Trying something a bit different with this post. This was pitched and provided by Sarah Jones to be of interest to ironSoap.com readers on her subject of expertise, sleep health. If you enjoy this article, please leave a comment below and I can look into providing more guest features like this.


Many writers plunge through the depths of the nighttime darkness trying to finish writing their novel. In order to complete a word count for the day or a chapter or two, sleep often times becomes the one thing we give up as we chase our goals. But should you?

The Effects of No Sleep

Productivity and creative thinking are directly affected by sleep, or lack thereof. Our mental performance as writers is challenged by the amount of sleep we receive each day. Harvard Med has studies that show that lack of sleep stunts our creative thinking and our mental performance and quick-thinking cognitive abilities. In short, no sleep means dull and thoughtless writing.

Lack of sleep has negative effects on our creative processes as well as our mood and our health. No sleep often creates a foul mood as fatigue and sleepiness set in. During hours of sleep at night, our bodies recuperate and systems restore themselves. Not getting enough sleep challenges our health, mood, and cognitive abilities and can stunt the writing process instead of flourishing creativity.

When to Write, When to Sleep

The challenge we writers have is to make time for everything. Sleep is a must, as is carving time for writing our novel. Both can be achieved by practicing some techniques for a healthier and more restful experience.

Designate your writing times. Often times writers procrastinate and avoid writing, even if we have a novel to finish. You can either bully yourself and charge through to accomplish your writing, or listen to the passive procrastinator that doesn’t “feel” like writing today. A writer writes! Push through and treat it as a job and get that word count in so you can sleep tonight. Accomplishing daily goals in your writing will ease stress and anxiety and allow for a restful evening.

The Magic of Yoga Nidra

If you are getting a good amount of sleep at night, but still feel tired, consider trying yogic sleep. Yogic sleep or Yoga Nidra is a technique used that attains a “restorative sleep,” otherwise a sleep where you are completely relaxed and rested but are still fully aware during the process. Yogic sleep may take some practice, but once it is completed successfully, the benefits of a rested mind and body will help you finish your novel.

To try Yogic sleep, we first must engage in breathing exercises to steady our breathing and lower our heart rate and blood pressure.  The next step is to create a resolve, or attempt to manifest a factor that we wish to have in our lives such as peace or courage. The next steps involve separating the mind form the body, embrace the awareness of any feelings and emotions, and then to visualize as the process concludes. It is said that 45 minutes of this type of restorative sleep equates to approximately 3 hours of regular sleep, the benefits of sleep can be achieved in a much shorter period.

Yogic sleep is an excellent option for our bodies and minds to rest and recuperate without the hours and hours of sleep that we have avoided. Breathing exercises, organizing and planning, and getting proper exercise are also researched and proven elements that help de-stress our lives and increase productivity.

We need sleep to think, and we need our thinking to write. Shoving hours of sleepless writing into a novel will get you closer to completion, but may make for a massive editing headache. Sleep and rest increase our brain activity, which is the heart and soul of a writer’s world, so don’t stay up too late tonight, because you need your rest.


Sarah is the Editor of Sleepy Deep. Feeling the repercussions of being an irregular sleeper for far too long, she decided to do something about it. She learned why sleep is so important and how to maximize it, and is now helping others who are struggling to find their right sleep routine.

counting III (cc)

Martin Fisch via Creative Commons

Word counts: a phrase that strikes utter apathy in the hearts of people everywhere. Well, most people. If you’re a writer or editor, you probably care (at least some) about word counts. They are a rough measure of the size of a piece of writing, and in shorter works (journal articles, short fiction, etc) they can be a measure of effort for use in paying writers. Typically book-length work is paid based on unit sales and/or other complicated algorithms so it matters less how many words something is once it reaches that scope. Now, determining what lengths qualify as “novel” versus, say, “novella” is a whole other discussion, but let’s focus on the fact that word counts are used to determine relative size and values for works that tend to be collected or anthologized.

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Goddess of Victory and Peace

John via Creative Commons

I watched the Hugo Awards and the attendant Puppies drama this year from more or less beginning to end without ever feeling the need to comment or engage. I have my opinions, I’m certain no one else cares about them. Mostly, it was pretty good as far as Internet Dramas go. Entertaining, you know? I follow genre awards primarily in the same way Little Leaguers follow the MLB. It’s aspirational, to a degree; maybe a little bit cautionary.

