Updated: Sep 13, 2019
I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams in this blog before.
It’s a fascinating nonfiction book written by Matthew Walker, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkley. It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s a little bit passionate about sleep.
All the same, I have to say, he makes some very compelling, study-backed arguments for why we need it… in just about every facet of our physical, mental and emotional lives. Take our ability to problem solve, which Walker wrote about for The Guardian in March of last year.
Many Fortune 500 companies are interested in KPIs – key performance indicators, or measurables, such as net revenue, goal-accomplishment speed, or commercial success. Numerous employee traits determine these measures. But commonly, they include: creativity, intelligence, motivation, effort, efficiency, effectiveness when working in groups, as well as emotional stability, sociability, and honesty. All of these are ruthlessly dismantled by insufficient sleep.
Except for that bit about extroverted activity – i.e., “effectiveness when working in groups” and “sociability” – that long list is very effective, even necessary, when it comes to correctly identifying a polished final draft.
There’s a reason why people advise undecideds to “sleep on it.” An actual scientific reason, as it turns out.
According to Walker, sleep physically cleans up your brain, deleting unimportant information and solidifying newly learned data. In so doing, it also makes room for more critical thinking capabilities to occur.
That’s why the following Writing Challenge is such a worthwhile one to take – no matter how difficult it may be to do.
Take a week or two off before you declare it done.
Before you start crowing online to your Facebook followers, Twitter flock or Instagram groupies that you’ve officially polished your manuscript to perfection and are ready to publish or be published, give it a rest.
Give your manuscript a rest. Give your brain a rest. Give yourself a rest. Step away from that story and all the emotional and mental energy you put into it with a little vacation, or some Netflix binge-watching, or reading a new novel or two or five. Then come back and read it one more time.
Don’t declare you’re done until you do.
Note that the Challenge above doesn’t just recommend “sleeping on it.” It recommends sleeping on it multiple nights, complete with days filled with non-editing activities.
Personally, I would recommend at least a week. Maybe make it two. And a month might even be just what the doctor called for.
This gives you the physical refreshment you need along with a range of other perspectives to digest. You might not realize you’re digesting them as you do, but your mental “stomach” will be extracting nutrients nonetheless.
By this, I’m talking about interacting with life outside of your novel, such as:
Actual conversations with friends, family, or the person at the Dairy Queen drive-through window
Reading books and seeing their authors’ varying presentation styles
Watching movies and all the storytelling tricks and tools they use.
You’ll think you’re taking a break, doing nothing productive whatsoever. But in fact, you’re recharging your brain so that when you do go back to review your last draft…
You’ll be less “inside your own head” and more capable of critiquing it from all those perspectives you’ve soaked up. That will then allow you to better polish everything into a proper final draft.
You’ll probably be more confident about that final draft too. And, as we’ll explore in tomorrow’s post… that’s a very big deal in taking the plunge from being a writer to an official published author.