Let me take a moment to talk about two things artists of all sorts can find quite difficult to keep up with while working: food and sleep.
I know from experience that when you’re knee-deep in outlines (and I mean literally) and character profiles and name ideas and self-made deadlines, sometimes it’s difficult to remember the basics.
As I’ve probably said before, I have a lot of ways to try to keep myself on track with eating and sleeping, like timers and to-do lists and daily to-do routines, but that’s not what this post is going to be about.
This is about me telling you why it’s so critical to you as a writer to get proper sleep and food.
The reason you need food? Have you ever heard someone say that food is like fuel for your body? Even if you’re not a scientist, you should be able to understand that this is true.
If you don’t fuel your car, it stops running. Literally, it just stops. First, it tries to run on fumes (literally), and then the parts fail to work because they’re just not capable of working anymore. In doing this, you can do permanent damage to parts of your car.
Now, doing this to a car? Forgivable. It can happen to anyone, and parts can be replaced. Doing this to your body?
If you forget to eat, first your body gets weak. I get hypoglycemic, so my hands will literally start to shake when my blood sugar tanks. Sometimes I’ll try to work like that and I find I can’t really type, or hold a pen, and I have to give up and eat. If I leave it too long and I’m not trying to write through it?
Well, one time I nearly fainted in the middle of the kitchen while trying to make dinner. I hate a spoonful of peanut butter, sat for a while, and rebooted.
But when you’re really into work, you’re probably sitting. Adrenaline might be driving you forward so that the shaking isn’t happening, or you aren’t noticing it. Can you keep working? Yeah, sure. Should you? Gosh, no, especially if you accidentally do this often. Your body isn’t meant to be fed on a weird, undulating schedule. Damage you might do by repeatedly running on fumes is serious.
And do you really want to worry about that while you’re trying to write? No. So make a schedule. Set reminders if you have to. Keep snacks with you when you write, and try to make sure they have plenty of protein and simple sugars (quick boost, but it’ll stick with you because of the protein).
Much in the way that your car would wear out if you tried to run it (even with fuel) continually without rest, your body will not do well without sleep. Studies that have been done on college students pulling all-nighters have shown that not only do your reactions slow to the level of someone legally drunk, but processing can even slow to levels that are near that of being legally brain dead. Temporary, yes, but can you imagine writing like that?
I know you’ve probably heard “Write drunk, edit sober.” My writing professor actually gave us a version of this. Writing low on sleep is kind of like writing drunk, so it’s fine, right? I mean, my personal best ideas often come at three am, which is about an hour before I typically wake up, so if I am itching for good work, I should stay up all night and edit after I’ve crashed, right?
Very, very wrong.
The thing is, it’s way too easy to talk your body into doing this once, and then it’s even easier the next time. And the next time. And the next.
See the pattern?
Your body needs rest. I mean, you could kill yourself trying to stay up all night frequently, and not necessarily because your body will shut down. Things just don’t work right if you haven’t had time to recharge. If you’ve seen Star Trek, you’ll know that your mind needs REM sleep or you’ll start to hallucinate, and maybe worse. Headaches, misery, weakness of limbs.
If you feel like you could work through that, you’ve obviously never tried to stay awake for too many hours. The problem is, even if you could work through the physical issues, hallucinating is NOT good for work. Sure, you might get great inspiration. But you might also see terrible things that aren’t there and be WAY too distracted to work. And that can lead to tragedy too, not just inactivity.
So please. Eat. Sleep. Tomorrow, you can write. Take care of your body and it will take care of you.