Monday, December 10, 2007

A Secret to Writing

by Nancy Martin

As a writer who's made a decent living in my chosen profession for more than 25 years, I have a few secrets to success that I'm reluctant to share. But since I am among friends and it's the holiday season, I will reveal one.

I am a firm believer in naps.

Nothing relaxes the imagination like a nice, restorative afternoon snooze--preferably wrapped up in a much-loved, if slightly tattered quilt on my favorite sofa. A nap also lowers my blood pressure. (Yes, in case you were wondering, my kitchen rehab is still under construction, and at the rate it's going I expect it will remain that way through the fall of 2009.) Napping calms my brain. It allows my thoughts to travel into the hearts and minds of the imaginary people who populate my books. Often, I can propose a question to myself (what's the worst that could happen to this woman?) before I nod off, and the answer pops into my head while I'm asleep. How painless is that?

I have a writer friend who claims she meditates for 20 minutes every day to ready herself for writing. Me, I call a spade a spade. I nap.

Can any other profession claim the usefulness of naps? Besides the occasional president, that is?

Mind you, I do not nap in my bed. That's too much like sleeping. Which would be bad, I'm pretty sure. I cannot nap in the Laz-y-Boy chair that I finally broke down and purchased because so many of my writer friends claim it's the best ergonomic position for working on a laptop. (And they're right! But I wish I didn't look the way my grandfather did while he watched Lawrence Welk on Sunday nights after a roast beef dinner.) Napping in my work chair, though, is too much like slacking off, so I don't snooze in the Laz-y-Boy. But the old sofa in an upstairs bedroom is comfy enough, but not too comfy that I'd zonk out for the rest of the day.

I only nap for 50 minutes. (Magically, I wake up at the 50 minute mark. Can somebody explain that phenomenon?) Which is totally wrong, according to this source, which says 20 minutes should be your maximum nap. Longer than that, and you'll disturb your nightly sleep. But me, I don't nap every day. Once or twice a week, an afternoon snooze is blissful, and it doesn't totally mess up my sleeping schedule.

After an all-night flight to Venice last month, my husband and I experienced some jet lag on the first day of our cruise. I couldn't stay awake. I kept falling asleep every time I sat down. Fortunately, that seemd to be the case with just about all the other passengers over the age of 6. While little kids frolicked in the pool (why must all children shriek in a swimming pool??) their parents were collapsed on deck chairs as if they'd been hit with stun guns. Grown men were curled up on sofas in the lounge, snoring like Santa after delivering a whole world of presents. I spotted one elegant lady in the champagne bar drooling on a towel she'd daintily tucked under her face. Napping was imperative to getting our body clocks acclimated to the new time zone.

Our return trip to the US was even worse. First of all, the other passengers on our plane fell asleep in various contorted positions of torture victims. (Even the most beautiful woman looks horrible with her head snapped back and her jaw hanging open.) But the position of the seats made it impossible for Jeff and me to do more than catch a couple of catnaps. When finally we arrived at home--after 28 hours of wide awake travel--I napped every day for a week. And slept like a log at night.

Now the holidays are upon us. In addition to the shopping and other Christmas preparations, I say it's time to step up one's commitment to napping, too. When I hear Andy Williams crooning, "It's the most wonderful time of the year . . . " I think of napping.

Hey, a few holiday naps will restore my creative mind, right? And prepare me for another year of writing. Anyone want to join me?

11 comments:

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Naps rule. Nothing helps me get past a sticky point like stretching out and letting my mind wander over all the possibilities.

Joyce said...

I would love to be able to nap, but they frown on that at work. It's unseemly to get drool all over the police reports.

Seriously, every once in awhile I'll have the house to myself for an hour after work. The first thing I do is plop down on the couch.

Gina said...

Nancy -
I agree that naps are great, but I'd have more problems with the suggestions in your linked article than just the 20 minute time limit. Using an alarm clock would really take the fun out of napping! I prefer to snuggle down on the couch with an afghan and a cat, and sleep as long as I feel like -- usually about half an hour or so.

Tory said...

I love naps! And they definitely get the creative juices flowing.

Regarding the "20 minute" rule: My relationship with experts fundamentally changed after I read a book saying authoritatively that nobody needs more than 8 hours sleep a night. A few weeks later, I opened up a psychology textbook I had just bought for a class (I was in college at the time) and it said, "After thousands of research studies, we still don't know why humans need to sleep." I decided, "If they don't even know WHY I need to sleep, how can they possibly know HOW LONG I need to sleep?" I never took the word of "experts" after that without first seeing if it worked FOR ME. (Except occasionally with cars. I figure some knowledge is better than none.)

Annette said...

I love naps, although I rarely take them. This blog may be just the incentive (read: EXCUSE) I need to make a more regular practice of it.

My favorite nap spot is my recliner. I often complain that there's something wrong with it. At a certain position, it must emit some kind of gas that knocks me right out. It's also a great indicator of how good the book I'm currently reading is. If the book keeps me awake when the recliner is in that special position, it's a helluva book.

I'm afraid that I do agree with the 20 minute nap thing, though, at least for me. If I nap for longer than that, I feel worse (groggy) than I did BEFORE the nap.

But that's just me.

mike said...

Ah, yes, the blessed restorative powers of the nap! I agree with everyone...naps are the cat's pajamas. But I'm of the shorter-is-better school...10 minutes is all I need to create another full day, and at work, if I can quietly zone off for even a minute early in the afternoon, I'm good for another fully alert 4 hours.

Nancy--Does Kayla know you posted her zoned out and mouth agape on the net?! How funny.

Gina said...

Tory -
I learned to distrust experts long before I got to college -- 2nd grade! That's when I had my tonsils surgically removed and one of the initial procedures was a finger prick, followed by someone squeezing blood out of the little hole. I was pretty squeamish at that age, and when the nurse led my mother and me to an elevator, I said clearly, "If I get on an elevator now I'm going to throw up." The nurse said I wouldn't. We got on the elevator. I did. Never again did I trust authority when it contradicted my own experience.

I've been keeping up with sleep research because of my interest in dreams, and "experts" differ so wildly that it's laughable. I've read expert opinions that dreaming is due to:
1) evolution opting to include a way to practice dealing with dangerous situations safely (while asleep);
2) the brain's need to make sense of shifting visual patterns created by eye movement - the eyes are alegedly moving to keep the aqueous fluid circulating while we sleep; and
3)the brain's need to make sense of information received when the soul leaves the body and goes elsewhere during sleep.

Whatever, I am always happy to fall asleep and dream.

Nancy said...

I agree with you, Gina, on the alarm clock issue. It seems utterly outside the karma of napping, doesn't it?

As for the YouTube of Kayla, I must admit I didn't take the footage. I just searched YouTube for a good snorer!

See you all tonight at Kathleen George's launch party for AFTER IMAGE!

Cathy said...

How was Venice? And the Greek Isles?

Arkansas Cyndi said...

Nancy - I LOVE naps. When I answer one of the those dumb questionnaires where they always ask..What are your hobbies? I always want to write "reading and naps"

Hmmm Reading and Naps...does that make me a "real" writer? LOL

Nancy said...

Napping as a hobby! I like that idea, Cyndi! Sign me up for the national organization!

Cathy, we had a delightful time on our trip. We focused on historical stuff, mainly--and saw lots of Greek and Roman ruins. My husband was particularly thrilled to visit the site of the original Olympics. (He carried the torch in 1996.) And I now aspire to live part time on the island of Corfu---the setting of one of my favorite books as a girl (This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart.)

Venice was......Venice. We were there during the Aqua Alta, which was a thrill/adventure/hoot!