Author of , Sleep Thinking: The Revolutionary Program That Helps You Solve
Problems, Reduce Stress, and Increase Creativity While You Sleep
The song <Yesterday > came to Paul McCartney in his sleep. Jasper
Johns' flag paintings came to him in a dream. The opening notes to a song woke
Keith Richards up in the middle of the night. He got up and tape-recorded the
beginning to <I Can't Get No Satisfaction.>
The ending to Isabelle Allende's novel <House of the Spirits> came to her
in a dream. Sue Grafton explained, "I reach a point in many of my books
where I have a problem I can't solve, so as I go to sleep I give myself the
suggestion that a solution will come. When I wake up the solution will be
there." After writing seven hundred pages of <It> and not knowing
where the novel was going, Stephen King had the conclusion come to him in his
It will not surprise you to learn that your brain works while you sleep, that it
dreams, thinks and creates. You've already had the experience of creating your
novel, painting or song while you slept, of finding the right word, the right
plot twist, the right image while you were in the land of nod. The idea of sleep
creating is not new to you or news to you.
However, what may surprise you is that you can cultivate and improve your
natural ability to sleep create. Not only will you solve creative problems more
easily but you will enter into a routine that dramatically increases both the
quality and quantity of your creative efforts. You double or triple the hours
you currently create when you sleep create.
In <Sleep Thinking>, my latest book, I outline an eighteen-step program
for fashioning this new routine. If you follow the steps of the Sleep Thinking
Program, within a week you will find yourself more productive and more creative.
You may not think that something as simple as learning to sleep create could
make a giant difference in your creative life. But you would be wrong.
What you are doing by following the apparently simple steps of the Sleep
Thinking Program is moving your creative efforts to the top of your internal
to-do list, catapulting them over the other matters that clutter our mind. This
is a profound change guaranteed to increase your output and deepen your art.
What did you think about when you went to bed last night? If you are like
most people, you stewed about the day's events, replayed an unpleasant
conversation from work, or began dreading what tomorrow would bring. Maybe you
lay there, restive and unable to sleep, listening to your lover snore. But there
are far better things to do with that time than stew and worry. The very best
thing is to ready yourself for a night's worth of creating.
As soon as you crawl into bed, start thinking about your current creative
project. Give your brain a real invitation to think. If you do, your brain will
take sleep as its opportunity to make all the necessary connections. You'll
drift off and sleep like a baby. When you wake up, head straight to your current
creative project, so as to make the best use of your night efforts.
Just wondering (and not worrying) about your current project as you drift off
to sleep is the best way to enlist your brain. But you may feel blocked or you
may not be working on a project right now. In that case, the following are some
good sleeping thinking questions to get you started. Choose any one of them of
them as a portal into sleep creating.
1. What do I want to create?
2. What is my deepest creative project?
3. What is waiting to be born?
4. What piece do I want to return to?
5. What new project do I want to launch?
The following are two brief examples of how the Sleep Thinking
Program can help with your creative life.
Joyce, a second generation Chinese-American, had gotten her undergraduate
degree in economics and an MBA after that. For twenty-five years she'd worked in
corporate America in increasingly demanding jobs, while at the same time
marrying and bringing two children into the world. But when her aunt was
diagnosed with colon cancer in her early seventies and her mother was diagnosed
with the same cancer shortly thereafter, something in Joyce snapped. It no
longer made sense to her to just push herself, her husband, and her children as
if nothing mattered but achievement.
But she didn't know what else she should do. She began sleep thinking on the
question, "What would a more meaningful life look like?" One morning
she awoke and knew that she had to make a documentary film about the women of
her mother's generation, the Chinese women in their eighties and nineties who
had grown up in China and about whom she knew next to nothing.
She knew that her pursuit of the American Dream had something to do with her
feelings about these women, what they stood for and what they demanded of their
children, and that she had to come to terms with her feelings while these women
were still alive. To honor her realization, Joyce began a journey into
filmmaking, oral history, and the hidden recesses of her own psyche that
culminated in a film that she never knew she had it in her to create.
Loretta was a young woman who hated making mistakes. She had grown up with
critical parents who made her feel worthless whenever she displeased them,
which, since nothing could ever be done to their liking, was all the time. If
she played a piano piece decently at recital they could only comment on the way
she had slouched, how shy she had seemed, or on how much better they had
expected her to play, considering all the lessons she had taken. Loretta could
do nothing right.
The upshot of their meanness was to ruin her ability to freely make mistakes.
She still made mistakes, since we all do, but she hated them and tried to hide
them from herself and from everyone else. But she couldn't really hide them and
ended up chastising herself and saying things like "Only a champion idiot
like me could make these many mistakes."
Finally she realized that she had to change her attitude, since her fear of
mistakes was ruining her ability to write papers in her graduate psychology
program. Because she felt that each paper had to be perfect, she couldn't start
them. Then, at the last minute, she would grind something out, but what she
turned out was never as good what she might have written if she had felt free to
write multiple drafts.
Desperate, she began to sleep think, choosing the following statement as her
nighttime prompt: "I am so scared of mistakes." About the third or
fourth night she had a dream about mud. It wasn't just any mud. It was the kind
of mud you make when you mix too many pigments together. It was painter's mud.
What she saw in the dream was a happy child obliviously mixing too many colors
together, making a face at the mud she produced, and blithely starting over.
The child in the dream just didn't care that she had wasted some paint. It
simply wasn't a tragedy or an issue at all. No word like "mistake,"
"failure." "stupid," "wasteful," or
"incompetent" even crossed the little girl's mind. She had simply made
some mud and now needed to discard it. Loretta made the pledge to herself that
she would learn to become like the girl and woman she might have been if she
hadn't received so much disabling criticism. Her mantra became "mud means
I hope you will try out the Sleep Thinking Program to help with your creative
life. D. H. Lawrence explained that "sleep seems to hammer out for me the
logical conclusions of my vague days." Art Spiegelman described how he
handled problems while writing <Maus>: "If I go to sleep laying out
the day's problem to myself and let those be my last conscious thoughts, I'll
more or less consistently wake up with a solution." When you get in the
habit of sleep creating, your creative efforts will reach new heights.
Eric Maisel is the author of <Fearless Creating>, <The Creativity
Book>, <Deep Writing>, <A Life in the Arts>, and many other books
for creators. His latest book is <Sleep Thinking: The Revolutionary Program
That Helps You Solve Problems, Reduce Stress, and Increase Creativity While You
Sleep>. It is available at Maisel's two web sites, http://www.sleepthinking.com
and http://ericmaisel.com or wherever books are sold.