keep them going, even when an end seems apparent. Ending means you have to start over and sometimes I just really want to stay in the little world I’ve created.
  • Don’t go into it thinking it will be a creativity exercise, or that it will lead to your next novel. That’s too much pressure for sleep. Just follow the story and see where it leads. It may be something you can use later, but it may just be a silly story.
  • Don’t work on your current novel during story time. Again, it’s too much pressure for sleep. Don’t try to work out your character’s problems or puzzle out your villain’s motivation at bedtime. This time is for random stories that lull you to sleep, not working on the problems with your current manuscript.

Telling yourself a story to help you fall asleep may be weird, but don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it.


(Photo courtesy of krosseel)


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