Awake in the Middle of the Night? Write!

Insomnia. It’s a frustrating feeling to be so tired and not be able to sleep–or to be so bored that you can’t even bear trying to close your eyes. Couple that with the feeling that you’re the only person awake or alive in the whole world, and insomnia can be very lonely, too, even with the electronic companions of computer and TV.

Generally, we’re usually awake in the middle of the night because of worries or something weighing heavily on our minds, unless it’s a physical symptom of an underlying condition. For me, my mind tends to start whirling as soon as I try to find a comfortable position on the bed–I suddenly recall all the minutiae of my day, at a breakneck pace. Very, very aggravating.

A New Approach: Using Insomniac Time as Writing Time

Instead of taking a pill or just tossing and turning for several hours, I’ve taken to writing during sleepless nights. Sometimes the coolest and most beautiful stuff comes out of my brain when I’m absolutely worn out from the day. Maybe it’s just because I’m too tired to self-censor anymore, but I write more freely and creatively, somehow. I also seem to be able to express more emotion and capture scenes better.

How can you harness this same wakeful time to get down some of your best ideas (or most random thoughts)? Try these tips that have helped me:

Use whatever medium you like to write out your thoughts.

I prefer to type because I type so much faster than handwriting, and my brain is usually going a zillion miles an hour. (Handwriting infuriates me now because it’s SO SLOW!) Some people, however, enjoy the sense of pen on paper–it slows their thoughts down enough so that they can capture what they’re really worried about or really thinking about. You may even want to arrange words graphically, like a collage (either digitally or actually writing out the words in artistic form on paper). Choose whatever method is most comfortable for you.

Start out writing formlessly.

You don’t have to write perfectly. Just write your thoughts without worries about punctuation, idea continuity, or grammatical sense. Some people have suggested that when you find yourself stuck, you should write a nonsense word over and over (like “potatobug”), just to keep yourself writing. I, however, don’t subscribe to the idea that you have to keep writing the whole time, writing nonsense words if you can’t think of anything else. (I produce enough nonsense that I don’t need ready-made nonsense to write down. LOL)

If writing nonsense words similarly annoys you, try focusing your writing on a particular topic, like why you’re mad about that guy cutting you off in traffic today (and why you’re still thinking about it in the middle of the night, etc.).

When you’ve run out of things to say about one topic, switch to something else.

This is not only a way to keep writing, but a great way to get at issues that are bugging you or that you’ve had on your mind for a while. One night, while doing this writing activity, I randomly discovered that I was still upset about what a friend had written on my Facebook wall months before. She had said something pretty innocuous, but I took it the wrong way and stewed about it long after I should have given it up. I set about resolving it the next day, and it was all good in the end. If I hadn’t written about it, who knows how long I would have hidden that grudge from myself?

Keep writing till you’re too tired or don’t have anything left to say.

Whichever of these comes first, follow the impulse and put aside computer or pen for the night. I usually get tired before I’m done writing, but some nights I get on such a roll I can’t stop! Those nights, I finish up my idea and collapse into bed, feeling like I’ve run a mental marathon. 😀

IMPORTANT! Keep That Writing!!

Now, once you finish writing, don’t throw your paper/digital file away–keep it and look at it again in the morning. you might have a winner of an idea hiding in there! (This actually happened to me; I wrote something down, looked at it in the morning, and thought “You know, that’d be a great poem.” Thus, a new poem was born out of utter randomness.)


Being awake in the middle of the night doesn’t have to be a lonely, unproductive time. Writing about what you’re feeling, even if you think you’re not a good writer, even if you don’t like to write a lot, can really help you sweep your brain clear of mental clutter so that you can sleep. And who knows, you might find an awesome creative idea along the way. You never know what you’ll find hiding between your synapses!

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