Have you ever written a play? Chances are you’ve written many. Almost everyone has. If you doubt this, then ask yourself how many times you’ve been up at two in the morning unable to sleep and used the time to have a conversation with someone in your head, “writing” and “rewriting” to get the words just right. If you’ve had this experience, you’ve pretty much done the work that playwrights do. What if instead of keeping that script in your head, you turned on the light, got a pen and paper and wrote it down? And if you’re already a playwright, how often have you taken advantage of those periods of wakefulness to write?

There’s scientific and historical support for not viewing those middle-of-the-night awake times as a problem, but as an opportunity. Research has shown that the middle of the night is actually an ideal time for creative work. In her blog post, Why Broken Sleep is a Golden Time for Creativity,  Karen Emslie writes, “Night…triggers hormonal changes in our brains that suit creativity. [psychiatrist Thomas Wehr of the US National Institute of Mental Health] has noted that, during night-waking, the pituitary gland excretes high levels of prolactin. This is the hormone associated with sensations of peace and with the dreamlike hallucinations we sometimes experience as we fall asleep, or upon waking.” Emslie also cites research that supports the idea that people in times before electric light often had a period of wakefulness between “first” and “second sleeps” in which they read, wrote or reflected.

As a busy grad student mother, I write a lot of middle-of-the-night dialogues in my head these days. It’s often the only time my mind is peaceful enough to just think. But many times I’m wishing I could just get back to sleep instead of taking advantage of this unique form of wakefulness. So I’m going to start keeping a pen and paper on my bedside table and see what happens. If you’re thinking about writing a play (or already writing one), you should too.

Tips:

  • If you find yourself awake and clear-headed in the middle of the night, you’re in a good space to write.
  • Decide the night before where and how you will write if you wake at night. Either have a desk set up and ready with pen/paper or laptop or have your writing implements available on your bedside table.
  • If it’s cold in your room at night, keep a hat, sweater or shawl and fingerless gloves handy so the cold won’t discourage you from getting up out of the covers.
  • If you’re not working on something already, consider having a prompt prepared at the top of your page so you have something to get you going.
  • If you wake from a dream you can remember, consider starting by writing down that dream. Recording dreams can be a great way to encourage the flow of communication between your highly creative unconscious and conscious mind. Many authors report “getting” their stories directly from their dreams.