Writing at the Edge of Sleep

Before going to sleep, I sometimes make a request. Guide me to a new poem. Or, how do I transition to the next paragraph that evaded me all day? The request is Step One – fairly easy. Step Two is easier yet. Pull up the blanket. Fall asleep and snooze away. Release the weight of your body, buoyed by mattress and pillow, into the bed. Let any and all ego constrictions loosen to the night’s machinations. Let the sprites of dreams punch the time card to begin their night shift.

I have stood on the threshold between consciousness and dreaming, watched a thought fray, expand, and cobble into a dream. The thought which moments before laid itself bare now wears a tufted garment. The thought assumes a new form as image, motion, sound, voice, a potpourri of sense and seeming nonsense.
It’s difficult to last long on the threshold in hypnogogia, alert and controlled enough to not cross over into complete shuteye. These moments and preceding ones, however, are fertile territory for creative problem solving. The mind is highly receptive, each thought rippling throughout the body. I have used the consequences of this period, the dreaming mind, to great effect.

Keep a notebook by the bedside. Wake up at 3am or later with a solution. Jot down the word or sound or image that dreaming has produced. Capture the response while it’s still wet, before ego has a chance to dry it off and judge it useless and into forgotten exile.

On several occasions, the response came as a commanding voice: “Write this,” it said, a narrative awakening me to grab my pen. I’ve also watched words written during the day float like dandelion seeds until landing on grass, a new pattern, a sentence reordered. I jotted down the new order. I’ve also received images that on first glance make no sense until I pry them apart to pull out meaning.

William Stafford’s writing process included rising early, often relying on the first word that came to him to prompt a poem. He explains, “Something is offering you a guidance available only to those undistracted by anything else.”

Many are the gifts of the dark. Lean on the offerings of nightly crafting when eyes in flutter open to the dream realm. Wear its garments as literary fodder. Make the image central to the poem or the bridge to a consequent paragraph. Peal away the garments to what’s raw. There are no mistakes, only a mind edging to the next word, sound, and sense.

One thought on “Writing at the Edge of Sleep

  1. I really love William Stafford and I really love this line in your post: “Many are the gifts of the dark.” I often do step 1 and step 2 but forget to make the connection, to follow up or take a few quiet minutes just as I wake to listen. Thanks for the inspiration and reminders.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *