Writers: Get Some Sleep

Want to write more – and better? When you are tired, go to sleep.

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“I’m running on THREE HOURS OF SLEEP right now!!”

“How come?”

“I’M WRITING A NOVEL!!!!!!!”

Ever been in this position before, either on the sleep-deprived side or the eye-rolling side? I’ve been on both. The former was, thankfully, a very long time ago. Like many people out there, I fell prey to the peer pressure that made me believe being tired was somehow saint-worthy. I still come across people like this all the time. They somehow think giving up sleep is more important than taking care of themselves. Writing somehow becomes more important than sanity, and health.

Listen. There’s a reason the book I finally (FINALLY) finished writing last year took three years to write. It’s not because I slacked off. It’s not because I intentionally let other things get in the way. Rather, it took me that long because I finally came to the realization that not sleeping enough, just so I could get more writing done, made absolutely no sense.

Those people who brag about being sleep-deprived because they were up all night writing? I have two theories: either they’re lying (exaggerating at least, which writers are pretty good at) or they spent a good two or three hours in front of their laptops, not writing, before they were ideally supposed to go sleep. THEN they decided they needed to get some writing done.

Our embarrassing inability to prioritize these days – myself included – is why many of us feel the need to boast about how exhausted we are. It must mean we’re just working so hard, right? Not always. Honestly, it usually means we only meant to watch one episode of Scandal and ended up watching six. Oops.

Writers, this is some of the best advice you’ll hear all week, so pay attention.

Want to write more – and better? When you are tired, go to sleep.

Staying up and getting just one more hour of writing in isn’t worth it. Not if you can get some rest, wake up an hour earlier tomorrow and write when you are well rested and adequately caffeinated.

Can’t wake up earlier? Then you’re not going to bed early enough. Your body only needs as much rest as it needs. And if your early-morning excuse is that you just don’t want to get out of bed and write, then you need to figure out another time of day you’re going to sit down and get it done. And that doesn’t mean starting at two in the morning.

Believe me, I know what it’s like to be busy. I am addicted to working, and I’m not even joking about that (if I were, I wouldn’t have repeated it so many times on this blog). I commit to way too many things, which means making time for my own writing is HARD. I’m so tired after dinner that I do not want to do any more work. So what do I do? I write for a few hours. Never past 8:00. Then I spend a few hours doing whatever it is I do on YouTube for hours at a time (shrug), because that is my fun and social time. And then … guess what? I go to sleep.

Then I wake up and do it all over again.

I always get my personal writing in (journaling, novellas, my novel). Sometimes that means I have to skip watching a show and watch it online later, or I have to tell a friend, “Hey, I’m in the middle of something right now, can we set up a time to catch up a little later this week?”

Some days, after writing all day for clients, I don’t want to write anymore. Some nights, I’m so engrossed in what I’m doing that I don’t want to go to bed. But I have to. Because then I’ll turn into one of those people who counts the hours until 5:00 on Friday hits and whines on Sunday nights because – the horror! – Monday is coming. And I refuse to be one of those people.

The same way I refuse to return to my days of walking around proud of my sleep deprivation. Because it isn’t something to be proud of. It’s unhealthy, it’s unproductive, and it doesn’t make me any more of a hard worker just because I put off my personal projects until midnight.

Granted, I don’t have my own family I’m responsible for or even my own apartment, so I don’t have a lot of the same responsibilities many of you out there might have (yet). But I do know how hard it is. That’s one of the reasons one thing we talk a lot on here about is how to find time to write. It’s a struggle. I get that.

But of all the things you could give up, please don’t let it be sleep. Your writing is going to suffer. Your energy and happiness is going to suffer. When I worked full-time in an office and had to commute into the city and back five days a week, I wrote on the train while balancing coffee in my lap at seven in the morning. I wasn’t awake enough to do it – because I’d only been up for an hour, after sleeping for seven – but I made it work. I made sleep a priority. And so should you!

Sleep. Find other time throughout the day – breaks, lunch, while waiting for water to boil – to get a little writing in. Get into a routine and make it stick. Well rested and energized, you’re going to write much more efficiently, which makes for a little less editing later. Right? Right.

If you’re still reading this, and it’s past your “bed time” – go to sleep! Now! Then, when you wake up in the morning, get back to writing.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

8 thoughts on “Writers: Get Some Sleep

  1. Yup, I had to learn this the hard way. I was getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night because I was catching up with my wordcount, social obligations, blogs, etc and then I’d catch up in one glorious day of sleeping.
    Unfortunately, I have epilepsy and it didn’t want to cooperate with this (lack of) sleeping program. I started having myoclonic seizures 6-7 times a day, some of them pretty severe. I’ve downsized my writing projects since then, but I’m a lot happier and healthier now :)

    1. Oh my! I am glad you are healthier and happier since! Yeah I’m in the process of downsizing in the next few months, it’s just becoming too much and I haven’t felt this stressed since college … haha.

      1. Ooh, I know that feeling. Just remember to breathe and tackle things one at a time, okay? Downsizing is like editing your life– it looks scary and overwhelming at first, but it’s not too bad once you start seeing things come together. :) Good luck!

  2. I just recently came to the same conclusion. I’ve been working on editing my first novel and I finally realized that I was doing myself NO favors by trying to work on it after 11 p.m. when all I really wanted to do was sleep. I’ve been feeling guilty because with work and three kids running around here during the day, there isn’t a whole lot of time left for my writing (as my own poor blog can attest to). I’m so glad you posted this, it’s definitely helped to lessen my case of the guilty’s. :)

    1. Don’t feel guilty! :) Sometimes writing can come first, sometimes it just can’t. Every day is different. Sometimes you just have to say, “Not today.” But in doing that, I usually say, “Ok, not today, but when?” and I set a day to make sure I get something done and don’t just keep putting it off.

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