Most writers have a day job, a means to pay the bills while we slave away over our laptops at all hours of the day and night trying to write, publish, and market our novels. But today’s post will apply to anyone who’s living the life they have while trying to build a better life—the one they want.
As a new independent author, there are a lot of things I need to do, things I need to learn, and everything is my responsibility. Everything. Succeed or fail, it’s all on me; and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
The harder I work, the more I accomplish, the more successful I’ll be.
Ambition is great, but how much is too much?
In an effort to create time to chase my dream, I traded sleep for caffeine, pushing myself to function on thirty-two hours of sleep a week. My family urged me to slow down, but I didn’t listen. I had work to do, goals to meet, and… I had it under control.
Or, so I thought…
This week my writer’s journey nearly came to a screeching halt when I encountered a flaw in my plan. One that is probably all too common for writers. I often joke about being sleep deprived and living on caffeine, but in reality, it isn’t a laughing matter.
Chronic (long-term) sleep deprivation leads to many serious health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression, and obesity, to name a few. It is also responsible for 100,000 auto accidents a year in the United States—71,000 injuries and 1,550 fatalities.
A few days ago, I came dangerously close to becoming one of those statistics. I had plenty of caffeine pumping through my veins and didn’t feel tired, but I’d spent months pushing my body beyond acceptable limits. Traveling home from my day job, at sixty miles per hour in rush-hour traffic, I experienced a dream-like episode. I was fully awake and aware of my surroundings, could hear myself talking as I realized I was in serious trouble, but I felt disconnected and unable to control what was happening.
As I later learned, this is a common symptom of chronic sleep deprivation.
I was lucky, there’s no other way to see it. I somehow managed to make it home safely. This encounter scared me, as it should have. It also landed me in my doctor’s office to address the damage I’d done to my health, including high blood pressure, something that had never been an issue for me.
My doctor told me these episodes would have eventually led to hallucinations, and I would have likely seen the characters from my book in the room with me. I’ll admit, I had a moment where I thought meeting Nico, the handsome hero in my novel, would be fun; but I’m smart enough to understand the severity of the situation.
He also assured me that the damage I’d done to my health is reversible, but I have to adapt a lifestyle that includes proper sleep habits and a minimal amount of caffeine. Good news, but not an easy pill to swallow for someone driven to succeed. I need to give up at least fifteen hours of productive time every week… to sleep.
I’ve accepted this as a setback, a limitation, but my journey continues. I know what I want to accomplish, and I’m determined to reach my goals. I’ll just have to be frustrated by the slower pace, and work harder in the time that’s available.
So, why am I telling you this when I could have easily kept it to myself and spared myself the embarrassment? Simple. I’ve read enough posts on social media and had enough conversations with other writers or students to know I’m not alone.
If sharing my experience can make even one person aware of the dangers of sleep depravation and help him/her change before it’s too late, it’s worth publicly owning up to my mistake. —CJ