Sleep and Creativity

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I'm going to get a little personal this week, though I think it'll focus on something a lot of writers can relate to; sleep and creativity. For the past year, I've had trouble sleeping at night. No matter when I go to bed, I always seem to wake up two or more times a night and stay awake anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half. Having that happen once or twice is one thing, but dealing with it every single night tends to wear a person down. When my doctor checked the stats on my CPAP machine, it registered I was getting maybe about 4-6 hours of sleep a night with all the waking up. 

You can probably imagine what the lack of sleep has done to me: 

  • Exhaustion

  • Irritability

  • Trouble staying awake

  • Depression

  • Worse Anxiety

  • Memory issues

And so on and so forth. Not exactly fun things to deal with when you're trying to write/publish a book. 

I've worked with some people to get my sleep under control, but it wasn't until I met a cognitive behavior specialist that I started to actually notice some changes. For the first two weeks I met with her, she asked me to track my sleep. I was shocked when I realized it looked like a checkerboard. I might get a couple hours of sleep before waking up, but for the most part, my night was "asleep, awake, asleep, awake, asleep." Worse, when I would wake up in the middle of the night, I usually went to food for the comfort, which just doesn't help with weight loss and staying healthy. 

My sleep doctor describes it as maintenance insomnia. I can usually fall asleep within about 5 minutes. Heck, I've fallen asleep standing up before! But staying asleep, yeah, that doesn't happen much for me. All the sleep I had started to get by using a CPAP machine just went out the window and left me a miserable mess. Frankly, I think the lack of sleep is what led to my emotional episodes in February of this year. 

After tracking my sleep, my doctor told me that my circadian rhythm is off kilter. Her solution? Condensed sleep. Okay, so what does that mean? Basically, her idea was to focus on forcing me to get quality sleep over quantity. She wanted to retrain my brain to understand what it was to be "sleepy" and to be so tired that I would just sleep through the night. She had a few other stipulations as well: 

  • No caffeine after 2pm

  • Sleep for 6 hours from 1:30am-7:30am

  • No naps

  • No resting in your bed

  • No phone in your bedroom before sleep

Our plan was to do it for two weeks before I saw her again, mostly because she said I would hate her by the second week. I thought she was kidding.

She wasn't. 

It's officially been two weeks, and except for two nights when I accidentally fell asleep a little early on the couch, I've followed the rules closely. Each night I've gone to sleep and stayed in bed. Anxiety remained quiet. My hunger ebbed. All I wanted, all I craved was sleep! And by the second week, oh yeah, I hated her. I still might throw a shoe at her when I see her on Wednesday. I never thought fighting to stay awake until 1:30 am would be so hard. It has some benefits. I get more downtime for myself. I caught up on shows and finally watched Good Omens. 

But the costs more than outweigh the benefits. I'm exhausted all the time. I'm grumpy, depressed, stressed, and a complete bundle of emotions. And for those of you who know me well, I don't like not having control of my emotions. I've actually started to cry because I was so tired and so angry that I couldn't just nap. Even know as I type this, I can feel my eyes getting heavy and my body just begging me to go to sleep. 

I will say this, the practice has really made me appreciate sleep a lot more. Our plan on Wednesday, I believe, is to add time onto my sleep schedule so I'm getting closer to 7 hours. I personally think I function best on about 7 1/2 - 8 hours, but even that hasn't been enough when I'm trying to recover from many sleepless nights. 

By now you're probably asking, but Erin, what does this have to do with creativity? 

Everything. 

For some people, staying up late or lack of sleep can create a drive to write. For me, my muses have basically shut themselves off and my characters are giving me the cold shoulder. I have this extra time at night, but the idea of putting a single word on paper is almost unbearable. Thinking hurts. Trying to be creative is too exhausting. It takes all my energy just to stay awake. How I managed to edit and publish a book last year is beyond me. 

Though it would probably explain the emotional roller coaster ride I felt during the process. 

I want my creativity back. I want to be able to curl up at night when I'm sleepy and know that I can rest through the night and rise with enough energy to create my worlds. Sleep is so important. Like, I didn't realize how important until I went through the past two weeks. And I know, 6 hours may not sound bad, but for me, I need more sleep. Technically, you can function on 5 hours of sleep a night for an extended period, but that doesn't mean that your creativity will work. Take care of your mind and bodies. Give them the rest they both so desperately need and crave. I'm hoping once I add on the hours, my passion for writing will resume. and I'll get out of the very tired writer's block clouding my mind. 

