Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The thin line between work and play

What I look like after a sleepless night. Kidding ... kind of [Source]

Lately I haven't been able to fall asleep at a normal time. And by "normal" I mean somewhere in the range of 11pm to 2am. I've always been a night owl -- I was raised without a bedtime and got to stay up late watching Jay Leno with my parents as a child -- but even with my amnesiac tendencies, I still fell asleep by 1 or 2am. Lately it's been more like 3 to 4am, and that's with waking up before 9am almost every morning.

I have a slight suspicion (that both thrills and scares me) about why I haven't been able to sleep "properly": My book is taking over my life. And now for the million dollar question: Is that really such a bad thing? Or am I slowly going to drive myself crazy and die some tragic death, anonymous and unpublished? Come to think of it -- wasn't that the inspiration for Jack Torrance's character in Stephen King's "The Shining"? Eeep.

I know I'm somewhat obsessive when it comes to hobbies and work and ...well, anything really. I obsessed about certain boys in high school (I cringe when I think back to writing "I heart boys" in blue nail polish on my school desk), certain rock bands in college (thank God I'm not a tattoo kind of girl - David Bowie's mug has better places to be than my upper back), and of course certain foods (watermelon, this one's for you).

It was -- and still is -- all or nothing when it comes to my likes and dislikes. I either love it or I hate it, adore you or despise you, without much wiggle room in between. This works great for some things, but I've known for a while that the world is not black and white, that we actually live in quite a gray sphere. So by that rational, it may be fun to be obsessive about TV shows and thin white rock stars from Britain, but it can't be healthy for the "real things" in life, say your job, can it? I believe the first step in recognizing you have a problem is admitting it, but I've never thought of it as a problem until now, when I quit my boring job and made a hobby I was obsessed with -- writing -- into my full-time career. There's no more "I can leave this at the office" or "I'll pick this up where I left off tomorrow morning", as I settle in to catch up on my Travel Channel shows.

No, not even Anthony Bourdain standing next to a glittering Eiffel Tower can distract my thoughts, which are always. thinking. about. my book. And if I'm not thinking about my characters or plot or setting or some certain passage, then I'm thinking about other novel ideas and short fiction pieces that would be so fun to write, so I jot down the ideas in my moleskin to remember them, or start braiding tendrils of story here and there but not for long because I can't wait to get back to finishing the first draft of my book manuscript, and Whew! This episode is already rolling credits? Where was I, and how did I miss everything Paris had to offer?

The same goes for when I'm having dinner with my husband (thankfully he doesn't mind listening to me banter on and on about my story arc), or when I'm listening to the Eagles in the car, or taking a shower, or shopping. You get the picture. I've created a monster that follows me around incessantly, begging for attention like my obese cat when she's craving her Iams.

The definitive line between work and play has been blurred. Writing, which was my "play" before, is now my work and therefore there is nothing else. It follows me into everything else I undertake. While I don't think it's a bad thing, I may need to set up a few boundaries before I become a full-fledged insomniac.

Take last night for example: I could only badger my husband to stay up with me for so long. At a little past 1am he started getting cranky, complaining for me to "leave him alone" because he "needed to wake up early". "So?" I yelled back, slathering moisturizer on my face. "I wake up early too. That's no excuse to go to bed right now." Then he insisted on griping that he was exhausted, and by the time I explained to him that he could "sleep all he wants when he's dead", he had already passed out. Sigh.

So I was left tossing and turning alone next to a slumbering husband, and naturally began thinking up a downright cool story idea that I began narrating to myself in my head. At one point I almost got out of bed to jot down my exact language -- I was that impressed, which doesn't come often for someone who is so self-critical about her craft -- but I couldn't muster the strength. I began to fall asleep ... by telling myself a story. This morning I wrote down as much as I could remember, but the good parts are forever banished to the land of shut eye.

So, how do you all do it? Not just the writers, but everyone? How do you find your balance?

I'm still figuring that one out, but for now I'll have another drink and reflect ...


Mandy said...

As long as you don't wake up looking like Shelley Duvall from your lack of sleep and moisturizer.... now that would be DOWNRIGHT SCARY! :-) I love the Shining by the way.

Okay, back to the point of your story. I totally hear you and feel you, but only in the past three weeks. I've been on a writing frenzy but it's not a novel like you. It's anything - what someone says to me in the grocery aisle. It's the tacky license plate I read on the car in front me. It's the list in my head, the song on the radio, the line from that last film I saw. I can't shut it off! AAAAAH!!

So when you find the secret or resolution, please let me know. I am in the same boat as you, except well my boat is like a canoe and yours is a yacht.

P.S. - I'd like to pre-order an autographed copy of your book! I may just be "your biggest fan" Muuuhaaahahaha! (Misery by Stephen King) :-P

Tami said...

I'm a night owl too, but I've learned to set a 'normal' schedule in place. I write an allocated # of posts per day and call it quits by 1am latest. I also have an editorial calendar to organize my schedule. Otherwise, the price to pay is hundreds of $ to see my docs for some sort of health ailment. :P

DS said...

