It's 3:30 a.m. I’m wide awake. The beginning of the next scene is coming to me. Actually, it’s already here, fully formed. I can see it like a movie in my head, complete with dialogue. Just like in real conversation, my characters don’t repeat themselves, and I know from past experience that the film won’t run for long, so it’s up to me to catch it while it happens. If I don’t, it’s gone.
Photo by Jimmy Allen Photography
Dang it. Not because I’ve got a fully formed scene (that’s great), but because it’s 3:30, and I know I won’t be able to go back to sleep after I write that scene down. Once my writing brain is firing on all cylinders, it doesn’t care what time it is. Though I really can’t complain when it happens. If it’s productive. Anything that gets me closer to the end of a book with a scene I just couldn’t quite reach during the daylight hours is good. But sometimes it’s not productive. If I wake up at 3:30 with my heart beating faster than normal and my first coherent thoughts are, “The book sucks. My career is over,” that’s not productive. For me, and a lot of writers I know, if my work-in-progress is giving me trouble during the day, then it’s unlikely that I’ll wake up at 3:30 thinking warm-and-fuzzy book thoughts.
I have yet to come up with a solution to a book problem at this time of the morning, but that doesn’t keep my muse’s evil twin, the Anti-Muse, from waking me up and trying to make me do it. When I’m finishing a book, it’s normal for me to get both types of wake-up calls. It’s usually worse when I only have a few chapters left. The Anti-Muse kicks me awake and wants me to revise the previous 20 chapters, to wrap my head around the whole book, find the weaknesses, faulty spots—basically, the good, the bad, and the ugly. And once I think that one book-related thought, she’s won and I’m awake for the rest of the night.
Yes, there may be (OK, probably are) some problems with the book, but they’re not nearly as bad as the Anti-Muse makes them out to be; in fact, they’re probably pretty minor. But my defenses aren’t up at 3:30, and the Anti-Muse gets in. But those mornings when my characters come knocking make up for all of it. Dialogue comes fast and furious. I have no idea where it fits in the book. I just go with it. So I grope around for the mini-flashlight, note pad and pen I keep in my bedside table and start eavesdropping and taking dictation.
For a writer, this is when the magic happens. And it’s this kind of wake-up call that assures me that the book doesn’t suck, my career is not over. And sleep is way overrated.