Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Written in My Sleep

So maybe health and well-being are overrated?  

The latest wrinkle in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) vein is Joseph Bates' book, The Nighttime Novelist:  Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time.  What spare time, you may well ask?  As I am asking.

As you might have guessed from the title--really, it's not hard, since the word "nighttime" is right there after "the"--Mr. Bates, in fact, has in mind that same part of the day that Gretchen Rubin [The Happiness Project] tells us we should spend comatose, if we want to be happy; that Dr. Andrew Weil advises we pass unconscious in order to be healthier and more energetic; that doctors at the Mayo Clinic recommend we devote to dreaming in order to improve blood pressure.

But Bates is more concerned with our artistic output.  He holds up as exemplars those "famous authors who held day jobs and then did their best work by night."  He intended to begin his book by mentioning 
Franz Kafka, who spent his days at a cramped desk at Workers Accident Insurance Institute of Prague and his nights hunched over his writing desk at home, making stories and novels so fantastic and strange it would be necessary to coin a term, Kafkaesque, to describe them[;]
and to go on to name
William Carlos Williams (practicing physician) or Joseph Heller (advertising) or Toni Morrison (publishing). . . . [and to] bring up stories, by now well known, of authors currently making more-than-comfortable livings who began by stealing time to write:  Stephen King, for example, who taught high school English, or John Grisham, who worked as an attorney, or J. K. Rowling, who, as the story goes, was actually fired from her job and was on welfare when she began writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.  For a bit of comic relief, I'd bring up William Faulkner's stint as a postmaster ... comic because I find it difficult to believe any mail was actually delivered.
But, he says, his list grew too long to consider these individuals anamolous.  
The truth is, there are only a handful of writers working who make their living solely by their fiction.  Most are people who put in long days, have families to care for or responsibilities to meet, work hard to make the bills, could probably use a rest, and who nevertheless feel compelled, after all is said and done, to sit by themselves and write stories.  These Nighttime Novelists publish the majority of books on the shelves.
To be fair, Bates concedes that this "spare time" can also be found by getting up early, and by writing on weekends.  But in either case, it's still coming out of the rest we are constantly being reminded is essential to our general welfare. 

Another writer who prescribes midnight oil burning is Jonathan Manor, guest blogger on Jeff Goins Writer.  (Goins introduces Manor as "obnoxious, insecure, and above all else, awesome."  Maybe he'd have a better personality if he got a little more sleep?)

Manor's guest post is entitled "Why You Should Be Writing at Night."  In it, he tells us that
Good writers write at night, because it’s devoid of distraction, there’s nothing else left to do in the day, there’s no one else to hurry to. It’s simply just you being yourself and pouring out the emotions that you’ve gathered from your day time experience and using that creativity to create something beautiful and interesting.
I, personally, designate a time to write “good” pages between the hours of 10:30pm to 3:00am.
Manor doesn't advise destroying one's health.
Getting to bed by 3:00am gives me the opportunity for a healthy night’s sleep where I could wake up at 10am and get to work by noon. Sleep is important, never skip out on sleep, meals, and play time.
He personally has a minimum wage part-time job in an interior decoration store, which accommodates his nocturnal creativity. 

It does seem sometimes like the only way I’m going to get more writing done is to take the time from sleep, as these gentlemen suggest.  But since lack of sleep can lead to depression, exaccerbate my high blood pressure, or trigger anxiety, that's a problematic solution.  And my day jobs involve meeting with clients at their convenience, learning and utilizing complex new technology, and caring for small children and putting up with big ones.  I need my wits about me, and my work schedule is unpredictable and not especially flexible.

I suppose it doesn’t make sense for me to keep trying to cram more stuff into my days. But if something’s got to give, maybe it shouldn’t be sleep. 

For tonight, I'm already up past my bedtime.  My husband is next to me asleep.  I need to be done with this post.  I will pay for this in the morning as I struggle to make an early meeting.  

Time now for my "medicinal" glass of wine, and the couple of pages of Proust I can finish before I conk out.

Proust, "most of [whose] writing was done in bed, at night, in a cork lined room, surrounded by the apparatus of the invalid."  Maybe he could have used more sleep?  And a bit more paragraphing.

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