But, as the post-ceremony furor is fading, Eric Flint posts an essay about the divergence between awards and popularity. Whether I agree with his thesis, methods of analysis, or conclusion is beside the point. It was an interesting read in any case. But it lured me into reflective comment because, as a wannabe author in this space, it made me consider the real shape and form of my goals. The past four years have seen me driving (slowly but consistently) toward an end point. Considering that the previous twelve years were spent putting forth zero concerted effort (generously granting that post-college would have been the proper time to pursue my dreams, despite them being articulated aspirations as far back as 1990—21 years before I got my act together), that’s not insignificant.

However, that actual end point is a little more nebulous than I typically care to think about. There are plenty of ways to wave in the direction of a concrete goal. “I want to be a writer.” Or, “I want to be a published writer.” Or, “I want to make money by writing.” If you don’t stare too hard or add too many qualifying criteria to these nebulous statements, I have achieved all of them. But, honestly, to date that’s as far as my specificity has gone.

And I realized that pursuing dreams is all well and good but you have to put some effort into visualizing what success is going to look like. Otherwise, how will I know when I get there? But then, as I unpack this further, I realize there are steps along the way. In the short term I’d like to qualify for an Active Membership in SFWA (whether or not I actually choose to join) through short fiction sales. That means 10,000 words or more of professional-level pay (six cents a word) across at least three different story sales. Beyond that, getting an agent would be a significant milestone. But how do I really say, “dream achieved?”

Is it when I publish my first novel? When I reach the bestseller list? When I win my first major award? Eric Flint points out that popularity and acclaim don’t always go hand-in-hand, so it’s possible choosing one could mean having to live without the other.

I think the conventional wisdom is that awards are nice to have. Relying on them for a measure of success is, perhaps, a foolish yardstick. Luck is a factor, certainly. But then again, a case could be made that relying on measures of popularity like bestseller status is no good, either. Luck plays a part in that, too. And in both cases it might be chasing the dragon. I won a Nebula! But I’m Hugoless (I’m a failure). I’m on the bestseller list! But only at #25 (I’m a failure). It’s easy to think from my current humble position that anything even in the parking lot of these ballparks would be a triumph, but unless it’s clear where I’m trying to go, there will always be another pinnacle I haven’t reached.

It’s tempting to say, “I’ll keep my expectations low, thereby increasing my chances of success.” But that’s not really a dream, then, is it? It’s more of a to-do item. If I want to merely have a book published, I could quickly polish and self-pub one of my existing manuscripts. Bam. Achievement unlocked.

Upon reflection the distinction between goal, measure of success, and dream is the heart of this matter. The goals are the steps, often linear, necessary for progress. I can set a goal of selling three stories to pro markets. I can set a goal of securing an advance for a novel. And, with hard work, I can achieve those goals. It’s not “no problemo” level stuff, but it’s doable. What those are progressing toward is the measure of success. And that should be a big, hairy, audacious sort of end point. It’s almost indistinguishable from the dream. It might even be close enough. But it has to be within my power, more or less. The dream is the stuff that orbits around that point, the kind of thing I can’t really plan for or depend on to justify my efforts. The goals don’t directly feed the dream, even if they (maybe) enable opportunity for it to come true. Awards are the dream. I mean, yeah, a Hugo with my name on it? I don’t mind wasting some time idly fantasizing about such a thing.

But the thing that drives me, the measure I use to determine if I still need to set goals because I’m not yet where I want to be? That has nothing to do with recognition. That one is simple. I’ll be successful when I can support my family with my writing. That’s it. When I can quit my day job and focus full time on writing without any discernible drop in quality of life, that’s when I move out of achievement mode and into maintenance mode.

From that perspective, given Eric Flint’s theory that popularity—particularly, it seems, long-term popularity—does not track with award-based recognition, I’d rather be popular than acclaimed. I’d even be okay with not being mega-popular as long as I can be just popular enough to devote all my time to what I love. Sure, it would be lovely to have the critical and commercial crossover success (not to mention the multimedia influence) of a John Scalzi or a Neil Gaiman. But that’s dream country. I’ll take the mid-lister’s unsung 35-year career in a hot minute, no regrets.

I won’t get there without the goals. And I won’t accomplish those goals without writing. So for now, that’s what I’m doing. And compared to the guy from twelve years ago who dreamed without measure or goals or effort or any of it? I’m closer to success than ever.

Two Years Before the Mast

Don McCullough via Creative Commons

Today marks the second anniversary of my efforts to become a published writer. I suppose I might mark my progress based on when I began writing in earnest instead, but to be honest the specific date is hazy and anyway lost to memory. But I do know for sure when I sent out my first submission, and that was April 9, 2013. It pre-dates this site, even.

