I’m convinced that the key to good writing is a bad mattress. That’s because I frequently awake at 4:00AM with a story dancing in my head. As I lie back, studying the shadow-play on my dim ceiling, all manner of plots and thoughts leap into my consciousness. Perhaps they’re just continuations of an interrupted dream. Perhaps they’re just biproducts of the neural calm before the storm of the coming day.
I don’t know why but my best ideas come in the pre-dawn hours when everyone else seems to be contentedly snoring. It’s why I keep a pad and pen beside my bed. On really productive daysprings, I rise, grumble at my aching back, tread down the darkened hallway, and bask in the reassuring glow of my computer monitor. As I assault the keyboard, I remain in the semi-darkness lest turning on the light reveal the distractions of my cluttered office.
Maybe I’m self-centeredly focused on writing because it’s something I enjoy. Perhaps, the nocturnal square dance of neurons inspires creativity in everyone, regardless of the final medium — whether it be art, business, politics(?) or preaching — and all humans find their center in the wee hours.
I once read a book about the “quiet hour” which overtakes the deep jungle just prior to dawn each day. It’s the hour when the nocturnal predators have ceased their hunt and the creatures of the sunlight have not yet begun theirs. The entire jungle goes eerily silent. So, maybe, it’s not just humans who adhere to the universal timing of peace-filled creativity. Maybe it’s even some electro-magnetic pull on our synapses as our side of the planet hurdles methodically towards the rising sun. Who knows?
In the dark of my office, a storyline begins to escape the recesses of my brain. It involves a man and a woman. Don’t all great stories involve two entities either in love, in conflict, or both? The more I write, the more the plot gels, and as often happens, the characters take on a life of their own as if I were not even here – call it freewill. That makes me pause mid-keystroke and wonder, “Do they even know I exist? Would they even care?”
I begin to imagine their lives as they might play out on the coming pages. The accordion-like expansion and contraction of circumstances from good to bad to good again. The complexity of human reactions to seemingly insignificant foreshadowing and the spiraling consequences of those reactions that predetermine the future. This might actually evolve into a pretty interesting tale with a valid subtext … and then my sleepy neighbor with the long morning commute, once again opens his car door before fobbing off the alarm, causing every minute plot detail to swirl down the shrieking drain of a new day’s frenzy.
Maybe you have 4:00AM thoughts. Send them to me so I can plagiarize them. Or, maybe we could just get together for coffee and compare thoughts. You might even remember the rest of the plot to my story that started out so well. Meanwhile, I’m going back to bed.
The best fiction is far more true than any journalism.
― William Faulkner
Did someone forward this newsletter to you after reading it themselves? Don’t settle for that!
to get a fresh, unused copy of this newsletter sent directly to you every Sunday morning. If you decide it stinks, you can always unsubscribe.
— Paul Johnson
Based on the advice of a trusted friend, I just started this book but I might as well go ahead and recommend it now. I say that because, based on the first hour of listening, it’s going to be packed with insights. If you’re looking for a quick, entertaining read while you wait for your kid at soccer practice, this isn’t it. This is history made interesting with analysis of events and their unexpected consequences. It’s also a 37-hour listen.
A meeting of great minds who think alike