3 AM and writing


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Working myself up to a frenzy writing many, many Seanachai episodes.

It’s 3 AM and I’m writing
I am so pregnant with ideas that I can no longer sleep through the night. This is awkward, painful and — given that I have no womb — kind of disgusting. Its also very, very good. Vampire in my Attic was written at 3am.
It takes a particular kind of courage (or lunacy) to get up at 3 am. While most sleep in their beds — wrapped in the cloak of safety and the ultra-high calorie diet that only Americans know — I slip from my bed, unsheath a metal pen a rotring 900 fountain point pen with which I do simply awful things to paper. Slash it until it’s blood runs black)
It’s not every night this happens. Only a few. And I’d like to say that every night that I get up, I manage to capture a wonderful idea — but the fact is, only a few of them are good. But here’s the thing, and it’s really the only thing, I can’t know which night is going to be THE night. The night in which I capture a turn of phrase who’s gossmer wings could never withstand the hot winds of a busy day.
But in the middle of the night, a moth may well be drawn to my gleaming white sheet. It may even land on it. And if I’m skillful enough — If I draw a net of black lines around it before it thinks to fly away, and without destroying it [SFX scribbling] Then I can capture some of the magic. That magic buried in the debris of modern ideas. Or the magic that we overlook in our mad rush from one mute, unimaginative task to another.
The ancient greeks had a way of describing this mad 3 o’clock in the morning behavior. They would speak of the muse descending upon a person. Or one’s genius taking over. And the word in Greek is a little disturbing to me. Daimon. Overtone of possession there. An idea seizing a person. I don’t believe that this happens — I understand that it happens. Sometimes it inconvenient sometimes frightening, but it a state much to be desired.
It’s not like this has to happen at 3 am — muses are far too fickle to keep office hours — but in the dead of the night — when courage flags and the hope of mortals is at it’s ebb tide — a person still struggling with words and ideas must shine forth to the muses like a beacon.
The idea that greatness comes easily to some is a myth. The only prescription for success or excellence or greatness that I am aware of, is to chase greatness down, trip it and stomp on it’s guts until it begs for mercy.
And it’s not just for writing. And it’s not just for me. It’s for you and everybody else. So the next time you wake up full in the middle of the night
Take a moment to plan it. To write it down. To sketch it out or up. Even if it’s just one note on a 3×5 card — make it.
Because when you awake in the morning — when you find the talisman you wrested from the night, it will remind you that the limitations of the day are not the limits of life. Place this talisman on the altar of the muses — show them how bad you want it– and they will love you more.

7 replies on “3 AM and writing”

  1. Patrick —
    This is sound and wise advice that I, on more than one occasion, wish I had heeded. When The Muse has visited in the wee hours of the morning in the past, I tried to convince myself I would remember the inspiration I received. Each of those times, if I didn’t write it down it escaped…never to return.
    Oh and ‘Vampire in the Attic’…FTW!

  2. Thank you, Patrick, what a brilliant podcast! 🙂

    It reminded me, after a bit of digging around in the memory, of a quote I first heard repeated by Maureen Lipman on the subject of creativity and striving for perfection, originally said by the legendary choreographer Martha Graham:

    “[i]There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.
    And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.
    The world will not have it.

    It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.
    It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.

    You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased.

    [b][There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.[/b][/i]”

    (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Martha_Graham for more info)

  3. Robert L. Stevenson talked about “the little people” who told him stories while he slept. And he’d commission them to write stories. He’d wake up and write down the dreams. Some were quite elaborate.

    Bob Franke (IMO, best songwriter on Earth) has had excellent songs on waking. Several verses written.

    When i’ve bothered to wake up and do something, it’s 5 or 6 am before i’m done, and there’s no chance to get back to sleep. I have a voice recorder by my bed now. I don’t often remember to use it.

    I don’t make a living with the Muse. So i can afford to ignore it. But i need to do something when i’m inspired. And sometimes that happens in the day. And it doesn’t matter much what gets created – it’s going to be awesome – at least by my usual standards. Much of this makes it to my blog. I’ve no idea if anyone reads it. My goal has been to turn as many people off as possible. I don’t even get comment spam anymore.

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