children's author and educator
Barbara Jean Hicks,
LESSON FOUR: SLEEP ON EVERYTHING
(Or: What Time of Day Is Best for Doing Creative Work?)
I love Eleanor Farjeon’s poem “Cats Sleep Anywhere”:
Cats sleep anywhere, any table, any chair.
Top of piano, window-ledge, in the middle, on the edge.
Open drawer, empty shoe, anybody's lap will do.
Fitted in a cardboard box, in the cupboard with your frocks.
Anywhere! They don't care! Cats sleep anywhere.”
My cat Miguel, for his lazy catnaps, preferred a lap, a cardboard box, or the window ledge, in that order. Patches simply followed the sun. No sun? Any warm, soft spot would do—a pillow, a fleece blanket, the laundry basket.
Sleep is essential to the creative process. The dreaming hours and those fuzzy moments between full wakefulness and sleep are the times when our subconscious does its very best creative work. A writer sleeps on everything. I’ve gone to bed at night thinking about a knot, in my life or my work in progress, that needed untangling. More often than not, I’ve wakened in the morning with the untangling done.
Bad reviews and rejection letters are especially important to sleep on. At first reading, a rejection or a bad review is like a stab to the heart. I’m not certain I’m going to survive it.
Several years ago I stumbled on a snarky online review of one of my romantic comedies: “Ms. Hicks really ought to be writing for children,” the critic had written. “No one else could possibly appreciate such silliness.”
Believe me, I slept on that one. I went to bed, pulled the covers over my head, and swore I’d never write again. But when I finally crawled out the other side, I took the reviewer’s words as a challenge: I wrote a children’s story. That book, Jitterbug Jam, has sold more copies than any of my adult books, been translated into five languages and published in nine countries, and sold audio and stage rights. Sleeping on it made me able to see the review as honest feedback and ask myself what I could learn from it.
My cats are clearly of the opinion that everything looks better after a good nap; I couldn’t agree more. And those moments just before I fall asleep and just before I'm fully awake are the absolute most creative moments of the day for me.
How about you?
Tune in next week for Lesson Five: Stretch! (Or, Never be Bored, and You Won't be Boring!)
THIS IS THE FIFTH IN A SERIES. FOR THE INTRODUCTORY COLUMN ON "EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT WRITING I LEARNED FROM MY CATS," CLICK HERE. FOR LESSON ONE: BE CURIOUS, CLICK HERE. FOR LESSON TWO: MAKE DARING LEAPS, CLICK HERE. FOR LESSON THREE: SCRATCH WHERE IT ITCHES, CLICK HERE.