On Insomnia

Insomnia and I are old friends. Too old, actually. We first met when I was just a kid, around the age of ten, and he’s been my all too frequent companion since then. I’ve often thought of him as a sort of long-lost sibling, an evil twin who pops up when I least expect or want him, generally around 3:17 a.m., and then insists on hanging around, wearing out his welcome.

He’s been visiting a lot lately over the past several weeks, but he’s been trying to show me a different side of his personality. A new, more helpful side. He knows I’ve been working on a mystery-suspense novel and that I’m both excited and intimidated by this. Excited because I like my story line and characters. Intimidated because I’ve never written fiction before. My entire professional life has been spent writing and editing–but writing and editing non-fiction. You know, factual stuff, research reports, analytic studies. Not fiction at all.

Granted, there’s an art to factual writing. It can be deadly dull, the sort of thing that one would want on the bedside table in case. . . well, in case Insomnia shows up and needs to be gently squeezed aside. But factual writing can also be engaging when done well. The kind of writing that pulls the reader along and makes him or her want to keep reading, to learn something new, to see how the research turned out. I’ve tried hard over the years to polish my prose so that it falls more in the latter category, and I’m hoping this will help with the novel.

Insomnia knows all this about me, of course. That, and more. Perhaps it’s our years-long association that’s made him decide to try to help out a bit. And where he’s helping out is in encouraging my creativity. Because when he’s swung by lately, he’s brought with him ideas for plot points, character development, and narrative flow.

This morning when he came knocking at 4:23 a.m., his gift was an idea for a new chapter one. About ten days ago, someone started a discussion thread on Absolute Write on how best to start a mystery. Should it start with, say, the murder itself or with the detective (or whoever) on the scene investigating the case or with the detective getting a call to come investigate or with something else altogether?

The consensus seemed to be #4: something else altogether.

Since then, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of a more creative way to start my book. You see, the initial draft had the detective on the scene investigating. I knew it wasn’t ideal but couldn’t come up with anything else and just kept it until something better popped up. And this morning, Insomnia obliged with a great idea that I think will work.

I’m sure scientists would explain that it technically isn’t my friend Insomnia at all who brings these ideas but rather some kind of chemical imbalance in my brain caused by the lack of sleep. (A perfect illustration, by the way, of the difference between fiction and non-fiction.) Whatever. As long as it works and I have enough Assam tea to keep the caffeine levels up, I’m fine with it.

Thank you, old friend, for the terrific idea! Now, if only you hadn’t also come with a musical gift: that song, Hair, from the Cowsills (yes, I had to look it up to see who did it). You know, “give me a head with hair, long, beautiful hair.” It’s been in my head since, well, since 4:23 a.m. Blech. So if you show up again tomorrow morning, do come with ideas. But leave the old music cassettes at home. Please.


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Filed under General, On Writing

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