Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Writing on empty

If I had a petrol tank, it would be showing Empty tonight. We would be sitting in the middle lane of three lanes of traffic, needle in the red, wondering if we’ll make it to the next petrol station, wondering where the next petrol station is. There would be three children in the back, whinging that they’re hungry/thirsty/being hit over the head by their younger brother.

In other words, not pretty.

I’ve never been a good sleeper. You can ask my mum, who reckons I was awake for the first four years of my life. Awake and screaming, if I recall her exact words. She loves to tell people how she took me to see the doctor when I was about 12 months old, certain there was something wrong with me. Either that or I was possessed. The doctor reached over, patted her hand, and gave her a prescription for valium.

There are nights when I could use a doctor like that. Nights when I waft around the Fibro, wandering from room to room like a ghost, searching for sleep where there’s none to be found. These are the nights that have allowed me to maintain a writing career and be a mum at home with my kids. Insomnia is a very good friend to the work-at-home mother.

Then there are the other nights, when the computer screen seems to be emitting 1000 watts of light, hurting my eyes, adding to the lines under my eyes when I squint. When the words don’t come out right. When I have to concede defeat at 10pm and go to bed. Those nights tend to come after a long run of productive nights. They also tend to occur at the most inopportune moments. The nights when a solid post-midnight performance would make all the difference to the clamouring deadlines.

You can’t fight these nights, though.

Tonight is of the latter variety. No wafting for me tonight. No writing for me tonight. Just bed. All I can do is write my To Do list and give in.

Never underestimate the power of a To Do list for an insomniac. If you write it down before you go to bed, you won’t lie awake for hours reminding yourself of the things you need to do. Awake and screaming.

Sometimes I wonder if this is what was going on with me as a child. Was I lying there, desperately trying to remember what I needed to do the next day? Eat. Breathe, Cry. Excrete. Begin again.

When people use the phrase 'sleeping like a baby', they really have no idea, do they?

{image: Galina Barskaya}


  1. Nope. I've never understood the whole "sleeping like a baby" comment. I mean really, who wants a night where you wake up every four hours wanting to eat and use the toilet?

    Oh, wait. I did that. When pregnant.

    Nope. It's not for me. Give me a full night's sleep and a bursting bladder in the morning any day.

  2. I'm a fickle sleeper too- fine when everything in my life is serene and proceeding exactly to plan, rubbish the other 90% of the time. My daughter (also rather driven and performance-oriented) seems to have inherited this trait, and I worry for her... and was just telling her last night about the to-do list. Also that if you write everything down at 3am that is upsetting or worrying you, it doesn't seem half as bad at 8am.
    I enjoyed this post, if that's the right word- I know where you're coming from and what it feels like. Hope you're sleeping soundly as I type this near midnight in your part of the world...

  3. Poor you. That sucks. I'm afraid to gloat: I hit the pillow and don't wake up til morning. But I sometimes wake up and scribble down a thought and then can't read the hieroglyphics in the morning.

    Hope you got some shut eye.

  4. That 'sleep like a baby' saying really never made sense to me, well not since I had a baby.

    I think having adjusted to surviving on no sleep now has made me more productive.. or at least capable of being productive! I realise that time is so precious... and I have to get it done at 3am... I will! x

  5. Hope an early night helped. I wish I could write at night ... I do it, but I find it pretty hard.

  6. I'm with you. 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. is my most productive writing period. And I crash and burn after a few really good nights like that. I've also had to train my brain to be productive in the afternoons (around kiddo naptime), and I can do it, but it's a struggle. Night owls, unite! (Hope you're not being a night owl tonight, though, and are getting some rest.)

  7. I am sooo there right now - and hoping that if I get enough of the lists out, that the proper sleep will come AFTER I do the writing I WANT to do. But more likely, I'll be seeing ya on Twitter at about 2.30am Vegas-time ;) xo

  8. As a sleep addict whose addiction was broken into pieces by the arrival of offspring I sympathize. I have become a night owl myself. And I'm off to write a to do list.....

  9. "Sometimes I wonder if this is what was going on with me as a child. Was I lying there, desperately trying to remember what I needed to do the next day? Eat. Breathe, Cry. Excrete. Begin again." Hilarious! So true. If I start thinking about the bank balance and the renovations that still need to be done, I lose it,ignorance is bliss for me :)

  10. Well might you say woe-is-me for lacking sleep Ms A, because I have a big fat bone to pick with YOU.

    Who was it that suggested that I could write a book if I broke it down to tweets? Who was it that told me "don't wait for a spare two weeks, use the half hours"? I'll tell you who it was... it was YOU.

    So to whom shall I deliver this big serve of GUILT for keeping me awake for HOURS last night laying out a storyboard in my mind? Who shall take credit for my dark-circled eyes? Who did I swear at when the clock finally past 3am and the ideas were still rolling around in my head?

    I hope you got a jolly good nights sleep young lady, because I certainly did not!

  11. Great post! I know what you mean. My brain can be in such a whir sometimes as I try to sleep I find myself writing notes while half-asleep, waking in the morning to then try and decipher them!


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