The Goddess Visits at Night

I’m not joking when I say I do some of my best work in bed. In the middle of the night.

Something about that twilight stage of consciousness when we’re not awake but not asleep either.

My trusty Olympus recorder. I never go anywhere without it.

Why do ideas come to us in the shower, or where we’re shaving or driving on the freeway and hanging onto a strap in the subway? Those too are twilight states. They are “gateway stages” when the membrane is down and insights can bubble up from the Muse’s secret sanctuary.

The ego, I believe, is the generator of Resistance. So when the ego is even momentarily in a state of drowsiness (or full-on conked-out-ness), it gives the deeper Self an opening to break through into our awareness.

All this is a long way of saying

Keep a notepad or a tape recorder beside your bed.

Or better yet

Keep some means of recording your thoughts with you at all times.

The goddess visits at night.

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

do the work book banner 1

THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

The-Authentic-Swing

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

noboybookcover

TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

Turning-Pro

37 Comments

  1. Joe Jansen on April 8, 2020 at 5:11 am

    I think of the notebook or recorder as the alms bowl carried by a wandering mendicant. If you have your bowl in hand, you’ll have something in which to receive a benefactor’s gift of rice or lentils.

    I’d offer a tech suggestion: to convert voice memos to text, I’ve been using the site Otter.ai. Free, up to 10 hours of transcription per month, and pretty dang accurate (if your audio file is clean and clear).

    “Best work in bed” made me snort milk out my nose.

    • Mary Doyle on April 8, 2020 at 5:27 am

      Thanks for the tech tip, Joe – I’ll give it a try!

  2. Mary Doyle on April 8, 2020 at 5:26 am

    So very true, and if we don’t capture these gifts, shame on us! I switched from a notebook to a memo app on my phone a few years back. Just be ready.

  3. Neil Mossey on April 8, 2020 at 8:12 am

    This is lovely. I also discovered a biological fact which might explain less fight later in the day.
    Apparently when we wake up, there is a surge of cortisol, the stress hormone to wake us up
    (The more I read about sleep cycles, the more they crazily accurately reflect the hero’s journey!)
    Anyway, we have less cortisol in our bodies in these dream-like states and maybe they’re better times for creative thoughts to bubble up around The Resistance within us…

    • Jonathan Berman on April 8, 2020 at 8:55 am

      That’s really interesting, Neil. I suspect that there are more things in the natural, material world that reflect narrative structure (or the other way around) than we are generally aware.

  4. Sam Luna on April 8, 2020 at 8:19 am

    This is so very true. I outlined a book one year on my phone using talk-to-text during a 45 minute daily commute across L.A.. Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic twice a day is when the Muse showed up.

    • Mickey Greco on April 8, 2020 at 8:25 am

      Heh heh Sam Luna, love it! Facilitating creativity in an environment as vibrant, stimulating and potentioally distracting as Los Angeles requires especially adroit tactics. Great re-framing of traffic time!

      Steven Pressfield: terrific piece and great advice. I do keep a small notebook walking around, need to use on-the-spot audio-recording for logging ideas, for all the right reasons,

      Thanks, Cheers, Mick

    • Brian Nelson on April 8, 2020 at 8:27 am

      Sam,
      I just started doing this while walking the dogs using Evernote. I was reflecting on COVID-19, and all insights I’ve had. Evernote seems to be pretty darn accurate as well, I spoke enough of my thoughts to covert to 3 pages in Word.
      I have often been told by my friends/family that, “I can hear your voice when you write”, and so I finally decided to take that observation seriously. I have had difficulty getting a start on a few projects-training programs-and now I want to see if this talking during my dog walk will help. I did notice my phone was at 52% by the time I returned…Be well. bsn

  5. Mary Darling on April 8, 2020 at 8:20 am

    Doing the dishes. Dropping seeds in my garden. Feeding the birds. My muse has a visiting routine. Makes my writing life interesting trying to keep thoughts long enough to record.

  6. Terry Weaver on April 8, 2020 at 8:26 am

    Yes, great point. Headed to take a shower for inspiration now. Thanks Steve, S/F.

  7. Brian Nelson on April 8, 2020 at 8:38 am

    Steve,
    Read Imagine by Jonah Lehrer a number of years ago about creativity. It was fascinating–but turns out he fabricated some of his examples (Bob Dylan specifically), and the book was pulled. Audible even deleted it from my library (I wonder if I ever got a credit back?)

