Midnight Muse

Lulu Oberkotter  
As an unpublished wannabe, I have very little advice to impart to my fellow writers. But here’s one little tip I’ve learned through my experience with chronic insomnia that I feel qualified to share.

While no two writers are exactly alike, I presume all of you have this experience in common: You're snug in your bed, teetering on the cusp of sleep, when you're struck by a brilliant story idea. A real one-in-a-million. A concept with best-seller potential or an epiphany that solves a complicated plot problem in one of your WIPs. And you're totally going to remember it in the morning.

So, how’d that work out for you? Yeah, me too.

It seems no solution exists to combat this problem—no lock for your mind to keep those ephemeral treasures secure. Your ideas, like half-remembered dreams, fade away upon waking, leaving as quickly and suddenly as they came until—like a thief in the night—daylight has robbed you of your own thoughts. If only you could deposit those priceless treasures into a safer vault!

As it turns out, there is a solution. A surprisingly simple one… in theory. Yet it might be one of the hardest pieces of advice to implement. How can you remember those brilliant ideas come morning? Take note, friends.

Get your butt out of bed.

Yes, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s the only way. I don’t care how tired you are, who you might disturb while slipping out of the bedroom, or how early you must wake up tomorrow. Excuses are novel killers. Get out of bed and write it down. Now.

In the moment, while sleep pulls your head down onto that soft pillow, and the warm blankets hold you in their seductive embrace, it seems impossible to resist their allure. But you must. If not, that idea will die in your sleep and never return. There’s only one way to keep it alive: Rip those blankets off, run to your notepad, laptop, journal, or whatever, and write that idea down onto something tangible. You’ll curse me in the moment; you’ll thank me in the morning.

Now that I’ve given you this unpleasant but necessary advice, here comes the disclaimer: Remember how Cinderella’s beautiful coach turned back into an old pumpkin at the stroke of midnight? Yeah. Turns out, our magical midnight inspirations sometimes suffer a similar fate. Not every idea we have while half-asleep is as cool as we thought, come morning.

I’ll admit that I have, at times, yanked myself from my toasty bed and jotted down a ‘brilliant’ idea, only to go over what I wrote the next morning and find myself gobsmacked at how unbelievably stupid it is. It only seemed good at the time because I was mentally impaired by exhaustion. Having admitted that, however, I stand by my previous advice. While about a quarter of my night-time story ideas turn into rotten old pumpkins once the spell wears off, so to speak, the majority retain their beauty and magic. And if roughly three out of four prove worth the effort and temporary suffering, that’s more than enough for me!

19+ Comments


Fun blog :partying_face:

… but if one doesn’t have a table within arm’s reach, put one’s recording device under one’s pillow :pray: :smiley:

May-20 at 00:24


Glad you included that last part. Edge of sleep writing inspiration is a lot like drunk poetry or painting while tripping. The first thing to go in any of these situations is one’s critical faculty, and the second is one’s inhibitions. When they return as you sober up, it can be very much like a bad hangover.

If the Muse strikes in the middle of the night, as she often does, I try to get up and actually write. Not just note the brilliant insight, but write the scene. That doesn’t always work either, but I think it works more often than having only the sketch or outline before you in the morning while the tone and details have evaporated. Maybe that’s just me- I’m a pantser when it comes to fiction. I have written quite a lot of technical/academic material in the past, and outlining is very helpful there, but the results tend to lack style, and this carries over to working from notes when writing fiction. So, if I can, I write.

May-20 at 01:14


I used to teach a class on this subject. But back then they were creatives producing advertising to sell products for millions of dollars. Fast forward 15 years, and the same concepts apply to writing fiction.
Two things, it doesn’t happen only in the middle of the night. It happens in the shower, while driving to work, while doing that six-mile walk, riding your bike to the supermarket. It happens. So what you need to learn to do, is work the image in your head and create a soundbite, then pull your phone out, your computer, whatever it is and turn it into words on paper. I call it a trigger. Then work the idea, develop the characters, the scene, the conflict. And yes you will forget it.
But you will not.
Here’s a story trigger. Belly works with an Alzheimer patient who is nice and a stroke patient trying to rehab, as he sees their lives fall apart, his own life is in turmoil and their issues project into his own existence, and as his own health deteriorates he feels like them, feeling useless.

You do not have to solve the trigger, just give you enough to recall all the crazy stuff that went through your head. Many will not pan out. But about 90 percent of my stories that have been published, started this way.

May-20 at 02:33


I use a voice recorder. I keep it by my bedside. There’s no need to switch the light on or even open my eyes; I can find and operate it by touch. I split things up into separate bullet point notes, and they’re waiting for me in the morning. I also take it with me on long walks, which are one of my main sources of inspiration.

