Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

The Best Writing Aid There Is

Forget your Strunk & White, forget your laptop and your online thesaurus, forget your outlines and coffee and sharpened pencils and Mozart. For my money, there is nothing that helps your writing more than a good night’s sleep.

You have only to look at the rambling review I wrote yesterday after three hours of sleep on a red-eye flight to have a concrete example of this. There was no way I was going to be able to focus on writing anything more substantive than a journal entry at that point. Lack of sleep kills your ability to concentrate on what you’re doing. (Flight to Chicago was great, by the way, and we had a fun time walking around the city yesterday. Lots of history, lots of architecture, lots of people-watching. I think there’s a whole post in the use of history as a tool for writers; maybe later this month.)

The day after a red-eye is an extreme example. The same things happen, in smaller relief, when I just don’t get enough sleep. I get more annoyed when I can’t come up with the right word, which happens more often because I’m not rested. I get more restless, more prone to seeking out distractions (currently I am wondering why I installed NetCribbage on my computer–foul time-wasting fiend! at least I didn’t register, so I’m only allowed to play for ten minutes at a time, which is a nice break and not a full-on diversion), and less able to hold the narrative in my head.

Most people know this, and yet if you asked people what they do to prepare to sit down and write, most of them wouldn’t say, “Get a good night of sleep the night before.” If you’re tired, sure, you have to go ahead and write anyway, but if you, like me, have a few days a week where you specifically focus on writing, try to go to bed half an hour earlier the night before those days.

Trust me, I know how busy one can get and how unimportant half an hour of sleep seems when you have to worry about a million other different things. But also trust me: you’ll feel the difference when you sit down to write.

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3 responses to “The Best Writing Aid There Is

  1. Erin November 16, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    The research about the effect of sleep on school performance would back this up. My students certainly can’t do anything first thing in the morning if they haven’t had a good night’s sleep, and the year my baby was a newborn (up five times a night, every night for a year) I got absolutely no writing done.

  2. Tim Susman November 17, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    It always amazes me when I see authors with young kids. I can’t imagine how they do it, unless they have a *very* understanding and helpful spouse. :)

  3. Erin November 19, 2007 at 11:35 am

    Understanding spouse and helpful extended family. I’m a teacher, so I had the summer off from my day job. My MIL took the girls one or two days a week and I wrote wrote wrote. I also tried to get up without waking anybody else on days when I had them, and I wrote until they got up or a bit past (“Here’s a banana and a glass of milk – Mommy needs to finish the Escape from the Mine scene.”) I managed to write 75 000 words in two months, so I must have been doing something right. Mind you, I haven’t touched it since school started.

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