    Too damn bad, because I do think he was onto something about creativity. My paraphrase: Our minds need to get to ‘muscle failure’ using our linear, rational mind to try and solve a problem. Banging and banging and banging against a problem we cannot figure out. Once we finally look away, maybe after a night of sleep, or just about to doze off–that is when the Gamma (I think) wave hits.

    I also talked with a neuroscientist who worked at the Center for Advanced Study of Language in 2010. I was working on a foreign language app (LingFIt-mashup of CrossFit principles and language training). He was having students read bad grammar with a brain cap–studying which part of the brain lights up when we read bad/incorrect grammar.

    It was absolutely fascinating work, and I asked him, “What does an idea look like?” (on the brain scan).
    Pietre, “One of those ‘aha’ ideas? Like you have in a shower?”
    Me, “Yes, exactly.”
    Pietre, “They all look the same.”

    This supports Lehrer’s premise that they are all gamma wave bursts–sudden ‘piecing together’ of disparate data.

    I like the idea that we must first try to solve the problem through brute force–we must do the work first, then the insight comes. Maybe the Muse wants to know we’re serious before blessing us with insight.
    Good stuff as always.
    bsn

  8. Lyn Blair on April 8, 2020 at 8:44 am

    So true. One night I woke up at 4:00 a.m. and was writing. I had to get up and type the words into my computer. I too believe it’s the higher Self, the Muse or whatever name you want to give it. The ego is often asleep at night. There are other times when it’s busy conjuring nightmares.

  9. Skip on April 8, 2020 at 8:51 am

    spot on steve ! smash your ego and the door of perception opens. and the rooms it opens us up to are those that promote us. been aware of this since i long ago survived the asian flu. that was 36 hours of mental and spiritual hell nobody should suffer. i came out of it a new greatly improved person. i pray for those suffering today, and add to those prayers that they too will have that epiphany, a deserved reward if so.
    my door tend to open to the Muse around 230am. weird, consistent, and welcome!

    ty and God bless you, steve ! keep em coming!

  10. Joe on April 8, 2020 at 9:14 am

    I’ve loved this 8-min PBS profile of novelist James Lee Burke. They talk about his nighttime/notebook practice, which aligns with Steve piece today. From 03:45:

    JLB: “It’s an incremental discovery. That’s what I believe. The right line is there. You gotta wait and you gotta hear it. It’s all in the unconscious, you just have to listen for it. It’s there.”

    PBS: “Patiently copying onto a computer, words he’s earlier scribbled into one of his many notebooks, there at his bedside when he needs to write something down in the middle of the night.”

    JLB: “There’s a piece of dialogue here. I don’t know where it goes, but it goes somewhere in the novel.”

    https://www.pbs.org/video/religion-and-ethics-newsweekly-james-lee-burke/

    [[And in terms of story structure in this short video, notice how they employ the “IN and the OUT.”]]

    • Joe on April 11, 2020 at 12:07 pm

      Funny… today (11 April) is the birthday of novelist Thomas Harris (Silence of the Lambs). One of his quotes (which echoes Steve, which echoes Jim Burke):

      “You must understand that when you are writing a novel you are not making anything up. It’s all there and you just have to find it.”

  11. Amanda Carlson on April 8, 2020 at 9:16 am

    How wonderful. I wrote (or dictated?) a book called “Goddess Enlightenment” over the course of 6 months, always at midnight. It is a mystical journey into the Divine Feminine….

  12. York on April 8, 2020 at 9:18 am

    It’s funny, I just spent the last few days marvelling at the insight that was coming my way right before dozing off. I won’t elaborate on all the times I can’t actually sleep because my inner voice decides it the right time to start giving me character dialog.

    This post is 1000% correct. I’m start to believe I should do more work right before bed.

  13. Don on April 8, 2020 at 9:38 am

    Just this morning while in the shower I came up with a chorus of a yet to be written song, well, lyrics ( I can’t play an instrument). Then on my way driving to work I had an idea for more lyrics to a song idea I’ve had on the back burner so I used my phone. I’ll have to look into getting a talk to text app, save me some time..

    At work I keep a Word document open and so far this week I’ve written one short story and started another. I constantly write on little notepads and then transfer them to a larger notebook.

