Most nights, I lie in my bed and thoughts flood my mind. Picture a gear driven engine that won't shut off--that's my head. I'm usually tired, but I don't drift into a silent, beautiful sleep. No, everything from broken lawn sprinklers, current projects, my children's school to past conversations and failures race through my mind like a parade of regret and fear.
Boo-hoo, right? It's gone on for long enough that I've tried to turn this phenomenon into something good, especially when I'm working on a book. Instead of letting my brain dictate the topic, I'll run through a specific part of a story and try to play out multiple scenarios and outcomes. My semi-conscious brain operates like a sort of computer program that uses a complex algorithm to predict all possible points of conflict and conclusion. That isn't to say that every outcome is worth sharing...
Most times, this never leads to any sort of cohesive revision. Usually, that weird self-doubt virus takes over (the same one that makes me relive that one time in fourth grade when I cussed at the lunch lady) and starts to plant questions, like "Do you actually believe anyone will read this?" or "Can you not see how offensive this is?"
Why do it? Well, that semi-conscious review, despite the self-loathing, makes me very familiar with the intricacies of the work, sometimes exposing minor flaws in the logic, dialogue or goals of my stories. I might not find the best plot resolution in those sleepy moments, but I might find that my current direction for resolving the protagonist's journey isn't quite right. Or I might expose a character's bias that isn't quite believable.
No matter what happens, I've never abandoned sleep, jumping out of bed to start anew on a project right away. This is where a pad and pen on the nightstand are a good idea, because it never fails--if I haven't written it down, I never remember the specifics the next day. Without a written prompt, the next day I may recall, "There was something that I was going to change..."
You may not want to gum up your late night routines prior to sleeping (and really, I wouldn't recommend it unless you're already a member of the Spinning Gear Sleep Club), but do you ever review your stories when you're away from the keyboard? How do you do it? Drop me a comment and share your experiences.