Thursday, November 03, 2011

Sleep while you solve problems--yours and others

Mystery author Sandra Parshall (Under the Dog Star, The Heat of the Moon, and others) recently wrote about her method of working on knotty plot problems. Before she goes to sleep, she fixes her mind firmly on the problem and often wakes aware of the solution, the direction the plot should take. Well, I had recently written myself into a corner in the broken middle of my novel--I was moving along with the crime, only I didn't know who was the villain or why he or she was doing things. Major problem at 50,000 words. I've always had vivid dreams and remembered them clearly the next day, so I thought Sandy's method was a shoe-in for me. Years ago I used to dream articles and novels and short stories, but I rarely remembered them or the "perfect" way they worked in my dream. Unlike a lot of people, I don't keep a pad and paper by the bedside--I'm afraid what I write would be gibberish, and I don't want to wake up enough to turn on the light and write intelligibly.
Sandy's method was not a shoe-in at all. I tried it for two nights and woke as puzzled as ever. Then I got a stomach bug in the evening which kept me awake and in and out of bed for too much of the night. In between trips, I'd doze and found myself writing the entire end of the book, inventing characters--one really great one, sketching out scenes. Next morning, I got up, wrote it all down, and it really held together. Sleep therapy or whatever had worked. Of course, after I fed the dogs, checked my email and took a quick look at the Sunday paper, I was back in bed by 8:30.
But I was so elated by my success that I didn't write for two days. Then, yesterday, I began to write and the story came tumbling out of my brain and onto the computer. I've now written the climactic scene and simply have the wrap-up to do. Granted, it's a first draft, and I have a lot more work ahead of me, but I am so relieved to know how the story works out.
As my mother always told me, all things work to some good end. In this case, there was a plus side to having a stomach virus. Not that it's going to become my preferred way of plotting. But sleeping might be.

1 comment:

Sandra Parshall said...

Your sleep-plotting seems to have worked spectacularly well, Judy! The psychologist who has done studies of this problem-solving method reported that it took some people a while to train their brains to work this way, so it's probably not realistic to expect immediate results. It does work if you keep at it, as you discovered.