Hey chica! Okay, so I don't know what it's like to stay up super late because, let's face facts, I am an old woman in a twenty-somethings body who starts nodding off around 10PM, but nevertheless... If you feel like there aren't any boundaries, setting a schedule like others have suggested sounds like a good plan. That way you get what you get done in the time you have allotted and if you don't get every single thing checked off, hey, there's always tomorrow!

Revanche said...

Oh dear, you have a problem. :)

I tend to cherish the writing binges when they come because mine are more rare, but I think your sleep schedule is doomed when you keep getting out of bed to write down yet another fantastic, nagging, niggling, wiggling idea you've just had. Far be from me to stifle creativity but ... oh heck, when you've got a great idea, get up and tap it out. I don't know if feeding the monster's a good idea, but if you're getting good material whilst you do .... :)

Carrie...On The Cheap said...

First off, I think this is the most well-written post you've had since I started following your blog. I like :)

Damn insomnia. I used to be the type to be able to sleep for 9, 10, 11, 12 hours a night. This year was the first time I battled insomnia. It started when I started studying for the CPA in March. I would lay down and see numbers and interest rates and accounting standards (oh my!) floating around in my head. Not fun. My brain wouldn't stop churning until sometimes 3 in the morning and I'd have to be up at 6 or 7 the next day. Uh yeah, I looked frightening to say the least and was not pleasent to be around. :) Anyways, I had to figure out my routine for shutting down my brain. A lot of websites recommended reading before bed because it isn't as stimulating as TV. Nope, not for me. I HAVE to watch TV before bed. Reading, I find, actually does stimulate my brain (even if it is a Gossip Girl series book). Now, I watch TV for 30 minutes or an hour before bed which distracts my brain from anything work/study related. It really works for me. I think it's because I've been watching TV before bed since I was a kid. So, I guess you just gotta find that one thing that turns your brain off - TV, yoga, reading, listening to music, talking with husband, etc.

Good luck!

P.S. I laughed at that part about the moisturizer. I come out of the bathroom every night with huge white circles of eye cream around my eyes and Lloyd always jumps like he's seen a ghost. LOL

charkstudios said...

For insomnia, try some natural remedies. Don't worry as these do not have any properties whatsoever of the "eternal sleep" variety that Michael Jackson's doctor allegedly prescribed. Sounds like you are not producing enough sleep inducing hormones due to some imbalance. Get an endocrinologist to test your hormone levels.

In the meantime, try these safe alternatives: In tablet form there is Melatonin, all you need is 3 mg about 30 min before you go to bed to get your serotonin levels to induce your natural sleep inducing chemicals in the brain. If it does not work, don't take another one as more is not might be a sign of another underlining condition.

Here is a list of some loose herbal teas you can try to induce sleep of which you can find at your local health food store: lemon balm, valerian, passionflower, camomile and catnip just to name a few.

Good luck, and hope the sandman pays you a visit sometime soon. We do not want you to go crazy like the character in The Shining now do we!

Unknown said...

The nasty short is that for me at least, there isn't any balance!

The writing wins. Hands down. My only respite is when a novel is done. Really done! (Short stories and blog posts don't haunt me as much and come out quicker...)

Sorry! ;)

Emily said...

Just a thought--I feel like your writing tends toward melodrama, especially in moments like "my obese cat" etc. The comparison is easily understood; you don't have to beat it into the ground with additional detail or overwrought adjectives.

There's also glaring moments of redundancy: "So I was left tossing and turning alone next to a slumbering husband, and naturally began thinking up a downright cool story idea that I began narrating to myself in my head." It's obvious he's slumbering, first of all. "thinking up" and "in my head"--you only need one phrase to get the job done.

I know this is probably just an off-the-cuff blog post, but meant as constructive criticism.

Crystal said...

Mandy: I tell you, we're so long lost twins! And I'll give you a signed copy of my book, but just promise not to trap me in your house and handicap me. ;D

Tami & Delectable Swank: Good idea. I'm going to work toward that "all work done by 1am" goal!

Revanche: Totally agree.

Carrie on the Cheap: Thanks! Yeah, reading before bed always stimulates my thinking. Watching tv is a good idea...maybe I should get one for my bedroom. ;)

Charkstudios: Thanks for the recommendations! A friend also recommended valerian to me -- I'll pick it up next time I'm at the story.

Emily: Wow, didn't know my blog posts of all things were being scrutinized to such a degree. But thanks for the constructive criticism! I would take it, but it wouldn't matter because I was half-drunk when I wrote it. LOL. Shhh, cat's outta the bag...

Crystal said...

Oops, sorry Suzanne! Forgot my response to you: It's good to know I'm not the only one in this boat. I'm with you in that blog posts get the least of my attention. In order of importance, it goes 1.) book 2.) short stories 3.) blog. I suppose I should give as equal time as I can to all three, but that's just not possible. :P

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