Thanks to Chloe Benjamin for including me in her article about authors and sleep for the aptly named lit magazine Van Winkles. There are six other writers weighing in, but here’s my bit:
JUDITH CLAIRE MITCHELL, AUTHOR OF A REUNION OF GHOSTS
The first week of my MFA program I learned the most important lesson there is about being a writer: the importance of naps. Every writer I spoke to, whether student or faculty, was a dedicated napper. You cannot imagine the joy we felt over this commonality, especially for those of us with partners. We were not lazy louts after all, we informed our formerly judgmental loved ones. Napping was part of the process.
Whether mid-day or at night, sleep and the moments before and after—drifting off and struggling back to a fully conscious state—turn out to be creative times for many of us. Certainly that’s the case with me. When I lie down and close my eyes, I deliberately empty my mind of all thoughts other than the story I’m currently working on. Then, blankets pulled to chin, I actively imagine my characters. I work out plot points. I even hear voices—but in a good, artistic way. For me, pillow talk has a whole different meaning than it does for most people.
Although I let my characters talk me to sleep, I’ve never woken having dreamed the perfect ending to a story or the denouement to a novel. But I have woken up feeling clear and ready to go and, upon sitting at my desk, I’ve been surprised at how easily a thorny plot point has worked itself out. That’s when I know that while I slept a part of my brain had been working away. I call it my unconscious. The Greeks called it the Muse. Whatever we call it, I’ll say this much: writing while sleeping is an awfully pleasant way to be hard at work.