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Monday, November 22, 2010


The Zzz’s of Writing

            I’ve done a lot of blog posts and written a lot on the subjects of writing, the life of an author, my career, and the ups and downs of living with teenagers.  But I’ve never written about something near and dear to an author’s heart.  No, not fame, fortune, or becoming a NYT bestselling author.  I’m talking about sleep.
            At the moment, I’m bone tired.  Deep down, mind-meltingly, brain-freezingly tired.  This isn’t because I have sleep problems.  On the contrary, all I have to do is think about my bed and I’m fast asleep until my alarm rudely awakens me at 6:15.  My family thinks I might be narcoleptic because all I have to do is be still for seven seconds and I’m out for the count.
            The truth is that I need more sleep (obviously).  But with a busy family, a husband who travels and all the hoopla of family life, combined with writing two big (100,000+ words) books per year, there simply isn’t enough hours in the day to get everything done—so I steal from those hours that most people devote to sleeping.  My bad.
            Unfortunately, I’m also one of those people who can drink a pot of caffeinated coffee and fall asleep immediately.  I know this because it’s happened before.  More than once.  How fair is that?  I’ve tried everything:  caffeinated gum, loud music, exercise, apples, hydration with water, standing on my head.  And that’s when I realized that it’s more than lack of sleep—it’s the actual activity of writing.
            I don’t know about other writers, but writing a page is more mentally exhausting than an hour of Pilates.  My books tend to be pretty emotional, so I suppose it makes sense that writing them can be emotionally draining.  Like an actress, I immerse myself into the character’s POV and “become” that person when I’m in their head.  I think it lends itself to more real emotions and dialogue.  I’m also a very visual writer and when I’m envisioning a scene, I close my eyes and, yep, sometimes I’ll wake up an hour later realizing too late that a sleepy person shouldn’t spend too much time with her eyes closed if she doesn’t want to fall asleep! 
            I have spent complete afternoons nodding over my laptop, and have the permanent crease in my forehead from the laptop lid as a result.  (My kids say it’s a wrinkle because I’m old, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).
            And then:  a breakthrough.  While trying to stay awake while eating breakfast, I usually attempt to read one of my many periodicals that come in daily that I rarely get to peruse because, yes, I fall asleep if I sit down in a quiet room to read.
            I can’t remember what magazine or newspaper (sleep deprivation also interferes with memory, apparently), I read about the wonders of napping.  Now, as the mother of two teenagers who were once adorable toddlers who, thankfully, were good nappers, I already knew about the joys of napping.  But this article was talking about how famous people in history—Ghandi and Winston Churchill to name just two—recharged their brains in the middle of the day with a mere twenty minute nap.  I couldn’t believe it—two icons in world history NAPPED!  Surely, I thought, if it worked for them it could work for me.
            Luckily, I’m one of those people who can lie down anywhere and fall asleep.  So, after lunch one day, I went up to the guest room, drew the shades, put in my earplugs and set my alarm for 20 minutes.  As always, I didn’t even remember falling asleep.  All I knew was that when the alarm rang, I was a new person.  My mind was clearer, and I was no longer sleepy.  I was refreshed—something I hadn’t been in a very long time.  I was able to write with passion and clarity, really focusing on the story and characters instead of how many sentences I could get out before my eyes closed.
            The secret to the twenty minutes is that it doesn’t allow a person to get into REM sleep.  If that happens, you’re doomed to a day of grogginess.  But 20 minutes seems to do the trick without any side effects.  I’m now a huge proponent of adult napping, even contemplating a move to Spain where napping is a national past time.  OK, so I didn’t really consider it, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could live in a place where you could nap and not feel guilty that you should be, well, working?
            Napping is now a daily ritual for me, and can be the highlight of my day.  Even my dog knows when it’s naptime, because he heads upstairs with me at the appointed time and settles himself either at the foot of the bed or on the floor next to it.  He’s a professional napper himself, and I’m sure he feels he deserves the credit for my new found restorative habit.
            I just looked at the clock.  I’ve been up since 6:15 and it’s time for lunch and then my favorite twenty minutes of the day.  Then it’s back to writing for me.  And I’m just left to wonder why this wrinkle in my forehead won’t go away now that I’m no longer using my laptop as a head prop.

Karen White’s love affair with the south has taken her across much
of the region, from her home in Atlanta to Savannah, Mississippi,
Louisiana, South Carolina’s Lowcountry and the mountains of
North Carolina. Her travels have provided inspiration as well as
details for the settings of her books, including her recent New York
Times bestseller, On Folly Beach. Now, in FALLING HOME, she
returns to Georgia, her home state, to recapture the small town
ambiance her Mississippi grandmother taught her to love.
Karen White
An NAL Accent Trade Paperback Original
Fiction/On sale November 2, 2010/$15.00 ($18.50 Canada)

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