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.

by Ron Gibson, Jr.

after Maggie Nelson

This cursor blinks its steady pulse: birth pangs of the universe.

Once we were a void. Once we were beautiful.

Where once a beautiful void, big rigs now knife down the interstate between frosted hills, under a blue period, a finality I cannot dispute, redistributing the future without you.

*

When we read books together, we would wear the author’s skin for a time. The fresh scars, the humility, the beauty. Their story became our story.

For weeks after Maggie Nelson’s ‘Bluets,’ blue dealt blows to the senses, it intoxicated. It made me question my relationhip with the world around me, and made you question your relationship with the world within you.

*

Humans have difficulty understanding evolution, difficulty understanding what we do not see. We do not see slowly moving changes to our world.

*

When I looked at you, through you, you became more haze than you. Each day you became more blue. Each day the hue deepened, and soon you were a fossil to record, a footprint to cast, only our words left tripping over snow-falling asterisks on blue screen, lost.

This cursor still blinks steadily: product of an event beyond our control.

Void

Jan Kraus via Creative Commons


Ron Gibson JrRon Gibson, Jr. has previously appeared in Noble / Gas Quarterly, Pidgeonholes, Maudlin House, The Vignette Review, Ghost City Review, Cease Cows, Spelk Fiction, Ink in Thirds, Gravel Magazine, etc. And can be found on Twitter at @sirabsurd.

 

 

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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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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Mirror fun

Kevin Jaako via Creative Commons

Have you seen this Hemingwrite thing? Basically it’s a dedicated word processor with an typewriter design aesthetic but some modern technology touches like cloud-syncing and an e-Ink digital screen.

I’ll be honest, I think the thing is sexy as can be. I have a certain fetish for typewriters to begin with, so this preys directly upon that sensibility while neatly sidestepping the fact that, romanticism aside, writing on such a device would require a huge sacrifice in the convenience department. But I can’t lie and say it’s not alluring to be presented with the opportunity to have some of that nostalgic cake and digitize it, too.

But then I read the kickstarter page, and I realize this is a product that is being sold to fix a problem it can’t reasonably be expected to address. And it’s not the first product to take aim at the hapless writer this way, either. Continue reading

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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OR gate

Martin Kenny via Creative Commons

About two months ago I began volunteering as a first reads editor for a small semi-pro science fiction magazine. If you’re a writer who regularly submits fiction to publishing markets, you’ll recognize this role as the “slush reader.” If you’re not a writer, the short explanation is that unsolicited submissions are collected into what is called the slush pile—a stack of stories sent in cold for publishing consideration. The editor-in-chief is usually the person responsible for purchasing stories they want to publish, but in a lot of cases the number of submissions overwhelms the time an editor-in-chief could reasonably devote to reading and making a decision upon.

Many markets use slush readers, almost always volunteers, who comb through the submissions and reject the ones they feel have no chance of being approved by the decision-makers and passing along only those that pass first inspection.

Slush reading has a reputation of being something of a thankless job. Aside from being unpaid, it can take a significant amount of time, depending on the volume of submissions and the current number of active first readers. Plus, there is the perception—true or not—that slush reading means reading a lot of really awful stories.

My reasoning for undertaking this endeavor is that, having spent a year and a half having my writing read by these pre-screeners, I wanted to get a taste of life on the other side of the submissions queue. I have some designs of doing editorial projects in the future and I felt this was a good way to get some experience in editorial-adjacent work. The other factor, and not an insignificant one, is that I heard from a few writer friends who slush read on the side that doing so was beneficial to their own writing. Seeing common mistakes that got stories rejected was good, they said, for helping them avoid similar mistakes in their own work.

So I answered a call for first readers from Plasma Frequency Magazine. My experience with them was fairly limited; I had read a couple of issues as part of my research project to get a sense of what certain markets accept. I submitted one story to them which passed their first two reading tiers and was, eventually, rejected by the editor-in-chief. I had thought about submitting other stuff to them, but decided to see about the position first (volunteer editors are not allowed to submit to PFM).

Once I was brought onboard I began reading through the submissions queue and making decisions. To be honest, at first I didn’t think too closely about it and just tried to be fair about what I thought had a chance at being picked up by the editor-in-chief.

But over the following couple of weeks I started seeing certain things happen that opened my eyes to what might be going on behind the scenes at markets where I had pending submissions. Obviously I can’t assume that my observations map to anyone else’s, or even that the processes of doing first reads are all that comparable (I have only this experience—and a very small sample of it at that—to go on), but thinking about how this plays from both sides of the fence has been interesting at least, and possibly instructive.

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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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