I once read that the writer Stephen King sometimes wrote entire chapters in his head before ever putting them down on paper, meaning he basically imagined and memorized them entirely in his head. When I read that I thought to myself: that’s a writer! Or a crazy person, I’m not sure.
However, this got me thinking that doing something similar might help me get more involved in my own stories and more invested in the characters. So I tried doing this a few times—imagining everything in detail and remembering it word for word—but it just never felt right. It felt forced and unnatural and as if I was trying to make myself quietly go insane. So I stopped forcing myself into my imagination and let it work naturally whenever I sat down to write and just left it at that.
Recently, I was reading an article on sleep by Leo Babauta in which he talks about a simple cure for insomnia that he discovered. He explained simply replaying his day while he was lying in bed unable to fall asleep was the most helpful tactic he had found. Not summarizing his day, but actually reimagining it in as much detail as possible from the minute he woke up and made coffee until he got into bed that night. He said that he never got past mid-morning before falling asleep.
Well, lately I’ve been falling asleep easier and I realized that I have actually been doing a combination of these two things. Before sleep while lying in bed, I’ve been imagining the details of my writing and imagining what will happen next in the fictitious story. I imagine it with as much detail as possible and feel myself get lost in the world and slowly drift off.
I think this works for me because of a few reasons.
First, it’s just more interesting than going through my day. Maybe Leo Babauta’s day is more interesting than mine, but personally I just don’t want to do the painstakingly boring mental work of reliving a day that wasn’t any different than the thousand before it and won’t be any different than tomorrow.
Second, I find that I often worry at night that I wasn’t “productive” enough or that I won’t be in the future. Imagining new events in my story gives that worry a rest because I am actually being creative while I lie there and making some kind of progress—even if it is minor.
Lastly, it’s actually kind of fun—not the Doritos and Skyrim kind of fun—but more fun than lying in a bed with my eyes closed waiting to sleep and worrying about not getting enough.
So far, it’s been working for me and I have been falling asleep much quicker. I’m sure it won’t work every night, but it is another tool in the insomnia tool belt to consider. It might be worth a try if you’re a writer and you suffer from insomnia, maybe you can improve your story while getting more sleep. Get two birds with one stone, as they say (I like saying “get” instead of “kill” because I imagine that the metaphor involves me trading a shopkeeper two birds for one stone rather than for a sum of money, because I actually like birds. Especially parrots. Imagine getting two parrots for one stone? That would be awesome. But where would I keep them? Doesn’t matter).
However, a word of caution: If you’re a horror writer, you might just want to try sleeping pills first.