As a writer, the most important thing is to hold the reader’s attention… unless you’re paid not to.
In an era of deeper intersecting of technology and consumerism, even sleep has become a business. Sleep app Calm aspires to be the best in that business, offering audio libraries of music playlists, guided meditations, and relaxation classes. (Sounds fake, say the students, who do not find class at all relaxing.) But its most popular feature is its Sleep Stories: twenty to forty minute audio stories read aloud by comforting voices, including that of Stephen Fry. Calm asks: “we loved having bedtime stories read to us as children, so why should that stop now that we’re all grown up?”
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When travel writer Phoebe Smith got a call from Calm founder Michael Acton Smith, she wasn’t sure whether or not to feel insulted. She reacted: “should I be really offended that he thinks my writing has the effect of boring people to sleep?” As a travel writer, there’s a particular incentive to be exciting—yours is the story to take people around the world on their vicarious vacations (a vacation on which there need not be overbooked hotels or unpleasant airplane passengers). P. Smith thinks that travel writing and ‘sleep writing’ aren’t necessarily opposites, citing her primary goalas “encouraging [listeners’] imaginations to play.” Her most popular story, “Blue Gold,” offers a “soothing tour of the lavender fields and sleepy villages of Provence.” It has around 15 million listens.
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No one is sleeping on Calm—the app recently hit a staggering value of $230 billion. Calm launched some of its profits into the world’s first “sleep story tour,” which may be one of the only events at which it’s ruder not to fall asleep.
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Is there anything about sleep writing that isn’t a dream? Smith admits there is one problem: “people say to me, ‘I really love the stories, but I never get to the end!'”
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