    I’ve learned to keep something, anything close by because I constantly have ideas that disappear from my memory in seconds, even if I keep repeating them like a mantra until I can get to something. What’s bad is while doing that sometimes I get another idea and the first is lost.

    Makes me wonder what mountain of paper I would have if I started this process decades ago. So many lost ramblings.

  14. Gregory on April 8, 2020 at 9:56 am

    Cutting/splitting firewood, an endless repetitive task, gets my muse going. I’ve been working my own story, using “the female controls the mystery” as the underlying theme from Steve, and the other day she spoke to me mid-log. It all made sense, finally. Her roadblocks, and the emissaries she sent, were telling me to go bigger. Btw, I use my Notes app, which allows me to keep saw/splinter idling.

  15. Amy Martinsen on April 8, 2020 at 10:19 am

    A yellow legal pad and a Bic Cristal pen at my bedside every night. I’m old school, but it works. May check out that recorder, though. Thanks for the post!

  16. Sandra on April 8, 2020 at 11:27 am

    Taking a break from academia. The Legend of Bagger Vance is on my tv – oh, so beautifully written. I’m making notes every day; if only mental ones. Thank you Mr Coyne and Mr Pressfield for teaching others (including me) the art of story writing . God bless.

  17. Charlie Kunken on April 8, 2020 at 11:46 am

    Totally true Steve. It seems like one of the benefits of being a writer is you prime yourself to be on the lookout. Ever since I’ve started working on my first novel I rarely get bored trying to fall asleep. Thanks for the thoughts!

  18. Yvonne on April 8, 2020 at 12:24 pm

    Very true! I try to remember to always either carry a notebook or have a recording device handy at all possible times.

  19. Linda Logan Andrews on April 8, 2020 at 12:39 pm

    I’ve always thought the ‘voices,’ come when I’m showering because all my pores are open! WOW! THANKS Steve and all for comments. When I finish my novel you’ll see a fire from the southern horizon. Don’t be alarmed; it’s me burning ten thousand “Post-It,” notes!

  20. Curtis on April 8, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    Heck of a title. I’m swiping it! LOL

  21. April on April 8, 2020 at 1:31 pm

    My thoughts are not worth recording. I note them in order to release and let them go.

  22. Clement on April 9, 2020 at 3:35 am

    What a coincidence,
    I have an EEG machine and the last couple of weeks I began recording my brain waves in those twiilights states between wake/sleep modes, called hypnagagic/hypnopompic states.
    In that states I found that my brain waves are mostly in theta range and it seems to be one of the best – if not the the best – “inspiration from the source” mode.

    I found it difficult to write at those times , but I found a simple and efffctive text to speech webapp for those interested : https://ttsreader.com/

    Hope this will help some of you
    Much love from confined Paris, France <3

  23. Apostolis Alexopoulos on April 9, 2020 at 4:34 am

    Thank you for reminding us mr. Steven.

    I did that after reading your book. Resistance beat me though but in a clever way – I wrote about 300 recordings, some ideas were very special, but I almost never went back to listen to them in the heat of everyday tensions and automatations. I did other important stuff of course, but i lost up till now this battle.

    So your reminder is a good place from where to begin the new battle with resistance. One other trouble that i have is that ideas keep on poping-up continuously. Can someone bring to life hundreds of them, maybe thousands, especially when a lot of them need many many hours of work each one, even changing your book (or whatever you are into) as a whole a few dozen times? hmm… But Im sure all people have this dillema. So we keep on working endlessly until one day we decide that it’s good enough” or – a decision with more resistance included – we decide to act on them all with the risk of taking too long to finish our work: Many more things and situations will try to stop us, to “kill the work”.

    thank you for everything.

  24. David James on April 9, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    In my experience this wonderful ‘Twilight Effect’ happens the more you use it. From the bed, or midlessly driving the car, or zombieing on train journeys sure, but also while busy doing housework or listening to podcasts or both.
    It’s taken many years to work out a system via my phone to instantly take down these as notes and then later file them in a way that’s *retreivable*. For me Google Keep on Android works best using Swype and dictate-to-text. Then I make a coupla-word link in an Excel spreadsheet — needed as there is now many hundreds of them.
    So, like a mud geyser, my subconscious confidently blurps up idea bubbles whilst my conscious focus is elsewhere. Even reading a book or listening to a podcast, an association will snap and the idea (or dialogue snippet or character observation) surfaces. Can be a handful each day, lately.
    Some of these are pebbles but many are rare gems, so the hassle becomes well worth it.

