How to Cure “Idea Insomnia”


Getting a new idea is great. Losing sleep over it? Not so great.

We’ve all been there, awake in the middle of the night because of an idea. And we’ve all ended up tossing and turning, losing valuable snooze time, because we have a good idea and it’s 3 a.m. and we don’t know whether to sleep on it (literally) or sacrifice sleep deprivation for the sake of our craft.

Here’s what you can do to cure your own “idea insomnia”—inability of sleep due to spontaneous explosions of literary madness (the good kind).

Keep a Notepad Near Your Head

What better way to cure an obnoxious overflow of inspiration—one that keeps you even more obnoxiously awake—than to keep paper close by?

Not on or under your head, necessarily, but whatever works for you. Keep a notepad or journal on your nightstand or on the floor next to your bed/couch/air mattress. That way, if you wake up and there are ideas stomping around up there, you don’t have to go far or put much effort into dumping them out on paper and leaving them to rest till morning.

Keep Your Eyes Closed and Let the Idea(s) Unravel

Often the most exciting part of a writer’s life is the moment a stream of new ideas appears out of nowhere. Being excited about your new ideas is a good sign: it means you’re more likely to work on them and carry them through to completion. But don’t rush. Take a little time to experience them for yourself, in the safety and infinity of your mind, before bringing them to life for others to imagine.

If you’re wide awake because of a new idea, get into a comfortable position, close your eyes and just let your mind roam free for a while. Some ideas are so clear you can almost see them played out in front of you like a movie on a screen. Some ideas are just a sentence, or a short exchange of dialogue repeating itself inside.

Let it unfold. Breathe. Lose yourself in it. You’ll either relax and fall back asleep or you’ll have to move on to the third suggestion. Either, or both, are acceptable, and completely healthy.

Get Up, But Set a Timer

Sometimes your ideas are so in-your-face and relentlessly begging to be released that you quite literally won’t go to sleep until they’re taken care of. Every once in a while, it’s okay to get out of bed and put a little time into storing these ideas away for later—but not too much time. All-nighters to tend to “newborn” ideas? Not recommended.

Set a timer on your phone for five to 10 minutes, crawl away from your sleeping place and give your idea some attention. Whether it’s jotting down a quote, a line or a few paragraphs, the fear of forgetting an idea is not just understandable, it’s real.

Get the idea out of your head and onto something you can refer back to later—enough of it that you’re confident you can return to it in the morning—then bid your idea goodnight and go back to sleep.

Okay, so “idea insomnia” isn’t the absolute worst thing that can happen to a writer. But aside from playing with words and secretly complimenting ourselves on our own puns, sleep is a writer’s best friend. Without it, sleep deprivation takes over. And while plenty of amazing prose has probably resulted, ideas belong on paper, not your pillow.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

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