One thing I’ve found whenever I run into a problem with something that requires thought—be it programming, music, or writing—is that sleep helps. Seriously. It’s old advice, but it works. I started putting it to use back in the early 90s.
Example: back when I first read the advice, I was doing some C programming for the IRS (for those outside the United States, think national tax collecting agency). I was working in a rather odd environment, since programming wasn’t my primary job description—I was a tax accountant and only had time to program when I finished my daily accounting tasks.
Anyway, I was writing a program that checked whether or not a PC had been backed up in a certain number of days every time the system booted. There were a couple of problems: first, it had to work with versions of MS-DOS from 3.2 through 5. Second, it had to support both the built-in DOS backup program and third-party backup programs for tape drives. Finally, it had to check all of the hard drives in the system and differentiate local from network drives.
That last part was the tough part. There was no function in Microsoft C that would let me do this. I had to come up with a bit of assembler code that would access the system at the hardware level. I worked on this one afternoon to the point of pulling my hair out. I continued to think about the problem after I got home.
Then I ran across the advice. I don’t remember if I read it or heard it on the news. Either way, I put it to the test. I went to bed and fell asleep, still thinking about the problem.
The next morning I had my answer, right as I woke up. When I tried it that afternoon, It solved the problem perfectly.
Since then, I’ve applied this when I can. I obviously wasn’t able to run home and go to sleep in the middle of a work day (okay, I can now, but only because I’m on disability retirement and am at home all day anyway), but whenever I had the chance to sleep on a problem, I would. In almost every instance, I’d have my solution when I woke up.
Give it a try. The next time someone tells you to “sleep on it,” do just that, whether it be for writing or whatever. You might be surprised by how well it works.