Guest Post – Jenna Blue

Fellow NJRW member Jenna Blue joins us for a guest post this week. Don’t forget to comment! One lucky commenter in the month of January will win a box of handmade salted caramels. Please help us welcome Jenna.

How Does Writing Ruin Good Sleep? Let Me Count the Ways…

Hi All, Jenna Blue here, guest blogger. If you’ve been following the Violet Femmes, you know they are a talented, driven, generous, and classy quartet of writers. I’m honored to have been asked to contribute to their site.

Today, I’m covering the many ways that writing negatively impacts your sleep. Plus, my hints to catch better Zzzz’s despite your creative tendencies. First however, I’ll share a short anecdote about a night in my own writer’s life that illustrates a number of these nasty sleep disturbances.

A couple of months ago, I woke from a particularly scary action dream. Think Suzanne Brockman’s Navy Seals with a twist: I was one of the bad guys. My fellow baddies and I had holed up in a dark, shabby house. Without warning, a Seal reached in through the wide-open windows and garroted my cohort. As soon as he vanished, I had a clear view of another, standing not fifteen feet away. He held my eyes. He didn’t look bad—he looked good. Sexy and experienced. Rough and rugged, in full camouflage with pockets bulging from ammo. So representative of an American soldier—one you could trust, one who had a family. And yet, I knew he was coming for me.

I scrambled backwards on all fours then ran to the kitchen. I skittered back and forth yanking open cupboard doors, looking for a heavy pan in the pitch black. Time was up. I could feel him getting close. I grabbed a knife, short-handled but solid, the kind I carve up fruit for my kids with every single day. It felt heavy and comfortable as I turned it in my grip, ready to use overhand. Hoisting myself onto the counter, I tucked myself into a corner by the door. I shook in my boots, but was ready to attack from above.

Not so, in real life. I woke abruptly, knowing that my dream mirrored reality. I had heard something in the house. No—two somethings.

As I lay anxiously sorting out dream from wake, my body remained tense and my mind careened from one possibility to the next. Our son’s captain’s bed has an awful, groaning creak. Sometimes, the shaving mirror in the shower crashes to the floor. No—these noises had come from downstairs. That left the possibility that my daughter was sleep walking, or intruders had entered my home. My husband snored beside me, loud, making it a struggle to listen to the quiet.

Adding to my anxiety, I’ve been taking a Weapons for Writers class online (I highly recommend it if you get the chance!). One of the first assignments was to go through all our personal spaces and figure out what could be used as a weapon. So I’m wondering if the extra blanket I needed at bedtime can be thrown over an assailant’s head. It would only slow him for a moment, probably, unless my husband, far stronger than I, wrapped him in a bear hug, pinning him blind in the material. I’ve got a pen, of course, a writer always does, especially bedside, which could do real damage if wielded overhand like the knife in my dream. If my husband managed to pass me the phone, I could slide under the bed—I refuse to consider that I might not fit. There, I’d be out of the arc of a baseball bat and two grappling men, could call 911 and even set the phone to speaker so that the dispatcher could replay the tape later, if we were done in. I’d find one of the supports that are always falling out. It’s heavy wood, and with luck a screw would still be sticking out of one end. Then, I’d slip out silently from the foot of the bed and attack!

I’ve heard nothing truly threatening in all the minutes I’ve laid here listening. Still, it’s clear by now that I won’t rest until I’ve separated myself from the rumble and roar only two feet from my numbed eardrums and checked on things.

The kids are safe and sleeping. I retuck. I have calmed, but am not convinced. I consider going downstairs to the computer—I’m excited to submit some work on my romantic suspense to a couple of agents I’ve just pitched to, but have loads of revisions to input. Yet I don’t want to be down there alone. Aren’t you always yelling at the heroine, “No, don’t go down there, you idiot! You’re asking for it!”? I am. Plus, I’m smarter than that.

