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Sleep Writing and Jill Bolte Taylor

My bed is an active tool in my writerly toolkit, so today I want to talk a little about the best writing technique I know. Sleep writing.

Sleep writing is not exactly like sleep walking; I'm not writing at the same time as I'm snoring. It's more like writing on the fringes of sleep, napping in the middle of writing sessions, rising from sleep and moving directly to the computer or the notepad.

Some of my best writing, my most startling revelations and memorable images, comes from that place. Maybe because when I'm fresh from sleep I'm unguarded, without my day-shell on. But there's more to it. More and more, I use sleep as a direct way to solve problems I'm having in my work.

I get exhausted when I write. I used to fight against it -- I'd nod off at the keyboard as I was trying to figure out what happens next? and wake up with drool on my check. (Not so hot for the keyboard.) Now, when I feel that drowsiness -- it's a particular sensation, an unrelenting pull towards sleep -- I don't get mad at myself for being a slacker, I welcome it. I go to bed and sink into a deep nap. Very often, I'll get up twenty minutes later with the simple answer to my problem.

I don't understand the mechanisms involved, maybe it has something to do with unconscious creativity, or Alpha waves in the brain, but it's no mystery to me why writer's colonies have beds in the studios. It's not (just!?) for all that hot wild colony sex that supposedly goes on. I would guess that for many writers, sleep is an intrinsic part of the writing process.


Related to this, I was deeply moved by the Jill Bolte Taylor video that's been making the rounds of the Internet for the last month. I've watched it three times now. I think it's changed my life.

Dr. Taylor is a neuroanatomist who had a severe stroke on the left side of her brain -- and in this speech at this year's TED conference, she describes what it was like.

If you have not seen it, go there now: it's an 18 minute revelation.

Back again? So... is your mind blown? Mine is.

(You DIDN'T go there now? I mean it, go watch. Right now. Come back and tell me what you think.)

Somehow Dr. Taylor's insights tie in with sleep and writing. Maybe sleep writing works so well because, when we sleep, the right hemisphere of our brain dominates with its thinking in images and sense of timelessness.

All I know is that I want to spend even more time hanging out in the right hemisphere of my brain.

(And now... I'm going to sleep on it.)

10 Comment count
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Taylor video

Ericka, a friend forwarded this video to me just yesterday. It's a thought- and feeling-provoking account. I found it fascinating how she begins the presentation in a no-nonsense, scientific tone but shifts into an almost preacher-like frenzy nearer the end. Usually the latter kind of rhetorical mode leaves me cold, but because she never seems to go actually crazy, I was riveted the whole time.

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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... but I didn't see it as a frenzy...

... just passion, and emotion. And yes, that kind of conviction (and insight) IS riveting!

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Hi, I saw it too

And posted on Bill Haye's blog last week! Isn't it just amazing. I was REAL, not New Age talk.

I'll try your sleep writing. I've solved problems on waking, so I know what you mean.

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But will they believe us?

Thanks for sharing this with us, Ericka. Sleep has always been one of my greatest creative tools too...but you know, it is the hardest time to convince other people that "I'm actually working." The world seems to have this idea that when you're asleep you're just...sleeping, or something.

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Let them scoff!

Let them scoff, and let US snooze. We'll show 'em. (Just as soon as I finish this fabulous dream.....)

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Jill Bolte Taylor "My Stroke of Insight"

I've been recommending a book by Jill Bolte Taylor called "My Stroke of Insight" to everyone I know. It's an amazing story, both uplifting and powerful on three levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual, but the spiritual aspect alone makes this the best book I've read all year.

How often do you get to hear a neuroscientist describe having a stroke, nearly dying and finding Nirvana, and then making a miraculous recovery so that she's back to teaching medical students!?!

I came away with a renewed sense of understanding, wonder and hopefulness about the capabilities of the human brain. I give "My Stroke of Insight" highest marks!

You can get the book for just $16.47 with free shipping from http://www.amazon.com/My-Stroke-Insight-Scientists-Personal/dp/067002074...

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Sleep Writing and Jill Bolte Taylor

The New York Times Sunday Newspaper on May 25 had a great two page article on Jill Bolte Taylor and her book, "MY STROKE OF INSIGHT". Her book is a must read and this NY Times article - called "A Superhighway to bliss" is worth checking out too.

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Sleep Writing and Jill Bolte Taylor

I read "My Stroke of Insight" in one sitting - I couldn't put it down. I laughed. I cried. It was a fantastic book (I heard it's a NYTimes Bestseller and I can see why!), but I also think it will be the start of a new, transformative Movement! No one wants to have a stroke as Jill Bolte Taylor did, but her experience can teach us all how to live better lives. Her TED.com speech was one of the most incredibly moving, stimulating, wonderful videos I've ever seen. Her Oprah Soul Series interviews were fascinating. They should make a movie of her life so everyone sees it. This is the Real Deal and gives me hope for humanity.

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Dr. Bolte Taylor

I have seen her presentations many times. I've read her book and even corresponded with her.  No one addresses the elephant in the room:  she went into neuroanatomy to understand why her thoughts connected with reality and her brother, diagnosed with schizophrenia, were delusions. Why can't her experience from the stroke be a delusion? How does she distinguish between the delusions of schizophrenia and the experience caused by a brain impairment?