Insomnia has long been a common ailment among writers. Most people will probably go through a few bouts of insomnia during their lifetime. There’s a good chance you’ve already been through several–and that you’ll experience several more.
Many writers–at least among those I’ve met–do the bulk of their work late at night. I tend to get quite a few ideas at 4AM, and while not all are good, the sheer number means some always are. Still, a person can only go so many days without sleeping properly in a row. Sooner or later you’re going to feel the effects.
Over the years I’ve learned a number of tricks to help myself sleep, but much like my wrist problems, I know sleep problems will eventually return. So I’ve also developed a number of strategies to do the best possible work when I haven’t gotten enough sleep.
Creative energy doesn’t disappear. It may wane, but there are ways to make it grow–and to maximize the energy you have. When you rely on creativity for your livelihood, it’s important to know these ways.
There are as many ways to boost your creativity as there are writers. Here are a few things that have worked for me:
1. Yoga/Meditation — I lumped these two together because I do both in the same hour. A few stretches and even 5-10 minutes of meditation gives me a huge boost when I’m running low on sleep. There is energy all around you, giving life to everything on this earth. Meditation is a great way to tap into it. It can’t completely replace sleep but it helps.
2. Read books — when I haven’t slept much I don’t want to do much walking. Or much that requires physical energy. So I curl up with a good book, usually in the backyard if it’s a nice day. Most of the time I end up itching to get back to my writing. When I don’t, I spend a day with a good book–something every writer should do once in a while.
3. Clean — cleaning is a good way to let your mind relax. When I’m worn down from a few days without proper sleep, I don’t want to go out, but I do want to clean house. Getting up to sweep will give your body some energy and having a clean workspace will make you more eager to stay there.
4. Study other writers’ careers — studying the great writers of your genre, or any genre, comes with all kinds of perks. You can base a blog post–or an entire series of blog posts–on your research. Certain authors are household names, but how much does the average person know about them? Help them expand that knowledge. There’s also something about reading numbers like “600 short stories published” that makes you want to get back to work.
Creativity boosters are great, but they can only go so far, especially near the end of a long bout of insomnia. It’s also essential to use your energy the most efficient way possible. You want to produce as much as you can without writing absolute garbage or burning out.
Keeping the creative torch lit
Time management is always important, but it’s most important when your creativity levels are low.
Here are a few ways to make that energy last:
1. Set a minimum activity goal. It might be a page on your current project each day. Maybe it’s only 50 words each day when you’re particularly exhausted. Choose a minimum amount of work you’ll be satisfied with, and don’t force yourself to work past it. Producing quality work is more important than the quantity(unless it’s Nanowrimo).
2. Focus on shorter projects. When you’re tired, it’s difficult to face a novel. Writing–or rewriting–a book is daunting. Focus on shorter projects like blog posts and you’ll feel much less overwhelmed. When I’m tired I’ll often commit to just a brainstorm or an outline and end up drafting three blog posts. By the way, did you notice how I said drafting? I don’t publish anything I’ve written in this state without intense editing.
3. Write on paper. If you haven’t been sleeping well for more than a couple days, computer glare can be quite painful. Writing on paper is easier on the eyes and seems to use different parts of the brain. At least, making the switch to paper always gives me fresh ideas–and saves me from posting garbage. After all, I have to type it up before it can be published, which means the editing process is built right in.
4. Research markets. You don’t need much creative energy to research writing markets. This is also a good time to do any other research you’re interested in or might have to do for an upcoming project. Taking notes is easy, feels productive and often leads to new ideas.
Sleep is crucial to your health and creativity, but getting the right amount can be a challenge. Get the sleep whenever you can, but learn how to stay productive when you can’t.