In the past 24 months, I’ve sent out over 200 submissions, totaling well over 800,000 words read by more than 120 different markets. I’ve received somewhere north of 150 rejections. My skin is tougher.

I’ve also received just over a dozen acceptances. Alas, at least one of those will never turn into a publication. But I’m slowly cobbling together a list of published work. I’ve made some money (not a lot! still, some) by selling these works. In the time I’ve spent submitting these stories, I’ve written over 250,000 additional words across a couple of novels and roughly 30 new short pieces. I think—I hope—I’m getting better.

I’ve made some wonderful friends along the way, made some mistakes, learned new things. To those who have read the stories, commented, critiqued, retweeted, signal boosted, even detested the work, I am deeply grateful. The writing would continue regardless, but the sharing of stories is what makes an idle pastime into a thrilling endeavor. Opening my imagination in a way that makes another person feel something, or think, or laugh, or just be entertained, that is the principal joy for me. I am honored and indebted to anyone who has taken time out of their lives to spend with my work.

Of course, nothing in these past two years would have been possible without the support of my family. They have all sacrificed in ways big and small for me to pursue this mad dream I sometimes wish could be discarded but cannot. My wife, who has endured my self-doubt, my existential whinging, my failed experiments, and who has cheered me on and celebrated each small triumph along the way. My children, who inspire me with their imagination and their love. They have all given generously; time, encouragement, understanding, sometimes welcome distraction. I am awash in good fortune.

Onward and upward.

I'm beginning to see the light

Matthias Ripp via Creative Commons

2014 was quite a ride. For me, anyway. After all, it’s not every year that you have a baby, move to a new town, get a new job, and make the first wobbly baby steps into a dreamed-of venture in the span of twelve months. And let’s be honest, most of that stuff all happened in the span of about three months in the middle of the year. For awhile there, I was just sort of holding on as best I could, trying not to get completely overwhelmed.

But I’m not complaining. 2014 wasn’t a flawless year, of course, but it was more good than bad and, for that, I’m grateful.

On a personal front, things are far more stable than they were a year ago. My second daughter arrived in the spring, making our family feel more complete. I’m gainfully employed with a company I like, working with people I respect in a job I’m pretty good at. We have a place to live in a town that feels like home. My older daughter started school (Kindergarten) and seems to be thriving there. My wife and I celebrated our 15 year anniversary and couldn’t be happier.

As a writer, I feel like my ten year plan is proceeding along at an acceptable pace. I followed up my very first publication just over a year ago with six new short story publications, including my first print pub. I landed my first pro-paying acceptance near the end of the year. One of my stories received an Honorable Mention from the Writers Of The Future contest. I even earned a tiny bit of money from my writing.

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2014 Winner NaNoWriMo

Used with permission from National Novel Writing Month

Well, I managed to finish the NaNoWriMo project—from their 50,000-word guideline perspective anyway—once again at or near the midnight hour. I have been terribly off pace since early in the month and it’s taken a lot of gritted teeth to power through to the finish line. I think, more so than anything else, the challenge this year has been simply that there are other things I would have rather been working on. At no point did this novel ever really capture my imagination and demand to be written down. But as I said going into the month, that’s probably a good thing. Having the luxury of working on the latest inspiration isn’t something it would be wise to come to expect. So I set the goal and I stuck with it, even when it was difficult. Because this year, more so than the other two where I participated, there were times that I really wanted to just call it off. To pack it in and shrug it off. It’s just a silly self-directed contest, after all.

Right?

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Halfway House Cafe BBQ

Andrew Morrell via Creative Commons

Just a quick check in today to update a few things.