So instead, in the hallway at the top of the stairs I sink none too gracefully into what my kids now call—wait for it, it’s so very PC—a criss-cross applesauce position. I try very, very hard to erect a mental block against all the creepy villains I’ve read over the years as they trot through my mind as if they are on parade. Soon enough, the cold is seeping up through my butt, and my hips hate this position. Surely, I finally decide, there is no one downstairs.

I climb back in bed, but before I can drift off, my husband wakes. I get up with him. I’ll never sleep. Not with Navy Seals visiting my dreams, a mental tallying of weapons in my bedroom, and all manner of scary scenarios playing out in my overactive imagination. Five a.m. and I happily head downstairs. I hate reading dream sequences, but this one’s mine, and I feel a powerful urge to get it on paper.

So, there you have it: in one night, you’ve got half my reasons for losing sleep:

  1. Dreams that play out every bit as suspenseful as novels or movies.
  2. Research begging to be done.
  3. An overactive imagination.
  4. Too many creepy villains and scary plots read to date.
  5. The urge to put thoughts on paper, no matter the hour.

Here’s the others, many of which plague me regularly:

  1. Staying up late to read. Hello, this one’s a given.
  2. Browsing online for new releases or a favorite author’s backlist.
  3. Characters—mine or other authors’—that carry on in my head even once I’ve closed the book.
  4. Critiquing my pals’ manuscripts. I get just as into it as my own stories. Like reading a book, the laptop stays open way past my bedtime.
  5. Actively writing. Not matter how exhausted I am, if I’m into a scene, I don’t notice the clock ticking away my Zzzz’s.

So, readers, who are the characters visiting your dreams at night? Which authors cost you serious Zzzzz’s? Please post. The Femmes and I would love to hear from you.

And, finally, what are your tips for better sleep? Personally, I can’t cure the writing bug, I relish the pull of a good book, and I would never want to silence a muse who visits in the night. I do, however, swear by the following:

  1. Stick to a bedtime routine. Wind down the same way every night, and turn the lights out at a designated hour.
  2. Don’t use the living room as a bedroom or the TV as a nightlight. Conversely, don’t pay bills or work in your bedroom.
  3. Honor your body clock. If you need eight hours sleep, start the routine early enough to get it.
  4. Exercise. At least sometimes.
  5. Eat a good dinner—but not too much, not too early, not too late, not too rich. Save the chocolate for the afternoon slump. It’s known to cause nightmares.
  6. Don’t read a good book. “Ack!!! What!?!” Seriously, if you are desperate for a good night’s sleep, don’t pick up the awesome book. Grab something boring—anything that doesn’t include loveable characters, hot kisses, sexy heroes, heart-tripping suspense, or fabulous chapter-ending hooks lurking inside to keep you awake.

And last but certainly not least:

  1. Do something every day towards your writing goals. (This might not be making a certain page count. Instead, you might do a little research, brainstorm with a writing friend, or read a chapter in a grammar book.) If you do, you’ll sleep peacefully, knowing that little by little, you are making your dreams come true.

Long ago in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Jenna Blue hid one of her mom’s novels, a Kathleen Woodiwiss, in her nightstand drawer to be savored after lights out. Certainly she was too young to be reading anything that enthralling, but the die was cast.

She declared creative writing as her major at Penn State with the goal of becoming a romance writer, however she wasn’t willing to become a starving artist right out of school. The next best thing (one level above starving): a career in publishing as a book designer in New York City.

After a few ill-timed starts and many years of membership in Romance Writers of America and New Jersey Romance Writers, Jenna is finally making the dream a priority. Somehow, someway, somewhere between the demands of a busy career and a thriving family, she’s writing romantic suspense and enjoying every minute.

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19 Comments

  1. Welcome, Jenna! Thanks for joining us this week.

    Oh, how many nights I’ve been up until 2 or 3 in the morning trying to finish a great book! #6 is some seriously good advice.