Musical Musings

There's nothing better than curling up on the couch with your novel and a good song to set the mood. While not everyone likes to write with music, there are plenty of us who need that additional inspiration to guide us through our craft. I'm one of those people who can listen to the same song on repeat for hours on end because it elicits a certain emotion that keeps me going. 

Music has always been important in my life. When I was a kid, I remember listening to the Little Mermaid soundtrack. I could tell my mom what was happening based on the music. And I'm not talking about the songs with lyrics. I mean the instrumental pieces. I played the clarinet in middle school. My dad introduced me to the world of opera and operetta (still love it that Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street was the first operetta I attended). I also loved musicals like Cats, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Sound of Music, Rent, etc. I learned how music can tell a story, not just in the lyrics, but with the instruments alone. 

As I got older, I started creating my own stories to the music. I'd pick a song like Vivaldi's "Winter" and I'd sit back, close my eyes, and try to imagine a story that was happening through the music. Characters sprang to life. Icy forests caught in a snowy storm. Snow fairies darting through tree branches and bushes. It wasn't just music to me; it became an entire world. 

So I started collecting songs that did several things for my writing; created the world, represented my characters, and quieted my mind. I made playlists that were 40 songs long because they all reminded me of my characters or world in some way. Right now, Naomi Scott's "Speechless" from the new Aladdin movie is my song of choice. The lyrics remind me of one of my characters who survived an abusive relationship and came out stronger than ever. Some of the lyrics like "I will take these broken wings / and watch me burn across the sky" make me think of my character who literally has a phoenix living inside of her. 

So what can you do to help you get into the creative mood using music? 

Character Playlists: Find music that reminds you of characters. I pick out lyrical songs for most of these because the words invoke feelings about the characters and what they've gone through in their lives. I used to create separate playlists per book, but sometimes when I don't know what to write, I just put them all on shuffle and see which character speaks to me the most. 

World-building Playlists: I mostly choose instrumental music for these, but having lyrical songs that represent your story's time frame or world can be just as useful. James Horner's "Avatar" and Howard Shore's "Lord of the Rings" soundtracks are definitely ones I use for my fantasy/medieval stories. On the flip side, I might use pop music or gothic rock (thank you Within Temptation and Evanescence) for my urban fantasy world because it just fits the setting and the characters. Play around. See what catches your attention. 

Mood Playlist:  I also create playlists that have nothing to do with my characters or worlds. These are generally songs that I know won't distract me from writing and will actually sooth me if I'm stressed out. Some easy choices are meditation soundtracks with water, music, and soothing chimes or bells. Another day, I might replay the "Night King" from the Game of Thrones' season 8 soundtrack 15 times. Right now, I'm listening to "Lord of the Rings Music & Ambiance." Most of my mood music is a mix between gentle or sad. It's rare, but sometimes I'll have louder, head banging music. Again, it depends on the mood. But this might help you get into the groove of writing. Turn on your playlist, settle into a comfortable spot, and get writing! 

There are also fun programs out there where you can create your own ambiance.  Check out Ambient Mixer. Maybe you want to spend an afternoon in the Gryffindor common room or explore Rivendell. Perhaps Loki's quarters are much more to your liking. You can listen to premade background music or make your own. 

Everyone has their own tastes in music and their own ways to get into the writing mood. What do you do? Do you have favorite songs that inspire you? How do you find them? Feel free to post below.

Happy writing and listening! 

Wolf Pit Draft Complete!

I did it.

After 6 grueling months, several weeks of depression, and enough overtime at work to last me a lifetime, I finally finished the first draft of The Purple Door District: Wolf Pit. Book 1 clocked in at about 76,000 words. Wolf Pit? As of now, she's a whopping 99,000 words. Granted, she still has to go through editing, but I'm headed in the right direction. 

So what does this mean for the final piece? 

Ideally, I would like to publish Wolf Pit by December 2019. I'm not officially making this the date, as it's going to depend on a couple of things.

