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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Creatives and Sleep (Personal and Meta Update)

Image description: Writer looking over edge of desk.
And being hella cute.
Personal Update

Note: Some days, are not my best. And sometimes I look at what I've written after EIGHT HOURS of sitting in front of the screen and it's pretty much crap. But sitting there and forcing out the words is what makes the words come back faster and gives me the discipline to slam dunk them on better days. So here's a double lesson. If you wonder how I keep punching out writing day after day and getting readers and making money, it's because days when I'm writing shit like this I don't give up. Because I know it'll get better faster (and I'll be more ready to make the most of it when it does) if I just keep showing up and establishing good writing habits.

But if you ever wondered if someone making money at this has a shitty day, HO...BOY YES!!!


So come join me in some crap about sleep if you want to see exactly what it's like when I'm off my game.


First a non-sequitur. Though I suppose it's more like a slight-sequitur.

I'm the kind of nerd who takes linguistic anthropology classes for fun. I didn't need it. I already had my elective. My segment two was in human sexuality. But it sounded wicked fascinating. Decisions like that are probably why I graduated with nearly a year's worth of credits more than I needed to, but I don't regret them.

You can tell a lot about a culture by studying their language and the concepts they have a LOT of words for. Here's something anglophones care about tremendously: time. We have TWELVE tenses. If you're coming over in three hours and by the time you get here I will have been studying for two hours without you, there's a tense for that! (It's called future perfect progressive.)  We have a tremendous lexicon of words that break down time precisely and by impression. We have thousands of metaphors for time.

And indeed, look at how carefully we are constantly watching our time. Arrive at 9. (9:01 and you'll be marked late.)  Work for eight hours. (One minute over and you will accrue overtime, which will make management angry.) If you're on salary, you might be less beholden to minutes and hours, but your paid time off, days on, floating holidays, vacation time all carefully measured. None of this is surprising given the English speaking world's emphasis on labor based capitalism, but it does lead to some interesting side effects for our artists.

We end up in a culture with a powerful emphasis on productivity and strong messages external and deeply internalized that our self worth can be measured literally by how much we produce. This production isn't always in the form of a job with a physical product, but can also be how "constructive" our so-called leisure time is. If you don't believe me, imagine two people of identical health and fitness. One plays video games any time they're not at work and the other is in a local soccer team. Which one has to deal with their mom telling them to go do something?

Are we in danger of getting some sort of point anytime soon.

Shut up evil italics voice.

Think about how busy everyone is all the time, and often it's not regrettably so. There's a certain measure of pride in how fast one can live, and how many things one can accomplish. Consider how (essentially) prideful many people are about how little sleep they tend to get and how much caffeine they require to be functional.  ("My mochachino has five shots of espresso!" And I'm going to slam this energy drink.) Many many people have a socially acceptable addiction to a mild stimulant in order to perpetually tax their body beyond its limits....often in the name of being "productive."

If you've been following along, you know I got a diagnosis of exhaustion a little while back. Technically, they're not 100% sure, but other than drugs (which I wasn't on–prescribed or otherwise) it's probably the best explanation for some sleep walking that happened. I watched Danny Rand for hours and spelled a bunch of words wrong while I was asleep but moving around, so obviously I want to get that fixed as soon as possible.

We're all going to die of natural causes because you decided to free flow what was on your mind this morning when you were staring at the ceiling wondering what kind of erotica to m–

SHUT UP! I'm getting there.

Step one in a lot of cases of too much/not enough of something basic is to start keeping a journal to really become aware of how much/little one is getting over time, so I have a sleep journal that I've been doing for a little over a month. My own results are not that important.

I'll say. Were you going to get to the part where this has to do with writing soon?

Seriously shut up! I'm working on it. You beastly voice. I hate you.

Anyway, my results were that I tend to run a little behind on sleep for days at a time and then crash in some nap-filled display of what is paradoxically, but accurately, described as epic slothfulness. I've been working on getting to bed sooner (since I can't reliably sleep in with roommate's dogs) and trying to even things out, but also I'm still rubber stamping any requests my body makes for sleep no matter how weird they might feel or inconvenient the timing (within reason, of course). And it's evening out, but still has peaks and valleys.

And here's what I notice.

Oh joy! Have we reached the point?

Please shut up. Please! I'm begging you.

My writing is easier, smoother, and more creative when I've had sleep. During the times of "famine," I'm leaning more on discipline, habit, and going through perfunctory motions to get work done. The prose itself is more wooden and less inspired. (Yes, like today if you're wondering.) After a good night or a nap, ideas pop in unbidden and I draw exciting connections between different things.

The results of a gillion studies about creativity and sleep can sometimes fail to penetrate our cultural shields about the need to be ever busy and "productive," but it is important for writers, and really all creatives (and REALLY all humans) to get themselves enough sleep. While insomniac artists have more undirected time, and can feel like they are getting a lot done, study after study belies that they are genuinely more creative rather than just more productive because they're awake. In fact, these same studies, over and over, link creative, original thought to REM sleep.

Also, it is only after deep and satisfying sleep, and waking without an alarm clock, that we can fully engage in the waking creativity known as hypnagogia (which mimics REM sleep in terms of how the brain is processing information). Sometimes we forget that we're human and all our little human functions usually fail quite predictably without proper amounts of our basic needs. And we cruise right past all those studies and crack open a five hour energy drink, wash it down with a Rockstar and think "I'm going to get some shit done today!"

But maybe one lone blogger keeping a sleep journal and saying, "Yep. It works JUST like they said it would" might better sway you. (Anecdotal evidence is a bit of an achilles heel with us.)

Humans need sleep. Creatives need sleep. (I would say they need sleep more than most, but I don't really think that's true. I think most humans are stuck in an uncreative rut of stressing their body to its limits in the name of "being productive." I also think the results of not getting enough sleep become apparent to creatives faster.) I know some lives can't have a moment taken away from them without falling over like the last move in a Jenga game, but most of us can find something we probably are doing that isn't quite as important as a good night's sleep.




Meta

We are WAY behind on what I call "businessish" posts. Things like cleaning up tabs, revisions of old posts, best of from the last months but also plot posts and such. I know some of this is because our current poll has sucked up every third day's post, but I'm going to make a concerted attempt to catch up on that stuff soon. I mention it because it might need to replace some of our regularly scheduled posts (like Thursday's mailbox posts) for a few weeks. I'll rotate through what gets cannibalized, but it's not just your average jazz hands post. I really do need to get my shit together here.


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