Can You Magically Up Your Productivity By 400% With One Stupid Trick?
"Never go to sleep without a request for your subconscious." – Thomas Eddison. (Assuming he didn't steal that too.)
I was inspired to write this blog post after watching this video by Michelle B, which you can watch here.
The Basic Hypothesis: Sleeping on a problem makes it easier to solve, so reading your synopsis before bed should make writing in the morning easier.
Studies (mentioned in Michelle's video) show that complicated problems are best solved if you look at them in the evening, then try and solve them first thing the next morning, after you have slept.
This suggests your brain will continue to work on the problem while you are sleep, even though you aren't consciously aware of it. Theoretically, this is a process that can be utilised by writers who write first thing in the morning (like me) to improve their overall productivity and the quality of their work.
My plan is, to test this theory for a week, and write journal entries each day after writing. Her are my seven journal entries:
Journal One: 3 Scenes of POS.
When I first woke up, I had no ideas for the scenes I planned to write for POS, despite having read the synopsises for the night before. I did, however, have an idea for a truly terrifying short horror story. It was so terrifying, that as I woke up at 4am in the pitch dark of a winter morning, I lay in bed for about twenty minutes before I did anything.
While getting ready to write, I still had no brilliant ideas. Well, I thought, this was a complete failure. Should I blog about a complete failure? Maybe its not worth finishing the blog post at all. Still, I thought, I might as well wait until I give writing a go.
Now it's only 11am and I have written 3500 words on POS. I've written that much on other days this week too, but its taken me all day—starting at 7am and stopping at 8pm. Its been a painful struggle. This has been comparatively fast and quite painless. Though I am developing a headache.
I'd still like to write another 1.5k today. However, I didn't read the synopsis for those chapters last night. I am hopeful I will still get it done. So far, I am impressed. However, I want to finish this novel tomorrow, which means tomorrow will be another 4.5k day.
Let's see how that plays out.
Journal Two: 5 scenes of POS
Yesterday, I ended up not being able to finish, or even really start, the chapter I hadn't read the synopsis of the night before. Which meant if I was going to finish POS on time (today) I would have to write four chapters in one day, or around 6,000 words.
I read the synopsises for all four chapters before bed—though when I got up and re-read them, I realised there was a plot hole that was going to need to be fixed. So, I had to do some re-jiggering of the synopsis on the fly.
Did I end up writing over 6k and finishing the novel? Yes, I did. Was it much easier than usual? Yes, it was. I didn't actually finish up until 8:30pm, which is very late for me to still be working, but I did finish, and the last few thousand words were not the painful pulling of teeth I expected.
So far, I am impressed.
Journal Three: Edit a nonfiction book.
I had been putting off some editing a nonfiction for a few weeks, so right before bed I told myself: 'The first thing I do tomorrow morning, will be to complete that editing.' Despite that being the plan MANY mornings prior, the 'thinking about it right before sleep' trick seemed to work and today, I got up, and edited it very easily and reasonably quickly.
I should have planned to do more last night, because I was done with the editing before 9am.
Tonight/tomorrow, I think I will test a slightly more complicated idea. I am going to ask my brain to write a synopsis. Actually, I am going to ask it to write TWO synopsises, one after the other.
The first thing I am going to do tomorrow is get up and write the synopsis for AS, immediately followed by the synopsis for ABAB. I think my brain could do one easily, but two? We'll see how it plays out.
Journal Four: Write synopses for AS and ABAB
Today did not go well. I was out very late last night and woke up with a headache that progressed into a migraine and a sore throat that feels suspiciously like the start of a cold. I did not leap out of bed and complete the two synopsis I wanted to work on. I spent most of the day wasting time and then late in the evening I did the one of the synopsises, but it was hard work.
The other days were clear successes, but today wasn't. I don't know if asking my brain to do TWO synopsises for completely different novels was just too many things for it to focus on at one time. Or if the flu/migraine/tiredness negated the effects.
My goal tomorrow is to complete quite a few very physical tasks and I am hoping going to sleep, thinking about them will make them easy and fast tomorrow. Plus, I am going to have to get up early and the second synopsis before I do the physical things.
