Saturday, May 14, 2011

When do you sleep? The truth.

So people ask me all the time how I do it -- 4 kids, 17 books, etc ... I've been skirting the question. I talk about obsessive compulsive tendencies and deep-seated issues that motivate a slightly bent psyche (my own), but it dawns on me (I'm slow) that people actually want really concrete things-to-do to be more efficient.

Here are some really basic tips. They come from being aware of my creative process -- let me reiterate: MY creative process. I'm not now -- nor will I ever -- claim that my process is better than anyone else's . But I will try to dismantle the myth that allowing your process to be mysterious is the only true way to be an artiste. I've found that the more I'm aware of my process -- in very basic on-the-shelf ways, the more writing I can create.

Also, keep in mind that I didn't always have the luxury of time. I had my first two kids below the poverty level so finding time at that point in my life -- and others, four kids, professor, touring -- was like trying to make bread from dust. Hard. So, yes, with the tips below, there's an assumption you've elbowed out some time to write -- begged it, stole it -- but somehow have gotten it. (If not, get it.)


I used to only be able to write for about 2 hours max. Then I learned that I could do 2 hours in the morning and then another 2 in the evening/night. Then I realized that I could take shorter breaks and write 2 hours, take a fifteen minute break, and go back for another two or so. This way I can do long days, when necessary.

Someone asked me yesterday, if I write when I'm tired. I do. I have times when I really struggle with fatigue -- anemia and thyroid problems. Sometimes I can't bully through, but when I can, it's because I tell myself that I'm not tired, that what I'm feeling isn't fatigue. It's more like a block of wood that sits behind my eyes. I can still see. I still have access to my brain and I can still work. It's very hard to think broadly at these times -- like plotting -- but I can get into a scene and see it and write it.

There's the golden blur between wake and sleep. Honor that. Have paper and pen beside your bed. This is important. The short power nap can be really solidly important too.

Instead of dragging through that late afternoon slump or almost ready for bed tiredness, I've started exercising instead -- push ups, sit ups, putting music on and dancing until I'm sweaty. I get all the blood pumping and have jittery energy and get back to work. Exercising, just in the last few weeks, has really changed my process for the best. Not the kind of exercising where the point is to go to a gym and keep your heart rate elevated for XX number of minutes. No. This isn't an little post about being heart healthy -- read up on those, they're all good. This is a post about writing. I spend a burst of energy -- ten minutes of hyper movement and exertion -- I get really sweaty, but don't shower, just grab the energy and write.

I do try to sleep well at night. I'm not great at it. But once I fall asleep I usually stay asleep -- even when woken a bunch of times in the middle of the night, I tend to go back. A good night's sleep helps with the next day's work.

When I'm burnt in one genre, I move to another. Sometimes I have to do this in a day to keep myself fresh. Here's a post for more on the benefits of genre-hopping.

Pay yourself first. Find out when your brain cells produce the best work and block that time out for your own work -- as much as humanly possible. It might be early morning or after midnight. Try to work this.

Learn to write while not writing. Don't know what I mean? That piece is HERE.

Have go-to books and writers. When I'm stuck on a project, I have very specific voices that jump-start me. Eventually, it helps to find a spot in your own novel where, tonally, you've hit your stride. Come back to it again and again.

I see writing as a daily practice. Here's why.

Find out how other human beings affect your work. Do some bum you out so that you don't want to write? Be with these folks either less or AFTER you've written. Do some charge you up creatively? Use that energy and block out time after being with them.

After an evening out, I can't fall right to sleep. I absorb the energy and it has to take some time to get out of my system. So I don't lay there in bed after a party, I write.

If I have a drink in the evening, it kind of signals to my brain that the day is over. Done. Relax now, it says. Clock out. (Barbara Hamby just pointed this out to me although I knew it, I'd never heard it stated.) This is true for me unless it's a cocktail with a little caffeine in it. Sometimes I want a glass of wine and to signal the end of the day so I do. But sometimes I think that I might get one more little burst of writing in after the kids are asleep. I'm aware of what that drink does to me and what it signals.

I time my caffeine. I never drink caffeine unless I'm going to get to my creative work (or I drink a little to stave off a little headache). Caffeine is an important part of my process and has been for the last five years or so. I use it wisely. Ditto bonbons.

I don't clean. This helps. More on clean versus clutter. In fact, I hoard.

Eating. I'm a grazer. It's good for my process to get up, peel an apple, think while peeling, and then to have some of that fuel to go back to work. I write for a while, go back to the kitchen, eat a rolled up piece of turkey, go back to writing. Go back to the kitchen and get other something ... I need to work, walk away, work, walk away.

And sometimes I need to get in a car and drive. This is a bad day. But sometimes there's no other way around it. I have to leave and drive with music blaring. I bring paper and pen and eventually pull off and write.

Also, I say to Dave sometimes, "We can't leave this room until I get this part figured out." I talk. He listens. He might not even know the project I'm working on. He offers something. No. He offers something else. I say, "Keep talking." He says a few more things and I say, "Stop. Got it." And I go back to work. This is a great person to find. Find your own, of course. Mine's busy.