not out of the woods

Last night wasn’t the first night of un-sleep, but it was the first night I took medicine for it. Medicine that decided I needed awakeness more than it needed to do its job.

I got out bed to write instead, but it was too cold, too dark. Earlier in the day, it had been too hot, too bright. Sometimes my chair is too short. Sometimes my hair is too long. Sometimes I’m in the middle of typing and decide I should just make a biscuit instead.

An American biscuit, I should say. I’m not a big fan of cookies. I rarely eat them, but I do bake them, and I love to gift them.

…. Somehow, this has become a study of what fabled creatures in the woods I am. Red Riding Hood, sometimes. Goldilocks, obviously, reluctantly.

And last night, I was Baby Bear, staring in horror at my bed. Not because it had a trespasser in it, but because it was empty. Empty where I should have been resting instead of shivering wide-awake in front of a blank screen, thinking, my, my, what big blankness you have.

This last Christmas, I was gifted a year of MasterClass and I have watched all of the ones even slightly related to writing. One of the consistencies between their collective advice is how important it is to have consistency.

There was so much more included. How to edit effectively, almost maniacally. How to stick a landing. How to write about the people in your life, and do both them, and your life, justice by it. How to find your voice, and be flexible. How to make a character, open a world, breathe life into a sentence.

All this was interesting to hear, but I have a middling grip on most of those things.

Except consistency.

Stability of all type slips from my fingers. But my voice has the palm of a tree frog and it is stickingly consistent even if its output could be anything or anywhen.

I could start there, couldn’t I? Couldn’t I build a stable relationship with my writing, starting with the consistency of voice? What would that look like? These aren’t entirely rhetorical questions. If you have answers or ideas, I am open, but even Neil Gaiman and Steve Martin and David Sedaris painted pictures I couldn’t dream myself into.

Part of this is my generally-undisciplined self, but there’s got to be leeway given to chronic illness and inconsistent mental health, too. How do you wake up in the morning and write when you haven’t slept? How do you visualize a dream when your mind is fog? When will I get enough rest to start making sense in my own head?

And why didn’t this medicine work?

I’m never a particularly linear person but I’d like to think of my writing (and my mind) as more of a graph on a journey than a tangled tarnished chain. Lately, it is more the latter, more forest than trees, and I know it would be better if I could just rest and focus.

If I could just pick one thing I need to write, and finish it.

If I could just find one tree, or dream, and sleep beneath it.

If I could just stop, and be still.

If I could just… stop.

* There’s some new people here so just wanted to explain that nothing is ever an affiliate link, or an ad or anything like that. I linked to MasterClass only because I wasn’t sure if everyone would know what it was. I don’t have any kind of discount code, but I do know that last year they did a buy one, get one, type of thing around Christmas so if you’re interested, maybe check around then?

Reminder: NanoPoblano starts in 19 days.

29 thoughts on “not out of the woods

  1. You may already know this but… Some of us have the opposite reaction to things that are meant to calm us down. As an example, if I take NyQuil, I can plan on being awake all night. This might be true for you as well. Have you tried melatonin?

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    1. Ah, I didn’t know this. I so rarely take any type of medication because it always seems to cause more than it fixes, so I’m a bit of a newb. I have tried melatonin and that doesn’t seem to work, but maybe a big dietary shift for awhile can help. 🙂

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      1. I have similar responses- any of the medical cold remedies that are supposed to help you sleep will knock me out for, at most, four hours- then I’m wide awake for the duration. Every time. I hope you’re getting some sleep, Ra!