May-20 at 07:32


I write myself messages on Messenger. I have a separate conversation for that purpose alone.

Another thing is, I think I read somewhere that the mind is super creative when it becomes tired, so those midnight ideas are not that seldom. I noticed that at times my biggest drive to write comes around 10PM or later, and those sit-downs are probably the most word effective. For whatever the reason I have a code word for that, so when my wife comes to me late at night saying it’s late, I just say “we’re flying through cosmos with a monkey on my back”. I can’t quite remember where that came from (I think it was a cartoon about workaholism?) , but it’s all she needs to know I’m going to stay up late.

May-20 at 08:46


I use Evernote and link it to all of my devices. The screen may wake me up in the middle of the night (even with dark mode) but it’s worth it. The same platform works for wherever I usually find myself when an idea strikes. Bathroom, work, social functions, etc.

Driving is my only hang up and I just don’t care to do voice to text. Somehow it doesn’t resonate unless it’s written.

May-20 at 09:22


Same. I don’t keep any devices in my room, but I do like being able to have it on my phone for when inspiration strikes while I’m on-the-go.

May-20 at 11:29


Cool. I call mine “first drafting.”

May-20 at 11:54


Get out of bed and write it down . Now.

A very wise thing to do. I’ve got a pencil, and a mini spiral-bound note book, on my night table (which is a plastic storage bin containing books…surprise), along with one of those emergency lamps so I can pull up the upper half. They have two powerful LED lights that run on batteries. I don’t have to stumble to the light switch (which seems more dangerous the old I get!). I suppose I could get a real lamp that I could plug into the wall… oh well, I can’t be bothered right now. I’ve got enough stuff. I also have mini notepads in other locations.

May-20 at 11:57


We’ve all been there. I’m particularly adept at discovering major plot holes in the middle of the night. Funny thing is, it is possible to train yourself to remember those ideas. It just takes practice. I have a terrible memory, and I used to get up to write those ideas down. Or sometimes, I’d leave a pen and paper by my bed, only to discover an indecipherable scribble in the morning.

Now, I’m in the habit of posing a question to myself before I go to bed. It might be working out the next scene from my outline, or the next issue in the outline itself. Once I have something, I repeat it back to myself, in my mind, several times. In the morning, I remember it and write it down.

May-20 at 12:40


I can usually remember the substance of the idea come morning…the problem is I usually lose the cool ‘super-context’ around it, the almost-so-real-you-can-smell-it-ness. If I could bottle that stuff, I’d have a killer novel.

May-20 at 16:26


Yeah, what’s worse those killer lines we come up with always sound better in our heads, don’t they?

May-20 at 17:34


Not always, just 99%.

It’s not the despair that kills you, it’s the hope :grin:

May-20 at 18:04


I’m always puzzled by this phrase. As someone who has experienced long bouts of intense, chronic suicidal ideation, it just sounds like nonsense. Is there an implied ‘dashed’ before ‘hope’? That can certainly trigger suicide, but so can prolonged periods of hopelessness (or even short ones, I suppose). My understanding of the word ‘despair’ is that it is essentially the emotion that comes from losing all hope, and with the rare exception of people who sacrifice themselves for some higher good, I think that’s generally what kills you.

May-20 at 18:43


It’s not literal, and definitely should be taken with a pinch of salt rather than any kind of serious psychological analysis. More Murphy’s law.

For example, your football team is terrible all year, but next year they’ve got a new coach / player coming in who could turn it all around. And they come in and fail too. That lift of hope, then getting crushed all over again can be worse.

May-20 at 18:51


I have an alternative response instead of getting out of bed.

Meh, fuck it. Ideas are cheap. I’ll dream up something even better later. It’ll come when it is ready.

May-20 at 20:01


I have full blown, Technicolored movie dreams on a fairly consistent basis. Some of them are about the stories I’m currently working on. Some are brand new ideas. Some are just nightmares.

This is where the fact that everything I write is on my phone comes in handy. I just grab it and jot everything down. Granted, it’s incoherent acid trip level surrealism, but it’s there. And I’ve trained myself to read it back over (if it’s a good enough Idea) before I put myself to bed the next time so I can pick up the thread.

May-23 at 18:48


I use a note app on my phone and jot down concepts. I’ve started to understand which words will retrigger memory for me, so I don’t have to write several paragraphs of a dream or story concept. Most of my dreams that I remember, or I feel are story worthy (cause I get some vivid, weird, dark dreams sometimes), I write down as soon as I wake up. But I mostly have story ideas in the shower, so my solution is an underwater writing pad and pencil! It’s been an absolute game changer for me.

May-23 at 21:50


Great flow to this piece, Luluo! Ah, the muse. That’s why we’re all here.

May-26 at 00:13
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