Stephen King on writing as “creative sleep”

One of the arguments I’m building in the rest project is that for creative people, work and rest are not opposites, but partners. We think of rest as a negative space defined by the absence of work, as freedom from labor; but people who are creative find ways to use rest to help sustain their creativity.

In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King talks about writing as a kind of “creative sleep:”

I think we’re actually talking about creative sleep. Like your bedroom, your writing room should be private, a place where you go to dream. Your schedule— in at about the same time every day, out when your thousand words are on paper or disk— exists in order to habituate yourself, to make yourself ready to dream just as you make yourself ready to sleep by going to bed at roughly the same time each night and following the same ritual as you go. In both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives. And as your mind and body grow accustomed to a certain amount of sleep each night… so can you train your waking mind to sleep creatively and work out the vividly imagined waking dreams which are successful works of fiction.

King, of course, is so prolific David Letterman was able to joke that at book signings King didn’t write his autograph for each fan, but wrote each fan their own book.

So how much time does he spend writing?

My own schedule is pretty clear-cut. Mornings belong to whatever is new— the current composition. Afternoons are for naps and letters. Evenings are for reading, family, Red Sox games on TV, and any revisions that just cannot wait. Basically, mornings are my prime writing time.

Elsewhere, he advises “four to six hours” of serious reading and writing as a good day. So even Stephen King, who can produce several books a year when he’s on a roll, spends perhaps 25% of his time doing writing.

This is not at all unusual. Many creative people strip out most of the outside world’s distractions, so they can focus on their own worlds; but they only spend a few hours a day in that world, building new things, exploring, or carefully excavating its fossils (as King puts it). That’s as much time as you can spend doing that sort of intensive thinking and imagining.

In other words, they organize their entire lives around their work, but not their days.

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