Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Writer's Health

Day Two after returning from Hong Kong and I've gone down in a heap. Exhausted. Yet there is a pile of mail to open and respond to, bills to pay (how come they don't stop while you're away?), paperwork to fix, and then there's work tomorrow. Yet the topic of writing and health has come up several times with friends, in different ways.

My friend K has said many good things to me about being overtired, unwell and not eating properly, all of which are sound and excellent reminders. The great thing about HK was eating lots of fresh food and walking miles every day. I have come back feeling physically good, and want to continue. Hence regular drinking of Chinese tea, walking, and buying fresh fruit etc for eating. But the mental tiredness is a big issue. December is a good time to evaluate the year.

I have written around 110,000 new words, rewritten about 50,000, and edited probably another 100,000. For my teaching, both in Melbourne and in HK, I've put in about 100 hours of writing on class materials, manuals and online modules. I've helped to produce two issues of Poetrix magazine, reading around 1000 poems and then proofreading. I can't even begin to calculate how much student writing I've read and graded and given feedback on - probably 80-100,000 words.

Good gracious - no wonder I feel so stuffed!! And no wonder some recent rejections (of various writing kinds, not just manuscripts) have depressed me more than they usually would. A writer has to develop a thick skin to survive, and an ability to say, "OK, how can I make this better?" When you're really deep-down tired, it's much harder to get up off the ground and fight back.

It's also harder to write new words. My friend T, who managed her 50,000 words for NaNo by way of writing 15,000 of them in the last two days, said on her blog that there were times when she was so tired that she was writing absolute nonsense, not even connected with the story. As writers, we tend to think that because we sit all day, we don't need to look after ourselves as well as someone who does labouring work, or who plays top-level sport. That's not true at all. It's the lack of sleep, bad eating habits, coffee/alcohol/ciggies (pick your poison) and lack of exercise that affects our writing more than we realise.

There was an article in the Weekend Australian yesterday about the effect of less sleep on kids - one hour less a night can mean a sixth grader learning at the rate of a fourth grader (just one example). Sleep is vital to writers too - it's where we restore our imagination and creativity, either by dreaming or simply giving our poor brains a rest.
There's a great recipe for better writing - sleep more! I'll be in that.


Anonymous said...

I am utterly astounded at the word counts given. (I believe you though--I've seen you work harder this year than any other writer I know.) But those word counts explain the physical and mental burnout feelings really well! I think many (or most) of us got away for decades with eating badly and sleeping little. It's catching up to us--but it's fixable! Looks like a good New Year's resolution here.

Tracey said...

A simple recipe but not so simple to live by. The sleeping kills me. If I go to bed earlier, I lie awake for hours and then I wake up early. I'm always tired in the morning and mostly fine in the evenings.

Hey, speaking of NaNo, I saw one person who reckoned they'd made goal by Day 3. Final count was over 500,000. Now that's astounding!

Sherryl said...

Firstly, they'd have to be a extremely fast typist! Secondly, I be they don't have a job or kids (or probably even a spouse/partner). Thirdly, 500,000 words of great writing or of awful writing?
Mind you, Nano is not meant to be quality. It's about discipline and bum-in-chair.
As for sleeping, well... it's like healthy eating and exercise, I reckon. You have to work at it, especially if it's a problem area. One day or one week of gym work doesn't do much for me, just like one week of trying to regain good sleeping patterns probably won't work for you.
Now if I could just get some decent sleep myself...