East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Writing-relate insomnia – and remedies

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Now, it was of course the Buddha who said expectations lead to suffering, and I just had a cold hard reminder of the truth of that statement.

sheep-2Now, true to Lawrence Block‘s observation that writers write all the time, I’m often in the habit of reviewing my current story, and planning further developments, in the time before I fall asleep.

It’s not anything particularly esoteric – it is not that I’m priming my subconscious to set my ideas straight during sleep or whatever.
Simply, it beats counting sheep.

But I’ve spent the last two nights rolling in my bed, unable to sleep.
The last time that I experienced writing-related insomnia was while i was finishing my doctorate.
There was a lot at stake, expectations were high.
It was bad.

29099_insomnia-slideRight now I’m writing a story on which I’ve stacked quite a nice pile of expectations, and uncertainty is once again playing with my nerves.
The fact that this sort of thing happens only once every two years is small consolation – I consider writing a pleasurable experience, not something over which one loses sleep.
Imagine making a living of writing (now that would be nice!), and getting this sort of sleep problems, say, once a week.

What’s wrong?
The story is not going where it should.
Oh, I’ve written some of the best, snappiest dialogue I ever written – but there’s too much of it.
And in the meantime the action is going nowhere.
The story structure lays open in front of me and I can see gaping holes in the plot.
I’m writing good and fast – but the story remains quite inferior to the sum of its parts.

But as I said, this is not the first time this sort of things happens to me, so I devised some strategies to limit damages – both to my health and to my story.
And of course these might not work for you, but here’s a short list.
Dissatisfied with your writing?
Losing sleep over rewrites?

. brewing some tea – so you can’t get a shut-eye, it’s late night and your story’s going nowhere. Take a step back, make yourself a cup of tea, and get some quiet time for yourself.
For me, last night, it was Lapsang Souchong.

000a6cc8_medium. listen to some music – again, you can’t sleep and you can’t work anyway, so why not just enjoy the ride? Last night I put Claire Martin‘s 1999 Take My Heart on the stereo.

. keep writing – blog post, new outline for a story, those mails you need to write anyway… keep the part of your brain that works out the words going, but distract it from the current dead end. Last night I planned and wrote a few blog posts (this one included).

. a radical rewrite – make a copy of the incriminated text (always good to work on a copy) and just go at it with a flamethrower. Too much dialogue? Cut the useless chatter, make it more focused. Stilted action? Do an action scene that’s totally gratuitous, but that shows your character shutting the hell up and moving. Rearrange scenes, revise the outline. And, as Michael Moorcock once said, when stuck, descend into a secondary character.

. go back to basics – read those that made it, read and watch how they did it. It’s not like you’re gonna sleep anyway, right? Reading is almost as good as writing.

And this is it – a post written late at night, listening to Claire Martin, in which I quoted Mike Moorcock, Lawrence Block and the Buddha, talking about writing.
Waiting for sleep to come.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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