    • Apostolis Alexopoulos on April 10, 2020 at 4:18 am

      Dear mr. David, thank you for sharing about Google Keep, I downloaded it and will try to see if it can turn speech to printable written text.

  25. Ija Leeqa on April 10, 2020 at 5:01 pm

    Hi Mr. P,

    Long-time reader and lurker on the blog, short-time creative nonfiction writer because of you here.
    Lots my free time in college was spent studying cognitive psychology and neuroscience, to try and reverse engineer the creative moments and spirit I had in childhood before experiencing the abrupt car crash of adulthood responsibility.

    This topic today, reminds me of the concept of Theta waves: https://www.fastcompany.com/3062746/how-to-hack-your-brain-for-creative-ideas-before-you-even-get-out-

    That being said, expecting one to be creative is never going to ooze out your true potential of your synapses creating those connections and firing off your ideas. However, its that stage between consciousness you mention – for me that’s tuning out to a specific genre of music driving home after a long day inside a corporate office. The decompression of applied stress over time, that’s when I have had my best ideas, the one’s I actually follow through on, strike.

  26. Jurgen Strack on April 11, 2020 at 3:08 am

    At a work team-building seminar many moons ago, the work coach asked us, ‘when do you get inspired?’ and I answered when I’m sitting on the khazi or having a shower. Meaning of course it could come anywhere and anywhen.

    Also, if you put something (a thought,a passage read in a book or a problem to solve) just before you go to sleep, chances are your subconscious will work on it while you’re asleep. When you wake up, the answers come to you in neatly packaged parcels ready for you to download onto paper. Try it once!

  27. Marina Goritskaia on April 11, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    I got into a habit of keeping the device around a long time ago, but the Muse does not visit me because I am a sellout. No matter how much I work, it is for a potential outcome – while certainly I am not paid for it.

    • Renita on April 16, 2020 at 12:04 pm

      Marina, the Muse will come back.

  28. Renita on April 15, 2020 at 11:42 am

    My Muse is busy busy busy, very demanding and the more I write and record, the more ideas she has. However, she does tend to visit more if I have a notepad and pen ready beside my bed. I’m really glad you wrote about this because I was feeling badly about my desk being a mess and the Muse getting her skirts dusty. I find that she likes to visit me in bed, when the veil is thinning and my ego is at rest.
    So I wrote a poem about her.
    An idea came to my house in the early morning
    I don’t know how I came to answer
    I heard no knocking
    I heard no ringing
    I opened it
    When I opened the door she stood there
    Silent
    Shy
    Commanding
    Waiting
    for the invitation to enter.
    She was Dressed in white.
    Very simply.
    So deceiving.
    She wore silent white satin slippers.
    the kind that you dance in at midnight among twelve maidens
    Until dawn.

  29. Lyndon Kessler on April 16, 2020 at 8:47 am

    January 2020: For my 72nd birthday my celebration was a visit to a neurologist to find out why I kept forgetting things; getting lost while driving for errands, forgetting to pay bill/forgetting I paid bills, etc… I had an MRI, EEG and was tested by a clinical psychologist for cognition. MRI: some shrinkage in my pre-frontal cortex, EEG: random short term multiple micro seizures, Cognition: failed to follow instructions 40/100
    I researched recent discoveries in neural science and cognitive psychology: Deep Focus Mode takes place in the pre-frontal cortex, it is mentally and physically exhausting, you brain is a muscle, the more you concentrate the longer you can…you will encounter diminishing returns while in Focus Mode. Diffused Mode takes place randomly everywhere in the brain at the same time while in Focus Mode.
    When it ‘hurts too much’ I get up and take a short break while making a cup of strong black coffee. Sitting on the edge of my bed I sip the coffee as fast as I can then take a nap. The Diffuse Mode lets ideas “slip” into my conscious mind. In twenty minutes or less the caffeine wakes me up. I grab my tablet and write down my new ideas without judgement. In this way I discover my Muse. My Muse is is unique to me and brings me gifts.

    • Renita on April 16, 2020 at 12:03 pm

      Lyndon, your Muse is unique to you.

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