1. I'm attempting to get accepted to #writementor with my YA fantasy book Dragon Steal. If I'm selected, I'm going to spend the summer working with a published mentor to get my book in shape for an agent showcase. That means PDD might have to get pushed back a bit.

2. Editing. Editing takes a lot of time and the book is longer than the first one. I need to do my revisions, I have to send it to my co-world-creator, AE Kellar, to pass her inspection, I need a few sensitivity readers to look it over, not to mention my main editor Leona Bushman will have to rip it apart so I can rebuild it. And after that, I have proofreaders who need to review it. That all takes time, and I don't want to rush it. So, if I don't make the December deadline, I imagine it'll be ready by early 2020. 

I'm sure I'm going to get the stink eye from some of my readers and a scolding from fellow authors. Why is it taking me so long to put out a book? Well, there are a few factors. I work a 40+-hour job each week, volunteer for The Iowa Writers' House, and I'm a Director of The Writers' Rooms. On top of that, I spend time marketing my main book, querying Dragon Steal, blogging, interviewing authors, etc. It all takes time, and when writer's block or depression hits, that means it's going to take even longer. I honestly don't take many breaks from the computer. I'm usually always doing something when it comes to writing, even if it's not for PDD specifically. 

Believe me, it's not that I don't consider PDD a priority, I just have to make sure I pay the bills and put food on the table. And at the same time, I have to take care of my mental and physical health, which have both been up in the air over the past year. I wish I could write as a full-time author and produce more, but at this point in my life, that's not a possibility. So while I hate to delay the books, it's something I just have to do. That's why I try to keep my patreon updated so that people have short stories about the characters they can read while the book is in production.

Now, that all being said, what's Wolf Pit about? (Spoilers: If you haven't read PDD 1, I suggest you not read the book promo). 

Tess Montgomery isn’t your typical member of the Chicago wolf pack. In fact, she’s not a wolf at all. She’s an adopted fire magus of the pack and thus doesn’t always “play by the rules.” When her father and her best friend Nick are kidnapped in what the parahumans assume is a Hunter operation, Tess’s pack is thrown into turmoil. With Alpha Paytah unable to step outside the bounds of his new position as Violet Marshall of Chicago’s Purple Door District, Tess takes the reins to plan a rescue attempt.

Meanwhile, Nick and his fellow wolves find themselves in a world of battle and bloodshed. The Hunters have set up an illegal fighting pit where the strongest survive and the weakest are traded or killed. It’s all Nick can do to keep up the spirits of his packmates and help them escape. Or survive long enough until they’re rescued.

Unfortunately, Tess’ rescue mission fails spectacularly, leading to her capture. She finds herself the unwilling guest of a local Hunter named Arjun. Handsome, charming, and deadly, Arjun tries to convince Tess that not all Hunters are the enemy.  He even offers to help her find her packmates. But is he true to his word, or does he have his own wicked plans in mind?

As you can see, there's a lot going on in this book and many POV switches so you can experience what's happening both in Tess's world and Nick's. It was a challenge to provide equal time to both, but I'm hoping it works out.

I'm really excited to share the cover and the story with all of you. The cover I'm planning to release on May 1st, 2019 in its full glory. Those of you who are patrons, however, get to see it early ;-) That's my gift to you since my story this month is going to be a bit late due to finishing up PDD. 

I want to thank you for following me on this crazy journey/adventure, and I hope you're excited for Wolf Pit

Writing with Chronic Pain

I want to tell you a story, one that I tend to vaguely mention in posts with phrases like, "I have eye trouble," or "I'm light sensitive." Over the years I've stopped talking about it as much because I haven't wanted to bother/bore people (and it's just kind of a daily thing for me now), but I'm starting to realize when you don't discuss chronic pain, people don't realize the seriousness of the issue. And that while some things you do to alleviate pain may seem funny, it's really not a laughing matter. 

About seven years ago, something changed with my vision. It started with an ocular migraine. One moment I was fine, the next, my vision started to pixelate. A strange line appeared across my eye and kept pulsing so quickly I started to lose my vision. It got so bad that about 75% of my vision went out, and I had to grab onto walks just to walk around at work. 

I thought I was having a heart attack. 

Ocular migraines can last anywhere from moments to 30 minutes, and I'm on the longer spectrum. I've gotten them while driving, working, and writing. It used to terrify me every time it happened. Now? I'm just kind of used to getting them and just wait it out as best I can and hope that it doesn't spark a full-on migraine. 

