Sunday 20 November 2022

Greet That Sleep - Joan Lennon

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) Saint Jerome in His Study 

A writer's ideal. A good night's sleep followed by a productive day working in a sun-drenched study, surrounded by peaceful animals. But it can be hard sometimes to get that first thing (let alone all the others).

Sometimes it's trouble getting to sleep. Sometimes it's trouble staying asleep. Sometimes it's both. Oh, and don't forget nightmares. And if you don't get a decent night's sleep, how are you supposed to be a productive writer the next day?

There are many wise ways to try to combat sleeplessness: drink a cup of warm milk; make sure your window is open; no screens after X o'clock; read before lights out; don't be too hot; don't be too cold ... 

But what do you do when you've done all that, and you're still lying there in the darkness, awake?

Many people swear by numbers - counting forwards, backwards, in chunks, square roots and multiples. This doesn't work for me. Numbers and I don't have that kind of relationship. For me, words work better, helped by the alphabet.

List boys' names alphabetically.

List girls' names alphabetically.

List colours alphabetically.

List vegetables and fruit alphabetically. 

List countries alphabetically.

You get the idea.

Back in 2006 I posted here on ABBA about the insanity of English in general and adjectives in particular. And since then, I've added another arrow to my insomnia quiver - messing with adjectives and their oddly rigid ordering. 

So, if the order is:


what happens if you play with that? A pleasing big red balloon becomes a red big pleasing balloon, which sounds wrong. An excellent large woolly Australian sheep becomes an Australian woolly large excellent sheep. And so on.

Why should making things sound wrong help me fall asleep? No idea. I'm just a weird short old round Canadian writer aka a Canadian round old short weird writer.

What do you do when you can't sleep? Ideas gratefully received!

Joan Lennon website.

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Susan Price said...

I like your adjective wrangling! I might try that.

A trick I've found useful lately is to pick a letter... I find 'B' particuarly useful for no very obvious reason, but it can be any letter.

Then you think up nouns, at random, that begin with that letter: boat, bison, bucket, bicycle, etc... But, with each word, you also have to form a clear mental image of boat, bison, bucket etc. I don't know how useful it is to think of a bison rowing a boat with a bucket in the prow. I think that might lead on to long wakeful hours plotting stories...

I can't say it's 100% successful, but usually I've fallen asleep before I've run out of nouns starting with B. (Other letters are available.)

Joan Lennon said...

That sounds just the ticket! Anything stops the old brain from worrying about stuff. Will definitely be giving this a go!

Penny Dolan said...

Numbers don't work for me either as they simply add to the anxiety.

Visualising a specific noun sounds a lot more inspiring, even if it doesn't bring on the sleep.

My most useful ploy is resigning myself to the "two sleeps" system for a while. I go to bed early enough to fall asleep quickly, which I do easily, and then when I wake up around 2.30, there should be enough time for an unstressful read before settling down again for another few hours. However, I don't have to worry about kids to get to school or dogs wanting 6am walks, in which case this might not feel a helful suggestion

My other remedy is to listen to any of the episodes of In Our Time (R4 BBC Sounds) on headphones.
Melvin Bragg's ongoing voice and the level tone of the discussion can send me off within ten minutes, no matter how interested I am in the topic. Maybe this effect harks back to the security of the sound of grown-ups gently talking downstairs when I was in bed as a child?

Anne Booth said...

Thanks for this. I think that list of word order is fascinating. Penny's idea of the two sleeps is good, now that I don't have children to take to school, but our dog may have another opinion!

Joan Lennon said...

Thanks Penny and Anne! Next time I wake up at 2:30 I'll (quietly) salute you, Penny.

Joan Lennon said...

Meant to say Anything THAT stops the brain from worrying!