More content . . . better content . . . MORE CONTENT . . . BETTER CONTENT
It’s as if Google was the super-sized cousin of the Cookie Monster, devouring more and more content while demanding better tasting copy with each chomp and gobble.
Yes. As mentioned in our post about writer’s burnout last week, the content treadmill can be exhausting.
It’s not surprising, then, that I’m seeing increasing numbers of articles about . . . yep. You guessed it. Creating while you sleep.
Strange as it may sound, it’s not a new notion. In fact, surrealist painter Salvador Dali would nap in a chair while holding a spoon in his hand. Underneath the spoon was a tin plate. When he’d fall asleep, he’d drop the spoon and the clattering noise would wake him up – and he’d hurry to capture the vivid images from his subconscious mind. Dali’s famous painting from 1931, Persistence of Memory, involved the artist recreating the melting clocks that appeared in his dreams.
It’s been reported that more than one of the Beatles used this technique, with John Lennon being inspired to write the chorus of the best-selling song #9 Dream from a dream. Meanwhile, legend states that Paul McCartney crafted the melody of Yesterday from a dream that he’d had in 1964. Stephen King admits to using dream material – and so did Edgar Allen Poe, the latter way back in 1839. So, the idea is definitely not new.
Perhaps these men deliberately intended to create while they slept or perhaps they’ve simply taken advantage of dream material – or maybe it’s a combination of the two. Regardless, it is possible to assign your subconscious brain tasks and then reap the benefits. Here’s more.
Basics of the technique
The first time that I recall using this technique was for my book about boomerangs published in 1996. I was done with the manuscript but still had a nagging feeling that something was missing. I finally told my publisher, “I’ve got it! I want this book to be a boomerang!”
He was puzzled and asked me for clarification – but I had none to give. I didn’t know what I meant, but I knew that this was the missing piece of the puzzle. He offered to investigate packaging the book with a boomerang, but that wasn’t right. I wanted the book to be one.
My deadline was fast approaching. So, I finally told my subconscious brain to come up with a solution while I slept – and, to my amazement, it worked. I then:
- added a page to the beginning of the book where two boomerang throwers chatted in ‘rang slang that meant nothing to anyone outside of the subculture
- shared info throughout the book that helped readers decipher boomerang lingo
- made the last page of the book exactly the same as the first, adding, “Hey – like a boomerang, a book like this always ends up at the starting point. Full circles to all of you!”
So, the book made a complete rotation – and “full circles to you” is the boomerang thrower’s mantra. It means something like this: “I hope that all the good you toss out in the world with no strings attached comes back to you three-fold.”
I only recently found out that this work-while-you-sleep technique has a name (and has since 1926!): the incubation effect. For a more detailed description of incubation, I recommend this blog post by Lynn Silva.
When you’re lucky, your subconscious will serve up results in a straightforward and logical manner. That’s what happened with the boomerang book. Other times, though, you’ll only get frustrating bits and pieces of an idea. My only advice during those times is to pay attention to what your conscious brain keeps focusing on, even if it’s strange. Matter of fact, especially if it’s strange.
Here’s an example. I once needed to write an article about my hometown, Lorain, for a local magazine – and it was supposed to be an upbeat presentation about the melting-pot place known as the “International City.”
- On the plus side, Lorain is amazingly diversified with a variety of cultures and ethnicities.
- On the down side, like in cities everywhere, some Lorainites don’t treat others who are different from themselves as well as they should.
So, how could I be upbeat while also being honest?
I assigned this to my subconscious brain but it didn’t work – or so I thought. I became frustrated because, while I wanted an answer to the upbeat-but-honest dilemma, I kept thinking about a church a mile from my house. I kept driving by it. Why? Why couldn’t I just focus on the problem at hand??
Then, it hit me. This church contained gorgeous stained glass windows – and Lorain is like that. In some ways, it’s cracked and uneven. Yet, there are beautiful colors and shapes and textures that create masterpieces, while each shard maintains its own discrete identity.
So, a photographer took pictures of some of these windows and the magazine’s graphic designer superimposed my relevant text over this imagery. Problem solved!
So . . . is this a good strategy to use?
This technique has worked for me, many times. For that, I’m grateful.
Another side of me wonders, though, when this trend will stop – the trend of making every single moment of every single day “productive.” Somehow, being “busy” has become equated with being important, admirable, fulfilled. And, it doesn’t seem to matter how you fill up your hours beyond a day’s natural capacity – just as long, it seems, that you’re very busy.
What happened to the concept of balance? Of prioritization? Of – shall I dare say it – of rest?
Do even our slumbering hours now need to be assigned tasks, as if our subconscious minds were school children desperately in need of self-discipline? Is that not . . . downright crazy?
Before you decide
During the time that I was writing this post, I came across a blog post from Search Engine Journal that added two more intriguing pieces to the mix. Studies have shown that:
- Your brain does better creative work when you’re tired.
- Being sleepy can make you more creative. When you’re first waking, you’re in the hypnopompic state, where visual images from dreams still linger.
Have you tried this kind of technique? If so, did it help your writing? If you haven’t tried it yet, does it sound intriguing – or just plain nuts? Share in the comments below.