  • Halfway through the NaNoWriMo month and … well, I’m behind. I don’t think it’s yet at the point where all is lost, but I should be at the 25,000 word mark and I’m about 7,000 words off the pace. Now, that’s not something I can’t overcome: I’ve written 3,500-4,000 words in a day plenty of times. But it’s a daunting place to be in. Looking back on last year, I see that I was woefully behind around mid-month then as well and I ended up rallying and coming through with a strong second half. I hope that’s the case again. I’m still struggling to get into this story the way I would like, which worries me because at least last year I was enthusiastic about the problem, even if I was struggling with having been laid off right around the beginning of the month. Most days this time around I feel like it’s a chore to reach the standard 1,667 words. But I’m still plugging away as best I can, hoping I can find some inspiration somewhere and finish strong.
  • A small part of my NaNo struggles also come down to the number of other related tasks I’m dealing with. I’ve been trying to keep this blog more frequently updated, and part of that involves doing some reading for the Short List series that I’m still enthusiastic about. Plus I’m reading a really good book right now and a lot of my friends keep getting really great stories published which are piling up on me. I’ve also been reading chapter books (not picture books) to my oldest daughter at bedtime, which has been fun and I want to write some new reviews of these children’s books based on the new readings and the conversations they spark with her, but finding time is so challenging. Not to mention I’m still trying to check in on the slush reading gig regularly. And, of course, there are non-literary issues to contend with including a baby who’s teething and not sleeping well, illnesses that keep nagging our family, and a renewed effort on my part to fix some of my health issues by eating better and exercising. These are things every person—and particularly every writer, I’m sure—contends with, but sometimes they seem to pile up a little higher and this month feels like one of those periods.
  • On the bright side, some writer friends of mine turned me on to QuarterReads, a new site for writers and readers that operates a little on the microtransaction model that was sort of hot a number of years ago. Basically you drop $10 into the site and that gives you 40 reads at twenty-five cents. The stories are all under 2,000 words and most of the money goes directly to the author. If you like the story, you can tip up to another seventy-five cents. They do read and vet each submission which gives some quality control to the site so you know you’re not getting unfiltered, unedited garbage. And there are some pretty heavy hitters posting work there now, such as Ken Liu, Cat Rambo, and a couple of people I know and can personally vouch for: Alexis A. Hunter and Natalia Theodoridou. Anyway, I think it’s a really interesting model, and I genuinely hope it succeeds. I even have a story up there now, Corkscrew, which you may recall appeared on the Toasted Cake podcast earlier this year. This is the first print version of the story available, so if you missed it first time around, here’s another chance to catch it.
  • Speaking of publications, it seems that October ended my rather unlikely streak of publications. From April through September of this year, I had a new publication come out every month. I have one publication pending, an anthology I’m thrilled to be a part of and can’t wait to see come out. But even my most optimistic hopes for it wouldn’t permit the streak to stay alive; the publishers are putting out an advance review copy (ARC) and only finalized the contributors list in September. Not too much chance of a one-month turnaround there. Still, I’m amazed and humbled by this past year’s small step forward. Six stories this year was more than I could have hoped for, and in the meantime I’ve continued to write and (hopefully!) improve, so I’d like to say this is only the beginning. For those who have supported me by reading or signal boosting—in particular my ever-patient wife who also manages to make time to be my biggest cheerleader—I thank you. I write for me, but I try hard to be better for you.

NaNoWriMo

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

I’m doing National Novel Writing Month again this year. I started in 2011, where I completed the challenge by rambling 50,000 words of useless nonsense about a reluctant Djinn and … a guy? …Who wishes for his wife’s boobs to be bigger? I think? I’m not sure. It got weird.

Anyway.

I skipped 2012 intentionally, as I had a lot of other projects I wanted to work on and didn’t want the disappointment of failing. Turns out the disappointment of not even trying wasn’t much of an improvement. So I resolved to go for it again last year, and barely squeaked out my 50K on a fantasy/detective hybrid thing. Again, I didn’t outline the plot (though I did a ridiculous amount of world building prep) and it turns out writing a mystery/noir thriller without a very clear idea where the plot is going is Not A Good Idea. So I finished—from a NaNo perspective—but, as with the Djinn story, it didn’t get any further than that. I may revisit the fantasy/noir later; it’s shelved for now.

Now this year I’m back at it. If you’re following along on Twitter you may have noticed me griping late last month about trying to come up with a project idea. I had a few concept seeds that seemed like they might be worth exploring in a longer format, but I had a hard time making them mesh in any cohesive way. I toyed with crime story frameworks, science fiction trappings, angsty YA-lit variants, all sorts of things to make something click. Eventually I settled on a horror/supernatural story and set out trying to outline the thing.

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I’ve been submitting my fiction to markets for publication for over a year now. In that time I’ve sent out my work one hundred times. It’s not a massive amount of experience, truth be told. And this isn’t even an advice post, because I probably don’t have any advice worth offering. But I wanted to mark the round-number milestone of my triple-digit submissions by reflecting back on some of the things I learned and achieved along the way.