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  2. 19 days….terror strikes at my heart. oh no. To participate or not to participate may depend on election results. Pretty terrified about that. I have been working on photo books to keep myself distracted and productive. Writing has been difficult for me lately….I mean nothing comes. I have never been able to force it. It comes when it comes, so consistency, yeah what is that exactly? LOL I think I have only written 2 posts in the last several months. One did get a lot of shares. I have also lagged in my reading of those I follow. Many days, I just can’t. It’s all too much. Input overload. I’ve needed to catch up on photo books though and I am so happy to have had the time to focus on them. Silver lining to covid. I have wanted to purchase master class, but money is less than normal. I’m glad you were able to enjoy. I’m sorry the meds didn’t work, and sorry you weren’t able to write. Perhaps you just have to wait until it’s ready to flow? Be tender with yourself. Consistency is over rated. xoxoxo

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    1. I understand that. I have a feeling this year will feel a little different for the Peppers. It is my aim to keep it a place of community love, but that might take some energy given how emotions will be flying. You can always log into my MasterClass if you wanted to check something out, but I agree about input overload right now. Still, the account is good till Christmas, so let me know. 🙂 Sending gentle love your way. 🙂

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  3. So, a couple things. Try to not be in front of an electronic screen for a couple hours before you are ready for bed. Take up recording your thoughts in audio if you don’t want to write them. Blue light from computers, televisions, tablets, and phones disrupt the sleep rhythm. Second, what if anything do you snack on in the evenings? If it’s sugary (even fruit I think) or carbohydrate (since carbs turn to sugars in the body), you’ll want to try and not do that. Evening sugar affects how we sleep.

    Then there’s the thinking about not sleeping … the more we ponder why we aren’t sleeping, the less we often do it in the moment. I used to have a terrible time getting and staying asleep because my mind was too restless. I still do, but not like it was. I used to count. Just run the numbers up, quickly in my head, and I fell asleep usually before getting to too many 100’s. I didn’t count anything in particular — it was the mindless activity that shut all the other things off.

    If you find you have ideas in the night, you might get a small book light and clip it to a notebook. Keep a pencil or pen there as well. You can jot down ideas or dreams, even if it doesn’t make sense, just so you aren’t thinking about it. Having the book light means not turning on a phone or a lamp and really breaking the sleep cycle again.

    If you decide to take melatonin, do so about an hour before you plan to get into bed so it can start its work. That means taking it after you’ve turned off those screens and taken time to do something else, like read, meditate, stretch, or take a bath … something relaxing hopefully!

    Last thing — consistency is overrated in a way. Writers often have more than one voice. After all, how could we have so many people to put on the page if we didn’t? Some days, you’re Goldilocks and other days, you’re one (or more) of the bears. That’s the life of a writer. The ones who have only one voice are sometimes those who become quite boring after a while … it becomes difficult to distinguish one book or story from the last.

    And that’s not you.

    Perhaps consistency means you’ll write something — anything — a certain number of times a week. Your consistency might be that you’ll write, when you do, until the thing is finished … and you’ve identified a date by which you want that to happen.

    Or, perhaps that’s just the hippie in me, which is why there haven’t been words on my blog for a while (I have been working on my screenplay though! I plan to submit it to a competition before this month’s end), so feel free to let this missive role by, like tumbleweed 🙂

    Sending lots of love!

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    1. I tried this last night and while I only got a couple hours of sleep, I did sleep, so yay! I’ll do it again tonight. I’m hoping my body falls into the pattern of it.

      I was thinking that consistency might be overrated, too. So many of my favorite writers had wilder lives than mine. And they managed. 🙂

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      1. Yes — it takes time to get your body back into rhythm with how it needs to rest. If you need to nap during the day, do it. The U.S. is horrid when it comes to rest. Look at France, Italy, and some South American nations — mid-day pauses from work activities is mandatory! Let your body tell you what it needs, and when.

        As far as favorite writers, yes! Wilder lives and their own form of consistency 🙂

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          1. Oh yes, I am very familiar with the Nap Ministry. I am not on IG much … I like photos but prefer words 🙂 … but do follow them on Twitter. When I remember to visit it. Social media has, in general, not been bringing joy, so I’ve left it go. I am glad for the emails about your posts and occasionally pop on to Cheer Peppers, but that’s about it. There’s too much life to do that does bring joy, thankfully!

