It has a way of running you off track.
Making you grumpy.
Impairing your ability to drive.
Most people would say this is a bad thing.
Heck, even I, when my kid screams at 3am like the boogie man is at the foot of his bed and insists he cannot return to sleep unless I sit by his side for the next hour, have been known to utter under my breath, “This is a bad thing.”
But that’s just the sleep deprivation talking.
And why else would we have airbags except for sleep-deprived drivers?
Where was I? Oh yes, Ayn Rand.
I have it on good authority that Ayn Rand was most enamored of the work she wrote while sleep deprived.
Based on what I’ve sampled, I can only surmise she wrote everything while sleep deprived.
And now the more conservative readers of this blog are about to object.
Shut up, conservative readers. I’m about to sing the praises of sleep deprivation writing.
I used to have dreams of being a serious writer.
A literary novelist.
A man of letters.
And numbers (preferably prefaced with a ‘$’).
Alas, it was not meant to be.
The closest I came was to being a man of numbers with a ‘¢‘ at the end of them.
And if you’re familiar with the terms of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, a ‘¢‘ at the end of your numbers means you aren’t getting a royalty check.
Instead, I decided to write an absurdist noir sci-fi thriller.
It’s hard to write an absurdist noir sci-fi thriller when you’re well rested.
It’s hard to write one when you’re tired.
Or drunk (keep missing the keys).
Or bent (don’t SCUBA dive with a computer unless you know in advance it’s water proof).
It is easy, however, to write one while sleep deprived.
Sleep deprivation allows you to make intuitive leaps while circumventing that pesky reason thing. This is important, if not downright critical, for any absurdist elements you are trying to incorporate into your plot.
But I would argue that sleep deprivation helps for less lofty works of literature than absurdist noir sci-fi thrillers.
Sleep deprivation will unburden you from the tyranny of logic, from the insidious restrictions of continuity. It enables the sort of ‘outside the box’ thinking that is so popular in the business world, such as at companies like Wang Laboratories, Pets.Com, and AOL-TimeWarner.
Now I’m not saying that you can stay up for eight days in a row and crank out a masterpiece like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.
You can crank out the first draft of the Wheel of Time series in that time.
You then need to rest up, get lots of sleep, and edit that first draft.
This, you will be surprised to learn, is the real reason why it has taken so long for all of the books in the Wheel of Time series to come out. Jordan, and his successor, needed to do a lot of sleeping in-between books.
Writing and editing are two distinct phases in the writing process, and it’s best if they don’t mix. They’re like the Jets and the Sharks – when they run into each other, violence and catchy tunes tend to erupt.
Sleep deprivation turns off what I call the “douchey Vulcan killjoy gatekeeper of awesome ideas,” or what NaNoWriMo calls the “inner editor.”
(Sadly, NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaisons aren’t allowed to use the word “douchey” in their regional emails, so the management suggested “inner editor” as an acceptable substitute. This completely waters down the magnitude of evil conveyed, accurately, by the phrase “douchey Vulcan killjoy gatekeeper of awesome ideas,” and I for one refuse to pull my punches.)
Sleep deprivation gets that Vulcan drunk off his (or her) ass, allowing flawed concepts and failed logic to slip by unnoticed, or at least with no more than a reproaching arch of the eyebrow, and onto the page.
How do you think the concept of imaginary numbers came about? I’ll tell you this: it did not involve a well-rested mathematician or a sober Vulcan. Square root of -1 my ass!
So you stay awake far too long, pound out a first draft unencumbered by sanity, and then, and only then, you sleep.
Sleep allows the Vulcan, or for the more timid among you, the inner editor, to sober up.
This is important. Do not skip this step if you’re a writer!
In the editing stage, you need that pointy-eared, green-blooded fiend refreshed and alert. He’ll make himself comfortable on your shoulder and the two of you will read that first draft.
You’ll fight and struggle to understand the intent.
You’ll moan and shake your head in wonderment and horror.
You’ll strive and strain to fit the imaginative, innovative workings on the page into a context that makes sense.
If you’ve slept enough, you will succeed.
If you haven’t, I recommend sleeping on it.
Turns out, the sleep deprived writing is the easy part. It’s the editing, the putting the puzzle together into a clear picture, that’s hard.
And it is this stage, the sleeping and sobering up and thinking about what you wrote and how to shape the raw material so it makes sense, where, I believe, Ayn Rand dropped the ball.
But that could be the sleep deprivation talking.
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Marlowe and the Spacewoman: