Professor Wu's Rulebook

Stephen King on writing and dreaming


We know that sleep plays a crucial role in sharpening our memories and that a misaligned sleep pattern can prove mentally crippling. Writers and creatives are often advised to take a pencil and notepad with them to bed, not only because this can help us to fall asleep when our minds are whirring; but also because those moments before sleep are those when new ideas are most likely to pop into our heads. Yet can it also be beneficial for writers to adopt a dream-like, almost sleeping state while they are awake? According to Stephen King, yes.

In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King explores the similarity between writing and dreaming. He considers the role of a daily routine – as so many other writers have done – in helping us to mesmerise ourselves in a way that not only disciplines our minds, but also unleashes previously restrained creative potential. King calls this “creative sleep”:

“Like your bedroom, your writing room should be private, a place where you go to dream. Your schedule — in at about the same time every day, out when your thousand words are on paper or disk — exists in order to habituate yourself, to make yourself ready to dream just as you make yourself ready to sleep by going to bed at roughly the same time each night and following the same ritual as you go. “

In fact, King goes further, arguing that the creative process is akin to a wakeful dream state. He suggests that this “dozing” of the waking mind shapes our creative capacity by releasing our repressed imagination:

“In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives. And as your mind and body grow accustomed to a certain amount of sleep each night — six hours, seven, maybe the recommended eight — so can you train your waking mind to sleep creatively and work out the vividly imagined waking dreams which are successful works of fiction.”

Just as other writers have railed against the modern digital age in which distractions abound and it is near impossible to focus and find solitude and quiet, so too does King lament the barrage of distractions that fill the spaces of everyday life. He offers some practical tips on warding these off in order to create the kind of still space necessary for wakeful dreaming:

“The space can be humble … and it really needs only one thing: A door you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world that you mean business. . . .

If possible, there should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall. For any writer, but for the beginning writer in particular, it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction. If you continue to write, you will begin to filter out these distractions naturally, but at the start it’s best to try and take care of them before you write. … When you write, you want to get rid of the world, don’t you? Of course you do. When you’re writing, you’re creating your own worlds.”



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