The experiment continues.
Journal Five: Write Synopsis for ABAB and yard work.
I sat down early to try and write the second synopsis and it came quite easily. I was then able to go and do all the yard work without any problems. I should note again, I don't wake up overflowing with ideas, its not until I sit down to write that they flow out.
Lesson learned. Sleeping on an idea works well. Sleeping on TWO ideas doesn't. Apparently, your brain can only solve one big cognitive problem at a time. However, one big cognitive problem and some physical, non-cognitive tasks is fine.
I should mention, while the synopsis backbone came very easily, as soon as I finished writing it, I noticed there were some plot holes and loose ends that needed to be patched up. Because it is a co-authored story, I can't be quite as detailed as I would writing a solo book. However, I still plan to have another go at filling in some of the gaps. Perhaps tomorrow.
Tomorrow, my intention is to write an opening scene, and write up notes and scores for ten of the Aurealis books I have read (I'm judging Fantasy Novels this year). If I have time, I may also look at the second synopsis again.
Journal Six: Patch holes in ABAS Synopsis, Aurealis Scoring, Opening scene of SP.
The first thing I did was get up and patch up a few of the holes in the second synopsis. Its now ready to go. So clearly sitting on it another night was a good tactic. Maybe not every complex problem can be solved in a single night—particularly if you are giving your brain several complex problems at a time.
I did most of my Aurealis scoring and reading for the day, however I had things on in afternoon and ran out of time to write the opening scene. I did read through the synopsis notes for the book though, and I was unhappy with the world building. In the evening, right before bed, I suddenly had a huge cascade of awesome ideas for the world and am excited to write it in the morning.
Tomorrow, I am going to read a novel of mine I am about to start editing. The goal of the read through is to comment all through the text on any problems I see, any thoughts I have and anything I want fixed. These comments will form the editing notes I use when I begin the editing process. I feel like this system would be better utilised if I read the book, then slept on it, then did the comments the next day. So that is what I am going to do, making this an eight-day journal instead of seven days.
Journal Seven: Opening scene of SP, read POS.
I woke up reasonably early, sat down at the computer and wrote the first scene of SP. Then I remembered I wanted to write it in first person present, not third person past, so I will have to edit it. However, it is written and after my world building epiphany last night, I am very happy with it. And I finished with it before 8:30am.
Now I am going to madly read POS in its entirety in the hope that tomorrow I can go through it again and write brilliant editing/feedback comments for myself.
Journal Eight: Write editing notes in POS.
I got half the editing notes done, not all. This was due largely to the TERRIBLE migraine I had, that left me virtually unable to function as a person. I think the comments would have come quite easily, if I had been able to see the screen to write them. As it was, the still came pretty easily, but staring at the screen was just too much. I didn't struggle as much with thinking as I normally would with a terrible migraine. The comments were there, in my brain, ready to go. So, I am still calling today a success. Sort of.
Well, over eight days I have achieved the following:
1. Written 3,500 words on POS
2. Written 6, 000 words and completed POS.
3. Edited an entire non-fiction project.
4. Written a synopsis for AS.
5. Written a synopsis for ABAB.
6. Patched holes in ABAB synopsis, and scored some Aurealis books.
7. Written the opening for SP and read POS.
8. Written half the editing notes for POS.
Honestly, at the start of the week, looking at that workload would have made me cry. It’s the sort of load I WANT to achieve every week, but rarely do. So over all, for me, I consider this test a huge success.
I don't think there is any magic to it. Its just a matter of intention really. Planning what you want to do the night before, then getting up and actually doing it first thing. However, I do believe my brain worked on problems while I was asleep, and I also believe my test showed it could only work on one cognitive project at a time.
Going forward, I will continue to use this technique.
1. Read the synopsis/notes for what I want to do the next day right before bed.
2. Sleep on it.
3. Work on it first thing when I get up in the morning when possible.
I hope you decide to give this one a try too. Please let me know how it works for you! I always love hearing from you.