    I love that you had the whole attack/escape all worked out in your head. I do that, as well, when I’m convinced someone is in the house. You’ll have to show me the “criss-cross applesauce” move!

    Great post!

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  January 29, 2012

      Joanna, you goose! Criss-cross applesauce is simply sitting Indian-style! : ) Maybe we should make up a ninja-move for it though. It’d be a new one on unsuspecting intruders!

      No. 6 is by far the most important if you really need your sleep. Of course, I break a lot of my own rules regularly! Speaking of: has Outlander been keeping you up nights? How far through are you?

      Reply
  2. Oh, Jenna, what an excellent entry! Thank you so much for agreeing to be our guest. You are a generous, witty, insightful and talented addition to the Femmes!

    Honestly, I can’t tell you what specifically keeps me awake. I usually fall asleep pretty quickly. It’s when I wake up in the middle of the night (almost every night) and my mind starts working that causes me to lose sleep.

    Whatever is stressing me out during the day, I try to resolve before bedtime. Otherwise, I lay thinking about how we’re going to afford that addition to the house/buy a new house/get my kids the best education possible/fulfill my personal writing goals and still be supermom. Obviously, some of these take longer to resolve than just a night!

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  January 29, 2012

      I did leave out the Worry Factor, didn’t I? Sounds like you and I stress about a lot of the same things, Janet. Supermom’s unite! : )

      You are right. Must recognize, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and our problems won’t be solved that quickly either…must just put them aside sometimes.

      Reply
  3. Welcome, Jenna, to our blog. And WOW! You are such a talented writer. Thanks for sharing.

    You’re story and advice had me smiling. Bad ass, Jenna Blue with the sexy Navy Seals after her. And the whole idea of even trying to squeeze underneath the bed, let alone with a cell phone in hand . . .

    So, what keeps me up at night? I sleep like the dead but regularly read before nodding off. Characters, mine and other authors, wake me up on occasion. Sometimes, I become the heroine, outwitting villains and claiming my hero.

    I have to agree with #9: Critique partner stories keeping you up at night, especially when they do something unexpected to a character or have a particularly creepy villain. Or a well-written “naughty” scene in a foreign setting. Or a clever heroine with a unique profession. Or a hero with a British accent. And when all of these characters come together at 3 a.m., phew–it’s exhausting.

    Back in my marketing days, the company gave tapes (yes, pre-CD tapes) to help employees deal with the stress of merging. I decided to give it a try. At first, it was hilarious to listen to someone repeat “you are wonderful, you are great, you are fine” in a monotonous voice. But, I’d wake up fit, restful, and thinking it was all true. A shame the old tape recorder devoured my nighttime treat.

    Thanks again.

    Sweet Dreams!

    Reply
  4. Jenna Blue

     /  January 29, 2012

    Michele, I love this, and thank you! The tape messages made me remember about Kristen Lamb’s blog on Friday. She reminded us all that our subconcious believes everything we say, so if we are talking negative to or about ourselves, we are believing it. Darn that tape eater! Perhaps we should all chant positive voice messages to ourselves on our fancy cell phones? Or we could lead a workshop with lots of “Ommnns” and sunshine? : )

    Here’s the link to Kristen Lamb’s blog post: http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/
    The one titled “3 Steps to Freedom–Grab Hold of Your Brilliant Future.” All about what holds us back as writers and what empowers us. It’s very, very powerful and well worth your time if anybody’s interested.

    Reply
  5. Hi Jenna and welcome to our blog! Thanks for agreeing to be our first guest post. And what a great post! For me, writing doesn’t keep me from going to sleep, but it does get me up before the birds most days. I’m more of a morning person, so I’ll get up at 5 or 5:30 am in order to start writing before the family/day job portion of the day begins. By the end of the day, I can barely keep my eyes open. If I try and read in bed, I usually end up falling asleep :-). STOP = DROP in my book (although not by choice). