Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sleep Deprivation and Writers: A Combination That Doesn't Work

We hear this all of the time from writers. The idea that they "work best" working late into the night and on into the very early morning. We hear the same from those that claim they can get up several hours before everyone else in the house wakes up. On top of all this, writers are attempting to continue working over 40 hours a week in "the real world", maintaining a household and, in some cases, trying to keep up with their kids and family.

With that said, many writers then turn to the phrase we heard a lot of high school and college students use when they were pulling an ALL-NIGHTER, "You know, I work best under pressure."

I am sorry to say this, but while this might sound good at the time, and while you might get a bit of an adreneline rush from those moments of brilliance, this is not a lifestyle that will result in a "career" in writing. Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying that you can't find that perfect writing time. And, I am certainly not saying there aren't writers out there that do work best from 9 pm until 2 am or those that can get up at 3 am daily. What you will notice though, is that those writers are still finding ways to get the required hours of sleep to maintain a "quality" writing career.

According tot he National Sleep Foundation, a non-profit looking at the issues of sleep issues in the US, they noted that over 60% say the symptoms from lack of sleep affected daily activities. They go on to note that 73% felt it affected mood; 63% - attention and concentration; 42% - family; and 36% job performance. (NSF, 2011).

As I look at these numbers, I am especially concerned. As a writer, we have to be in the right mood to create those stories. Feeling depressed about the project we are working on will result in not putting your best work out there for your readership. In the end, you are just writing something to get by, telling yourself that the next book will be better. Unfortunately, unless you change, the odds are it will turn into the same mediocrity you did witht he first.

Now we add in the attentiona and concentration. Again, as a writer, those small details are crucial to your story. Silly mistakes can be a down fall.

Now we add in "the real world" and the last two percentages. You need your family to be there for you. If you are finding the lack of sleep is resulting in being "too tired" to do things with your family, you need to ask yourself how long they will accept this behavior? The odds are, they won't last. As for the job performance, if you are one of the "wise writers" out there that did not give up your day job, you may be at risk of losing that income. Now, for those writers that have made writing their career, that 36% will start to affect the way you work with the marketing and business side of your life.

Look, I am not talking about extreme changes in your life, but writing is tough work and it requires sleep and rest (don't get me started on diet and excersise). You cannot keep lying to yourself about your sleep patterns. Find a way to create that perfect balance. And for those of you with editors and agents, it is OK to discuss how to maintain a writing pace to keep your sanity and life. Discuss those deadlines before you contract. In the end, EVERYONE will be happier.

I'm off to Oklahoma! See you all on Monday! Although, knowing me, I might slip in a post during the weekend.



  1. Balance. So much of life is finding that balance between all the important aspects and writing is one more priority that has to fit in.

    I tried to find my peak writing time: 15 minute sprints, late night marathons . . . and discovered that 3 am (gasp) does actually work well for both creativity and timing.

    But the flip side is that I'm asleep by sunset!

  2. Ahh, I thought I would hear from you on this one!

  3. There was something in the news recently about the brain taking naps during the day if we don't get an addecuate amount of sleep, so we wind up doing stuff like misplacing our keys or forgetting what we were supposed to be doing. I find I don't function well with sleep deprivation, probably why I have a daily set time to write.

  4. Well stated on a much needed topic.

  5. For me, scheduling a time to write doesn't always work. When my creative juices flow, that is when I write. If I am trying, because I have spare time, but the story is not flowing, then I put it aside and try again later. I have literally dumped entire chapters because they just weren't flowing. So it is important for me to use those moments when I feel the story flow, no matter the time of day.

    Sometimes I carry a notepad, just so I can hand write what comes to me if I am worried the same flow won't come later. This works well for me, for the way I write.

    As far as family goes, I am a stay at home Mom. Which gives me times when I can nap if I need to, or write, or travel throughout the day. My boys love the fact that I write, though they are only 4 and 6. They are more excited about me getting published than some of my other family members. So that helps too. They tend to be more understanding, and go play when I am on a roll.

    But family does come first. I totally feel that. If they need me, the writing goes to the side for a while. This is really a 'must' if I want to be successful. Balancing my time is essential. But this goes for writing, editing, promoting, all the things that go into being published. Not just the writing aspect. Time must always be balanced.

    I will admit though, I feel very fortunate to be able to stay home with my kids, and write. I know many who have to work full time until they can start making money at their writing, which would be really hard. My hat is off to them. :-)

  6. It seems to be taking a long time to get my novel finished and I was starting to worry, especially when reading those accounts of writers who supposedly do all of the things you listed.

    I don't do well with sleep deprivation! And I was feeling guilty about it!

    So, thanks for posting this, Scott! :D

  7. Thanks Scott! I am definitely one of those writers who works best with rest! I've learned from experience that even setting aside just one day a week to write for a couple of hours when I'm fresh will yield better results than trying to write every night when I'm tired.

    Love your blog!