Sweet sleep and ice cream machines: What do you need to create?

It’s almost 4:30 in the morning. I’ve been up since 3:15 when I first heard a little someone who sleeps right beside me in a mosquito-netted travel cot tossing his head from side to side and smacking his lips. Then I heard questing chirps and fingernails clawing at nylon (I’m pretty sure he lives in hope that if he just scrabbles around frantically enough he’s going to find a boob in bed with him one of these days, either that or he’ll manage to dig his way to one). After a couple of minutes of this I got up and gave him what he wanted.

He went right back to sleep afterwards – it’s the only time of day he will reliably go down without a fuss at the moment. I, however, didn’t find it so easy.

Some of the roosters are also awake, neighborhood dogs are having brief and vocal tussles and I can hear rain falling – such an odd sound at this dry time of year. My bad foot aches. I’m hungry for banana bread or brownies or something. (Not fruit, though, or anything else we actually have in the house. No, not that). My mind is busy hopscotching around between blog posts and book tasks and what exactly I might say to Mike when I wake him up with my restlessness and he rolls over and tells me that I should be asleep. I’m cooking up a line perfectly calibrated to convey that I don’t lie here awake just for fun – a line that’s a bit sharp without straying into unreasonably bitchy territory.

They are such useful conversations to have, these imaginary ones.

I don’t often get up in the wee dark hours and write but I knew how this would play out if I didn’t – the same way it has played out half a dozen times during the last two weeks.

I would put Dominic back to bed at 4 and lie there awake until 5. Then, right as I was tumbling off the exhausted cliff and falling into sleepy, Dominic would start to doze more lightly. He would lose his dummy and want it back again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Then he would wake properly around 6 looking for his own version of banana bread and brownies.

And I would be shot for the entire day as far as any good writing goes.

Decent sleep is such a creative basic for me, something I just can’t do without. I don’t have many other real needs. Relative quiet is on that list. A decent chair and a cup of coffee first thing in the morning come close, but I’m not sure even they qualify as needs. Maybe my laptop does. I can barely remember how to write longhand anymore – I think in type.

Wants are another story; I have plenty of writing wants. I want blank notebooks, and pens that spill just enough ink smooth and clean onto the page when you use them, and something to find me the perfect quotation at a moment’s notice. I want beautiful bookshelves and music that articulates the emotional tone of what I’m writing. I want a soft-serve ice cream machine in my own office.

I’ve always wanted my own office. Well, to be honest what I really want is an entire cabin in the woods (or one set in a lush and well-manicured garden – I can never decide which). I want to fill this cabin with books and buy a huge wooden desk made of gorgeous timber – timber that earned its beauty during decades of struggling up toward sunshine in a rainforest – the sort of timber that I should be too responsible and too ashamed to own. And when I grew tired of sitting at this magical desk, I imagine that I would relax on a beautiful Turkish carpet in front of a fireplace.

Somehow my imagination never has me cleaning the ashes out of this fireplace in the cold hard light of day; I only ever sit there during twilight and watch the mystic dance of flames.

Isn’t that the way with wants?

I might want an office, but I certainly don’t need one. As long as it’s quiet enough I can write anywhere. Sometimes I can even write when it’s not at all quiet (does anyone else get some of their best ideas in church?). I can make do without the ice cream machine. Sleep, however, is a different story.

Trying to write without enough sleep in the bank is like trying to drive through fog or swim wearing shoes or bang your head against the wall without putting your bike helmet on first.

See what happens? You come up with sentences like the one above. And then you’re too dopey to edit them out. When I write tired I feel easily overwhelmed. I second-guess myself constantly and nothing I come up with seems good enough (possibly because nothing I come up with is good enough). It’s no fun at all.

Nope, if I had to choose between my cabin in the woods and getting enough sleep it’s not even a close call. Sleep I need. Cabins I just want.

Over to you: What are your creative wants and needs?

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13 responses to “Sweet sleep and ice cream machines: What do you need to create?

  1. Hmm. I reckon sleep is definitely on the cards for me, too, but it also depends what I’m writing. I’ve probably written a fair amount of stuff out of fatigue. And I’ve certainly chosen to write over sleep at the other end of the day (but probably I’d slept okay the night before…)- my longest writing stint lasted 15 hours non-stop & ended at about 2 in the morning.

    Probably the biggest need for me (maybe after sleep) is safety- a place I know I can sit and write and not be disturbed by anyone until I decide I want to be disturbed. In the absence of that, I find it hard to write. Ideally a room with a closed door. Doesn’t need a view, doesn’t need to be fancy or decked out. A closet with a desk, a chair and a lamp will do, so long as I know nobody’s going to come bursting in behind me. Isolation and privacy so I can get into the flow.

    Inspiration’s also pretty important. There’s a direct correlation between my writing and my travel. Being out of the ordinary grind gives me things to write about. I’ve done most of my writing over the last 5 years either on deployment (Niger, PNG, Sri Lanka & Sudan have all been major writing hotspots for me) or shortly after I return (particularly true of blog posts, which drop off corresponding to the amount of time since I’ve been back from the field). I’d classify this one as partway between want and need. I CAN write without travelling/proximate inspiration- but it’s a much harder task & things flow much better the closer I get to said inspiration.

    Music’s also pretty high on my list. It’s pretty rare that I write without having music on my headphones. It’s partly a mood thing, but probably relates to the first point about isolation & safety. I block myself off from the real world and immerse myself in the one inside.

    • Ah, undisturbed space and time. Yeah, five months ago I would have listed that as one of my needs too. It may still be, but it’s not something I have the luxury of at the moment. Writing in small chunks is working “OK” for blog posts and articles, but I haven’t tested the waters of any longer work yet. I’m thinking maybe… not so much.

  2. All I need to write is my in-ear-sennheiser-earplugs [music on or off does not really matter at that point, as long as it is either muffling all noises around me enough OR completely the opposite of what I am seeing (let that be the 4th pres christmas carol service when there is a hot summer on the other side of the window)] and something I can watch whenever the writing flow broke. Let that be a work Email coming in or anything else. I NEED small breaks when I WANT them you could possibly say. Sitting in total quiet without any visual stimulation is hell for me. Unless I am writing something deeply depressive…

    • Interesting – you’re one of the few who I’ve heard say good things about small breaks. Most people I know talk about their need to avoid the internet because they can’t manage the distraction factor.

  3. I love your baby boy and your insights, Lisa. I’m cheering for you on in both realms, momma-ing and writing. As a mother of four of those wee males, now grown, one gone, your mothering work is likely your most important work of all. As for that cabin in the woods or the flowery field, I vote for woods…in winter.
    written from the currently white world of Chicago,

  4. Sleep and a no 3.5 year-olds in the room with me. And then music. I often listen to the same song on repeat — too much change distracts me. Chocolate as rewards for progress. Manageable pain. Oddly enough, I could take or leave the laptop.

  5. Do you have a white noise machine? I don’t, but… maybe it might help you keep out some of the tropical background noise to sleep slightly better?

    Then again, with a baby you simply won’t sleep well.

    However, this too shall pass. 🙂

  6. Actually, on the subject of white noise, I don’t know if you guys can download apps onto your Kindle, or whether you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch, but there are a number of good apps which do a range of white noise options (sea, wind, rain, etc.)- we use them for Maya at night because she likes white noise while she’s sleeping. Probably works for those who like ambient, non-distracting noise for writing, too :o) Relax Melodies is the one I like best, as it allows you to blend sounds together, although Sleep Pillow is also quite nice. Just FYI.

  7. Pingback: Sleep (or the lack thereof) and books. « Hope Road

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