One of the books that appears on almost every list of must-reads about writing craft is “On Writing” by Stephen King. I read it! In it, he mentions when he’s having trouble with a story, he thinks about the book or problem just before he goes to sleep. Then, during the night as his body rests, his “boys in the basement” – i.e. his subconscious – work on finding the solution.
Clearly, it’s a very successful method for Mr. King. But could it help someone like me, an inexperienced writer working on his first novel? I didn’t see how it would hurt for me to try. I’m no Stephen King; of that I am deeply aware. Still, as an aspiring novelist, I’m open to all the help I can get – from the basement, the attic, the out house, wherever!
The first time I tried this method of finding inspiration was about midway in the development of the story line for my novel. It’s not as if I had nothing. I had successfully completed a plot embryo for the nascent fantasy adventure which set out a very high level plan. Unfortunately, as I tried to dig down and turn the 30,000 foot view into a detailed road map, I ran out of gas in my outlining efforts. So, I just started writing, which was great for a good long while. Soon enough, though, my newbie status began showing. The writing bogged down.
I’d spent one particularly long, socially distant, stay-at-home morning struggling to move the ball forward on the tale with more fumbles than carries. It was so frustrating! That afternoon, I changed tack and did more reading from my writer’s process/writing craft list to give myself a break. Deciding to try the boys in the basement method that night, I put a notepad and pen on the bedside table as I readied myself for sleep. Why not? Nothing ventured and all that, right? After my nightly ablutions were done, I mentally reviewed where I was in my story. It wasn’t particularly encouraging. Ha!
Anyway, I turned off the light, and focused on getting a good night’s sleep. About an hour later, my eyes flew wide open. I’d had an idea for the plot! I scribbled it down quickly with a half smile, glad to have made at least some progress. I put my head back down on the pillow fully expecting to sleep the rest of the night through. Suddenly, though, it was as if a dam had burst. I’m not kidding! I had another idea and another and another.
At times, I felt as if I were doing automatic writing. You know, when a clairvoyant channels a spirit that writes through them. I had ideas for the next several scenes. I had ideas for the end of the book. I had ideas about character traits and subplots driven by those traits. It was coming so quickly, I had to rush to get my thoughts down. Some of my scribbles were hard to make out the next day. LoL
It was a true breakthrough. Evidently, my boys, girls or whoever, had just been chomping at the bit for the chance to be put to work. Although that was a singular experience, I have since received some additional bits of overnight inspiration from “the basement.”
I’m not saying any of this nighttime inspiration will result in a good story. They may not even be good ideas. We’ll see! In the meantime, I’ve been able to keep moving forward. So, here’s a heartfelt “Thank you!” to the boys in my basement.
Have you gotten story ideas in the middle of the night? Has a plot breakthrough suddenly dropped in on you when you least expected? Tell me about it!