Submit Button

Johannes P Osterhoff via Creative Commons

Rejections, We’ve Got A Few

While I’ve submitted 100 times, if I waited until I had 100 submissions processed, I wouldn’t be able to post this until probably around year two. Submitting to the slush pile is a slow, tedious process. And I tend to target markets with fast turnarounds, too. But I’ve churned through about 83 submissions and my acceptance percentage is… 8%. Duotrope says this is a higher than average rate for other authors who submit to similar markets, but it doesn’t say how much higher or what that average is. Not really hanging much significance on that.

Most of the rejections I’ve received have been form rejects. You know, “We have to pass, as it unfortunately does not fit our needs at this time.” I have gotten some personal ones and while those are really the kind of rejections you look for as a submitting author, some of them can be bitter pills to swallow. Here’s my favorite from the past year:

“The story itself isn’t very compelling. You don’t really have much of a plot here.”

It helps to remember that, ultimately, each acceptance or rejection is a personal preference. The rejection above, for example, was for Corkscrew, which went on to be accepted by Toasted Cake and quite a few people later told me it had a great story and was very compelling. So, to each his or her own.

I’ve also come to understand the exquisite pain of the shortlist. Several times in the last 100 submissions, I received a notification that my work had made it past a first reader and was being sent up the chain. Once I made it past two rounds of vetting. When this happens and you get an acceptance, the needled anticipation of the shortlist is quickly forgotten in the triumph. But when the reviewing editor or an editorial board receives the work (usually indicating an even longer wait for response) and then chooses to pass, it’s pretty rough. You can’t get an acceptance in some markets without this process. But since submissions are a numbers game anyway, and one you try to steel yourself against optimism while you play, anything that smacks of hope is kind of like the enemy.

I Accept Your Acceptance

I keep a list of statistics on the master spreadsheet I use to track my submissions. Sure, I subscribe to and use Duotrope extensively, but for me the value in that site is their market database, not the tracking feature. Since I have occasionally submitted to markets that aren’t in their database and I was submitting before I subscribed, I need a master list to track everything I’ve done.

Some of the stats I keep on that spreadsheet surprised me. For example, all those submissions I’ve made have only come from 18 “completed” pieces of writing. Which means over a quarter of the finished pieces I’ve tried sending out have been picked up. It sounds impressive until you realize that 13 finished works of short fiction is not much of a backlog. I have writer friends with dozens and dozens of stories they’re trying to find homes for. What this really says to me is that I need to write more.

But getting those acceptances has been wonderfully fulfilling and flattering. The trick is that so far it hasn’t been particularly lucrative. Getting work out where people can see it has been vital to my development as a writer. But the goal is to use those as stepping stones to sharpen my skills to the point where I can crack those pro-paying, high-circulation markets. There may be another dozen or two vanity indies or token-paying niche publications in front of me before I get to that point. I just have to remember it’s a marathon.

Progress Is Moving Forward

However, I can take some solace from the fact that for the most part the stories I’ve finished more recently are noticeably better than the crop I started with when I began submitting last spring. Some of those earlier works, even the ones I thought were my best work ever, have labored into double-digit rejects. A few of them are now undergoing heavy rewrites to bring them up to par with my current work. The things I’m writing now feel more promising than those I was convinced would get my writing career off the ground.

And through the slow and necessarily painful process of trial and error, I’m starting to see some of the weaknesses my writing suffers beneath, and taking steps to correct them. Or unlearn the habits. Or consciously fight to avoid. I’m trying to take bigger risks, let go of my crutches, dig deeper into my characters, and push myself so I’m not satisfied with anything unless it’s as phenomenal as I can make it.

So here’s to the next year and the next 100 submissions. Rejections or acceptances, there’s no way forward except through the gatekeepers. My ultimate goal is to one day submit something so relentlessly awesome an editor with no space left in the current issue has to order extra pages because they can’t imagine not buying and publishing my story as soon as humanly possible.

I won’t rest until I get there.

 

Laboratory

tk-link via Creative Commons

Shock Totem, a horror zine, held a flash fiction contest early last month. One thousand words based on a photograph of a rusting roller coaster in the mist. Each participant had one week to submit their story. Then all submissions were anonymized and posted for the participants to read, vote on, and provide some feedback. After a month, the votes were tallied and the feedback posted, along with the winners.

Now, I didn’t really get my hopes up too high. Several of the submissions were truly great, so I knew the competition would be rough. But after reading all 45 or so of the other entries, I felt my story had an original take on the prompt that maybe would set it apart from the others. When the results came back and I didn’t win, I wasn’t that surprised. I was happy to get a bunch of feedback on my writing, though. But then I looked at it.

And I got confused.

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