Writing can’t compensate for no sleep

If your only problem is procrastination – or having to work a real job or take care of children, and that’s why you can’t write – some notes I took a couple of days ago will show you why I can’t write today – and why I’m so d*#&^d slow. Maybe it will make you feel better!

Note carefully: this is NOT a whine. It is an attempt to manage myself better. I try. Honest, I try.

January 5, 2015 at 10:48 AM

My REAL problem is and has always been that I want the appearance of making a free choice at all times – knowing perfectly well that my mind is subject to all kinds of constraints AGAINST free choice most of the time.

For example: right now. I resisted blocking the internet for over two hours, because I was unwilling to admit that I’m operating on autopilot, an autopilot set by a lifetime of bad habits.

How did this particular morning qualify as NOT free will?

Well, I finally forced myself to go to bed at 3AM. Not good.

I woke up at 8:30 (do the math), got out of bed (to keep me getting up as early as possible: one of my goals), took my pills, and told myself I would get right back to sleep asap, because that was the logical thing to do.

I didn’t turn on Freedom, and block the internet so I could start writing – because that requires willpower, and there’s no willpower possible in my mind when I’m this tired.

So, of my own free will (operating on what?), I decided to just check my email (not much there new since 3AM), catch up on anything new on the blogs I follow (thus stuffing my head with my debris I don’t have the capacity to process right now), and run a few Sudokus (KNOWING they would show horrible times which merely confirms what I already know: I’m too tired to write).

I think my mind does this because it knows perfectly well that I can’t write when I’m too tired.

But I hate having to rest, thus taking my mind out of the state of being in control for more time (the mind likes to be in control).

So, instead, the mind decides to use its control time ‘as well as possible.’ Which means… this is getting circular.

The root cause

For me, with the CFS and the brain fog, it is a constant battle between ‘taking care of myself’ like a baby, and ‘feeling human.’ Adult human.

My limitations don’t necessarily impose NEW constraints, but they definitely push me into the realm of overwhelmed much sooner and harder than if I were in my right mind.

Getting real control of my mind and myself involves doublethink: give up control and get some rest, and MAYBE you will get some time ‘feeling human.’

I hate resting – because even though it usually works, it feels like going backward.

And it comes down to the most basic part of being ill: I shouldn’t have to be. I’m still battling the basic facts of my life: I am not who I used to be, and will probably never be that person again, and I resent the heck out of that.

I don’t WANT to be noble and inspiring and writing IN SPITE OF CFS. I want to NOT HAVE CFS.

The consequences: I only hurt myself.

Da rules

Sigh. Again.

Okay. I’ve been up over two hours, so that means, according to the rules of my existence, that I need a nap.

I’ve managed to drink the protein shake BEFORE the nap – another rule – so that I’m not starving when I wake up, and then lose more time because the shake is cold and that makes me sleepy.

I turned the heated mattress pad on – another rule – so I’m not too cold to sleep if that’s what my body needs.

I’ve written SOMETHING – this – another rule: get started with the writing SOMEHOW.

I’m starting a new scene, which means – another rule – that I finished one yesterday, YAY/I’m awesome/fist pump required, and I’m slowly moving in the direction I insist I want.

I’m focusing on my mental condition and writing something down about it – another rule: get data whenever possible, to mine for long-term information about the self, to be used to refine that self.

I’m turning off the lights, sleeping the computer (so it doesn’t beep at me), putting the cellphone near me (so I don’t have to get up to answer it if it rings), getting the eyemask (so the light doesn’t keep me from sleeping/resting), making sure the industrial-strength noise-and-light-blocking headgear is next to my bed (in case some other human decides to make noise, like my neighbor with the leaf blower, or the garbage collection folks, or the tree-cutters-and-grinders – or the wind): rules. Rules. RULES.

Aargh! Please excuse me while I put myself to bed for my next nap. I’m getting grumpy again, and it might help.

When I get up, I’ll run through the ‘at least’ list – to revive my sense of gratitude because things could be so much worse – and get to work.

Scene 19.3 isn’t going to write itself, you know.

January 5, 2015 at 12:43 PM

Two hours! Two hours! That’s how long it took (not really surprising after that short a night’s sleep, but…Two hours!).
I’m more coherent, peeved at myself, woken up from a violent dream where I was trying to integrate all those pieces, and behind.

