Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Sleep or Work?

I remember reading years ago that Jerzy Kosinski had an unusual writing routine. During every twenty four hour period, he would sleep twice for four hours.  This allowed him to work during the quietest times of the night and early morning, and yet he could get the sleep he needed to remain fresh and energetic throughout the day.  

Kosinski had the advantage of being a full-time writer so he could stick to that self-created schedule.  I did something similar in my twenties, when I had a six am to 11 a.m job, and no family.  I would leave work, take a walk outside, and get home by about 1 in the afternoon.  I'd sleep for a few hours, have something to eat, and write from 7 p.m. till around 11:30.  Then I'd go back to sleep from midnight till four o'clock in the morning, before rising for work.  It was a productive time.

Nothing like that is possible now.  During the school year, I wake up at 6:45 or so (in the summer I can sleep an extra hour), and for all twelve months, I'm not back home, on a typical night, till at least 6:30 in the evening.  Sometimes I do write in my office immediately after work, which will put me home around 8:00.  There's dinner and chatting with my wife and son, and so most of the time, I'll get back to the laptop for the night's writing stint around 11 p.m.  It's pretty late.  And yet, squeezed in there, before I write, for 45 minutes to an hour, there is the precious nap.  My version of the Kosinski sleep, however much it's shorter than his.  

I don't go to a dark room and lie down. Usually by 10 at night I'm so tired I can stretch out on my couch with the TV on, my wife in the room, and doze off. It's become such a habit that I usually wake without prompting in the hour or less I mentioned. Sometimes, if I don't trust myself to wake in an hour, I'll set my alarm to do it for me.  Either way, when I do reopen my eyes, I encounter what becomes the most difficult part of the day.  It's that moment, when you're relaxed, when you've been sleeping, when you really would like to simply go back to sleep, that you may wonder, "What the hell am I doing?".  Your eyelids feel heavy, your body leaden, and the effort required to rise up from the couch to write seems too much.  "You can always pick up tomorrow," I say to myself.  "But what if tomorrow I tell myself I can always pick up tomorrow?"  It is, no question, a slippery slope.  Give in one day and how many more days will you give in?  I'm not saying I never give in; sometimes the body refuses to obey the mind's commands and you have to surrender to sleep.  But more nights than not, I do manage to drag myself to my feet and up the stairs to the second floor of our house, and in the kitchen I set about preparing my late night cup of espresso. 

The ritual kicks in.  I open my laptop, sit down, inhale the aroma of the brewing coffee.  One small cup (it is late, after all) and no sugar.  And it may take a few minutes, but soon enough, I'm back into whatever I've been writing. My mind is awake, helped by the caffeine.  I feel refreshed and I'm determined to use the hour and a half to two hours I have to get some words down.  No time to waste, no time to procrastinate, but the funny thing is that with writing time so limited, I find I don't need much time anymore to get myself going and pick up where I left off.  Out of necessity, I get in the writing mood fast.

Then it's time to stop, so I can get some extended shut-eye, and I know that after I return from my job the next day, I'll repeat the process all over again.  I'll have to face that moment after the nap, the moment when I have to make a choice, need to push myself. 

"Sleep more or get up.  Rest or work."  

I'm getting older, and it's not easy, but as I said, the push to work, so far, usually wins.


Art Taylor said...

This is fascinating, Scott! I don't think I could do it myself, but love the glimpse into the writing routine, especially one as interesting as yours.

Dana King said...

Writers’ routines always fascinate me. I’ve reached an age where I still have a day job but no kids around the house. The Beloved Spouse supports me entirely. My writing time is after supper until an hour or two before bed time, when I watch a game or read for a bit to clear my mind before going to bed. I find that even though I don’t get a lot “on paper” each day, things percolate in the back of my mind so I’m ready to go as soon as I sit down the next session.

Al Tucher said...

I'm still working 8:30-4:00, and my writing time is 6-7:30 AM in Starbucks near the train station. Sometimes I write some more in the evening, but I'm usually too depleted.

Retirement looms, but I worry that it will take more discipline to write, rather than less. "Ah, I'll get to it. Sometime."

Rusty said...

Writing routines fascinate me. I do mine in early morning,before the kids are up after which we homeschool,otherwise I'd get nothing done. At night? I wish. Kudos to you for figuring out a night system, Scott.

Rob Brunet said...

So true, Scott, about not letting one day off slide into another and another. I don't have a solid routine these days, but my most productive hours are always late at night and into the wee hours. Thirty years ago, I knew an octogenarian painter who swore by the twice-daily sleep. He said it meant never being far from the dream state, which helped his creativity. He'd paint until dawn, sleep till late morning, deal with the post and errands, sleep again for a couple hours in the late afternoon, and then take in a gallery opening, the opera, or whatever Munich had on offer, then grab an after-show drink and meal with the "kids" in their 30s and 40s, return home, and paint until dawn again. I followed his example for a few years in my twenties, and wonder whether it mightn't be time to try it again.

scott adlerberg said...

Rob, the painter's routine sounds almost ideal. Not just from the getting work done every day standpoint, but because he had his life in a really good balance. Regular life, enjoying it, and his painting. You can't do much better than that.