Terrible things that happen to your mind and body while writing a novel in eight days
By far the worst and most unexpected obstacle to progress during that week was the horrible sleeplessness. My body really just rose up and tried to stab me in the back. Sometimes after midnight I’d usually start feeling really tired. I’d lay down in bed and try to sleep…for four or five hours! Frequently it would be turning light out before I fell asleep. And even that wouldn’t have been so bad except that I started waking up earlier too. I woke up several times, after four or even three hours of sleep and unable to return to my slumber. I think that what happened is that I would have a day of terrible sleep, and then a day of merely bad sleep (six or seven hours). Since I usually get a solid eight or nine hours a night, this felt absolutely terrible. At no one point did I ever again feel as good as I did during the first day. That first day was like the first line of really good coke that the dealer lays out for you for free while he sells you the terrible shit (yes, I have been watching too much of The Wire).
That sleeplessness was really miserable. It was just my mind racing. And not even productively. Once or twice it quieted down and got to thinking about the next day’s scenes. But mostly it was just saying, “Wow this is really going well huh? Can you believe that you’re doing this? You’re going to be able to write an awesome blog entry when you’re done, aren’t you? Oh and what if you sell this novel for a bajillion dollars? Wouldn’t that be awesome? Well, wouldn’t it?” And this would continue for hours. It wasn’t even anxiety. It was a kind of euphoria, but to the extent that it robbed me of sleep, it was a deeply annoying euphoria. It made me concerned, at times, that I was having some kind of manic episode (pretty sure that is not the case. I haven’t blown thousands of dollars, lost any friends, gotten really drunk, lost my job, crashed my car, or insulted anyone…if this is the kind of mania where you’re just really productive and have no problems at all then I welcome it…but I think that kind is sort of rare)
The corollary to the above problem was the headache. This were partially caused by not enough sleep and partially caused by the caffeine used to make up for the lack of sleep (the headache substantially lessened in intensity on days when I slept better, though it never went away entirely). The headache was joined (just on the last day) by heart palpitations, which I am pretty sure were also caused by caffeine intake.
And finally, my wrists started to ache. I mean, it didn’t prevent me from doing anything…it wasn’t even particularly uncomfortable…it just made me wonder if I wasn’t maybe doing some damage to my cartilage that I was going to regret later. It also made me wonder what happened to ergonomic keyboards. Everyone used to have one, now with laptops, all we have are these total crap keyboards that probably cause hand-cancer.
Mentally, the worst thing was the total seclusion. I had a pretty good weekend lined up, you know. I was going to go to Monterey. I was going to party in SF. I was going to see people who needed seeing and then also see other people. But after I had written for two and a half days, I totally cleared my schedule. I emailed everyone I was going to see and told them I was writing a novel and was on a hot streak and that I couldn’t afford to lose the flow. I guess it doesn’t seem like too big a deal to miss one week’s worth of socializing, but I don’t know, I’ve been in times and places where I wanted to do things with people and couldn’t do it. It seems like asking for trouble to start turning down fun social engagements. Especially when I’m only writing for like eight hours a day. I mean, I used to work in an office for eight hours a day. It was nine and a half hours from my front door back to my front door. And when I was doing that it sure didn’t seem like an imposition to go out and hang with people. I don’t quite know where the other eight hours went during that week, but they sure weren’t with me in any kind of useable form. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I didn’t want to do anything. I had to force myself to eat. If it wasn’t for my roommate (who is one of my best friends) and the ladies at McDonald’s and the local café, entire days would have went by when I did not say a word.
Let’s see, oh, and I also had the normal writerly anxiety. I constantly worried over whether I was writing the right scene (my main concern was structure, remember, otherwise I also would have had a lot of other things to worry about too). I worried that one wrong scene early on would send the entire thing running off on a tangent. I often thought about deleting the current scene and starting over (which I do middling often during short story composition), but as far as I remember, I never did it. I don’t remember whether that was through laziness or a decision to trust my instincts, but I am stuck with it now.
And then there were the other writerly anxieties, these are overarching anxieties that I tend to have about everything I write. Am I going to feel like a fool for having written this? Am I totally deluded about its quality? Is it conceptually flawed? Is it racist? Is it sexist? Will I be able to sell this? Ugh, and I always feel a really heavy weight whenever I write something even slightly autobiographical. I sometimes submit those stories under pseudonyms, or not at all, just because I couldn’t bear to have a friend or family member know that I wrote such a thing. I even feel kind of awkward about this blog entry. It’s exactly the sort of thing that I, in my head, often make fun of other people for.
There’s a kind of confession that feels tawdry, and makes the world a poorer place. It’s the kind that takes the magic out of things, and makes you realize that people aren’t really special or interesting. It’s the kind that makes you realize that peoples’ lives are just bad stories. People walk around reframing the things that happen to them as part of some sort of story…the story of themselves…but that story is often not a very good description of who they are. It’s just a dirtier version of a fairytale they heard once.
But, to be honest, the sleeplessness was much worse than all of the other things. It was an order of magnitude worse. If it was possible to exchange peace of mind for a solid night’s sleep then I’d be riddled with so many anxieties right now that I’d be typing this naked, with hands wrapped in ten layers of Kleenex, and surrounded by a prime number of milk bottles filled with my urine.
Oh, also my laptop suffered some damage too. The spacebar doesn’t work now unless I warm it up with some rapid spacing.
Next: Awesome things that can happen when you get some writing done.