And since my housekeeper/assistant/whip-cracker comes at 3, I can’t just extend the writing time to compensate.

At least – 19.2 is finished – YAY!

At least – I don’t have to go to work.

At least – I don’t have a crying baby, or a sick kid, or a current crisis in the family (not an urgent one, anyway).

At least – I live in a heated house (the wind was a front which blew all night, bringing New Jersey’s temperatures down from 60 to 30 overnight).

At least – my lovely and capable spouse has us well supplied with food.

At least… the list is ENDLESS for the things I am thankful for and appreciate and don’t take for granted.

And one more piece of data – this post – registers the change before and after sleep (pay attention, Alicia!), showing how useful those darned naps are when your brain is brain-fogged and iffy and refuses to accept that we – it and I – are not the same as we were 25 years ago.

Not bad.

Maybe some day I’ll actually win this battle.

How about you – what do you keep having the same argument about in your life?

8 thoughts on “Writing can’t compensate for no sleep

  1. Lily White LeFevre

    Luff you. Feel like you wrote this for me, even though I know it was for you. ;). I am struggling very much with the exhaustion/willpower/despair cycle. I have known for years the best (only?) time I can write well is on the blank slate of a freshly awakened, well-rested brain. Baby boy derails both of those by being an early bird and by waking up multiple times a night every night. I am constantly tired, mentally and physically, and I feel TRAPPED in that state by circumstances beyond my control. It’s depressing and demoralizing. I can only imagine what it must feel like to have a life sentence like that. I admire you more than words can express for finding a system to overcome the constraints in order to accomplish something that matters to you and sticking to it even some of the time. Thank you for reframing my perspective tonight. I’m at the breaking point, where I have to find a way to write for my self-esteem and sanity, and I’m still not sure how I can. But if you can overcome your obstacles, surely I can climb mine. 🙂 kiss kiss.


    1. J.M. Ney-Grimm

      Lily, when my twins were born, they didn’t sleep soundly at all. In fact, for their first 16 months of life, they never achieved that rag doll limpness that I heard about. And they only slept if I lay down with them. And they woke to nurse twice a night.

      I’ll always remember loosing my control at the 16 month mark. I just couldn’t take it any more, and in a passion of anger threw my dinner – glass bowl and all – on the floor. Food and shattered glass went everywhere. Luckily no one was hurt, but not my finest moment. (There’s that shadow side I mentioned below.)

      I cleaned up the mess. And the next day my husband and I got out the jogging stroller and went for a long walk to brainstorm and talk about what we could do. (The babies napped in the stroller.)

      I don’t remember what we decided to try. It helped to have him really understand the extent of my desperation and sympathize, and offer to help. More. He was already helping a lot.

      The answer in our case (which I did discover shortly after this crisis) was to turn off the night light in the bedroom, and to seal the windows so that no light could get in. Evidently, some infants are more sensitive to light than others.

      The first night after making the bedroom pitch black was like a miracle.

      For the first time ever, my babies got rag doll limp when they fell asleep. And, critically, I could squirm out from under them (I nursed them to sleep) and do what I wanted from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Instead of lying awake in the bed in order to keep them from waking from their light sleep.

      After that they moved fairly rapidly toward sleeping all night. What a relief.

      Long story, I know. But I encourage you to look for new information, new resources, whatever it takes to both care for your baby and get the writing back into your life.


    2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Thanks – your baby boy will get bigger, and eventually you’ll have a bit more time, but you’re trying to do two full-time jobs. Adding a third may just not be possible for a while – because you do need a brain to create.

      I don’t know if you ever tried getting a babysitter, but you need a reliable source of a bit of extra sleep more than anything. Wish I could help. I couldn’t do the writing when mine were little, after I got sick.I didn’t even try until my baby was almost four (1995ish).

      You HAVE the advantage of KNOWING you can write. The time will come again soon. And will be worse if you decide you should have the rest of your family – if you’re planning more – before the wee one gets much past three (supposedly the best age).

      Have you tried creating your stories by telling them to the baby? Mine always loved attention, regardless of the content.

      Just don’t overwhelm yourself – everybody needs you. I did – I paid the price. Stress is a part of most things; I was unlucky.

      So what. I’m still stubborn!


  2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

    Thanks for the long contributions to the discussions, by the way. Love it.