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  4. You can work however the process works for you. Don’t focus on what everyone says. Focus on what works for YOU. I love your stuff and you 100% have a voice, a consistent one. Idk why the medicine didn’t work but keep trying to get sleep, its important. And pay attention to your dreams. All you need to do is look to your dreams to see that the strength of your mind to create is vast and ominipotent.

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  5. I can FEEL you. Struggling to sleep because I badly wish to get up in the morning with a fresh mind. I believe if I can achieve this, then some of my life has peace. And I just love it when people say I woke up early, enjoyed the newborn sun…etc. etc. But after tossing and turning for some hours (God, it surprises myself how even investing hours doesn’t help ), I give up and stare at the screen.😢 And yes, even I hate the idea of medicine because that’s kind of accepting the reality that I am sick.

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  6. I don’t know if the last comment went through, so you might get two. But I just want to say I’m sorry that you’re struggling and I’m sending you some love and good vibes as you navigate your consistency and insomnia. ❤️❤️❤️

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  7. I feel this so much. I always feel like I could be the writer I want to be if I just got more rest and established a consistent routine – but I think that’s trickier for some of us than others. Either way, I thought this post about struggling to write consistently was written beautifully-sending you good thoughts to get some rest, though!

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  8. The one piece of advice given to all parents by all other parents is also consistency, and I have to say, I maintain skepticism of this advice both in the parenting realm and in the writing realm (and especially in cases of chronic illness). I know this audience isn’t necessarily a lot of parents so this analogy may or may not be useful but I have always found that it is one of those advicey things people say but haven’t necessarily thought through or have actual principles to base it on – it sounds like it *should be a good thing, or they heard someone else say consistency is good, so they parrot it back. As a parent sometimes you have to mix it up, in my experience. I am sure that in writing, self-discipline is beneficial, but making sure to follow the same steps at the same time of day may not be what is needed. Before covid, I used to get a fair amount of writing done in the 15 minutes I waited in my car after work at middle school pickup, with my laptop perched on the gearshift. I doubt this would meet the David Sedaris requirements for consistency. And maybe because as a parent I cannot fathom having the dedicated routine where I fix myself tea and close myself in my study and light a candle and open my laptop and sit in front of it from 8-whenever… it’s not going to happen. I have to grab it where I can, inconsistently by necessity. Also, I hear you on the inconsistent mental health, and that definitely plays a huge role in being able to (or needing desperately to/or being unable to) write, and it’s okay. Rather than a line on a graph or a tangled chain, perhaps a skein of yarn or a coil of rope that you are moving through your hands, that might need untangling at parts, or mending at other parts, but mostly keeps stretching onward, maybe not with a y=mx+b function you could extract from it, but… consistently going on, weaving something real you can actually be comfortable in.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is so lovely and very relatable. I love the imaginings of a life where I can carve away that time daily, but I can’t be honest with myself and imagine it without erasing so much of what my life is. And those things that cause the chaos are so often what I want to write about, ha! 🙂 Thank you for your thoughts on this. I appreciate them.

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  9. Sleep is a wonderful thing, I recommend it. Everything I know about it is based on hearsay, of course. Writing advice is a great thing, I’ve never had to go looking for it, people give it to me all the time, unsolicited. Which makes me tired, just not enough to sleep. So I relate. I think.

    It’s all rather precarious, isn’t it?

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  10. Sleep has been an issue since pregnancy, and definitely before that. I think consistency has been drilled into our brains in terms of advice, since forever. I’m surprised it’s still a thing. On the other hand, I have gotten more consistent with some things, but I try to do too many different things anyways, and be consistent at them (including parenting) but it’s not all that achievable as consistently as I’d like. I’m happy with simple progress. Look at weeks instead of days. Look at longer trends instead of daily trends when you self-assess. And, be gentle with yourself. My writing has mostly dried up. I’m hoping some poetry will come back. Much love to you!

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