About a month later, things got worse. My eyes had been wearing out faster than usual and I wasn't sure why. Then one night, while I was looking at my computer, my vision completely doubled. 

Ever since then, I've battled with pain in my eyes. 

For seven years. 

At the worst times, it feels like someone is shoving their fingers into my eyes and shining a bright light that I can't look away from. My forehead is stuck in a vice. A certain level of light can start up the issue and then something as simple as looking at a computer or reading a book takes a painful toll on my eyes. 

I've been to eye doctors and ophthalmologists. I went to the Mayo clinic. I tried medicines that have made me suicidal or caused insomnia. I've been told not to bother coming back because a doctor didn't believe me. I've used prisms and been falsely diagnosed with lazy eye. I've tried eye drop after eye drop, changed glasses, had plugs inserted in my tear ducts, taken antibiotics for inflammation, etc.

The most anyone can tell me is I have severe dry eye, light sensitivity, and I used to have blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelids. But even with all the treatments, and with my eyes as healthy as they've ever been, the pain is still there. I'm at least to the point that I don't wake up in the morning and fear that I won't have the eye strength to do work. But I don't know how I'll be in the evening when I want to write. 

I live in perpetual darkness. The most light I might have on at my house in the evening is blue Christmas lights, or a single lamp, because more light than that is painful. And believe me, using full-spectrum lights for depression are NOT fun (though at least they help my mood). 

To top it off, I also have chronic migraines. I take a medicine three times a day to keep them under control, but when they hit, they can be debilitating. And unfortunately, my eyes are the first to go down. I've thrown up because the pain was so bad. I've had to lay in complete darkness with cold cloths over my eyes and on my neck to stop the pulsing pain radiating through my skull and eyes. And there's no telling how long the migraines will last. It could be a day. It could last several. If my eyes become even more sensitive to light, that's generally my first sign a migraine is coming on. 

I've had to fight tooth and nail at work to be placed in a darker location so I can actually perform my job. And I still have to wear a hat to block out what light comes near me because otherwise my eyes spasm and start to hurt. Sometimes I even have to wear sunglasses or put a shawl over my head to drown out the light. And you know, it gets tiring when people crack jokes about it. I see the looks people give me when they walk by and I'm wearing a hat inside or donning a pair of glasses so I can finish my work. I hear the snickers or snide remarks when I have my computer settings so low or use a blue background when writing so I can actually do something I love. I also hear the whole, "It's just a headache," comment or the scoffing, "WOW, you really are light sensitive, aren't you?" 

And it sucks. Because what people don't realize is it also affects the things that I love most which are writing and reading. When I say that it takes me awhile to get through a book, it's because it physically hurts to read for long periods of time. There are nights I want to write pages of my story, but if my eyes are having an issue, that goes out the window. I used to be over the moon when my favorite authors would come out with big books. Now I just dread seeing them because I know how much time and eye strain it's going to take to get through the story. Yes, I know I can listen to audio books, but for me, it's not the same. I can't look at the text and visualize things as easily with audio books as I can while reading and holding books. Of course, that doesn't mean I won't use audio books. I have quite the library stacked up. 

Reading used to be my stress reliever, and now I have to really work if I want to get through a story. And when it comes to editing my own stuff? It can be an absolute nightmare. I've had tears screaming down my cheeks trying to edit my writing because it hurt to read, but I needed to get my deadlines done. Even now while I'm writing this post I can feel my eyes watering and I'm closing them periodically to give them some rest. And it's not just from staring at screens. It's while I'm hanging out with people. Grabbing tea at a coffee shop. Gardening. Cleaning. Shopping at the store. 

It's always there. 

I'm not writing all this to have people feel sorry for me, or to whine, that's not the point. I just want people to understand that I do things like wearing sun glasses and hats or rarely pick up books these days not because I want to, but because of chronic pain. It's not always visible, and believe me, eye problems and migraines have definitely caused my anxiety and depression to escalate. 

I'm grateful the eye doctor I have now wasn't like the others who told me not to come back. She stuck with me and has made things bearable for me. And we're still hopeful that things will continue to improve over time. 

So be kind to people who have invisible issues. You never know what's going on behind their exterior wall.