    I found Stephen Pressfield’s Turning Pro was the key, over a year ago, to me making a decision that this is the most important thing I want to do with my own time. I spent some time reading and discussing with myself (which I do by writing) all his points about having a professional attitude, etc., and made the commitment to myself (no one else cares!) that writing, and writing Pride’s Children, was what I wanted to do.

    It made a huge difference. The rest has been the how, but the decision to turn pro was my key.

    I haven’t gotten worse, thank God!, in the past year, CFS-wise, but I am much better at keeping data, mining my own data, and trying to figure out how I work best, so I can get those few hours every morning in which, because I’ve done everything right I know how to do, I actually have a brain capable of writing.

    I haven’t managed the next period: after writing. I surf, do email, and generally can’t get myself to take the next nap, and then the rest of the day gets frittered away too easily. But if I at least got some writing done, with my very rigid system, I can gather everything I need to put into a scene, organize that scene, and write it – in 4-5 days. It feels good. It is slow. It is about 20 to 1, writing about and around writing to finished words (so I end up writing a LOT), for a scene which runs from 1-2K. I’m hoping to improve that a bit, but I don’t see where I can shorten my steps – and I like the complex, full final products.

    The problem is that it uses up my ‘good time’ – which also sometimes is required for other things. So if I take a few days off from writing – to get the other things done – I get very depressed, and am not fast at the other things, but they get done.

    What I need is to improve my number of good hours daily, and I’m working very hard to see where they might come from, even got an assistant – but that is truly a mixed blessing. Systematizing seems to be the only way to figure out the self-management for this broken vessel I inhabit. So be it. I’m game. What other choice do I have? Lotus eating makes me fat.

    All I can say to other people is: find your system NOW, before you get to be like me.


    1. J.M. Ney-Grimm

      Yes, I agree that the commitment is key.

      I found mine in 2007, when I suddenly had a great sense of urgency around the feeling that I was running out of time to do what I really wanted to do with my life.

      At first I wrestled with despair. Then I stumbled upon The Artist’s Way on my very own bookshelves, waiting there unread for who knows how many years.

      I read the book and did all the exercises. Twice. And in that September, I started to write, and write regularly. I felt like I’d been released from prison!

      (Glad you like my long comments! I was a little worried that you might prefer them to be shorter. 😉 )


      1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

        Gab away – I’m a sociable introvert. And online is easier than getting dressed, going somewhere, and getting stuck for long enough to make it worthwhile, and then having to go home and take a nap!

        Good – you already found your dedication.


  3. J.M. Ney-Grimm


    It sounds like you must be very disciplined in order to have the energy and focus, in spite of CFS, to write and accomplish other things important to you.

    I sympathize, because I have difficulty with self discipline myself.

    I used to be very disciplined. At least, I thought I was. Now, I wonder if I wasn’t just inhibited and repressed.

    Whatever the truth of that, I struggle with the issue now. I think the heart of the difficulty lies in my difficulty in “switching gears” – moving from one focus and activity to a different activity.

    Once I’m locked in on one thing, I feel very resistant to letting it go for something else.

    Once I’ve started writing, I don’t want to stop. Witness today, where I managed a lovely 2400 words. But starting in the first place inherently means stopping something else. Then, if I’ve also piled a bad habit on top of the need for a transition…uh, oh!

    While I was sick during the holidays, I’d gotten in the habit of checking email, checking blogs, etc. I was too sick to read, so computer.

    Which meant that this Monday, I decided to “check email” as usual and half the day went away before I got to writing. Ditto Tuesday. Wednesday, I wised up and did the writing first. Much better: 1660 words. And, again, today: writing first thing for 2400 words.

    It felt glorious! I’m in the flow again, as I was in December when I was finishing the previous WIP.

    In the past, I might have managed to avoid the bad habit with willpower. That just doesn’t work any more. Now I have to work with reminding myself of the facts:

    1) I will be much happier if I write, and if I write a decent amount.

    2) I will feel so much better if I start into the writing as soon as the kids get on the bus to school, and I will write more if I do so.

    3) I can goof off later in the day, and I will enjoy the goofing off more if I’ve already completed my writing for the day.

    The tone is very similar to your rules above, it seems. 😉 These reminders do work, but I have to remember to say them to myself!



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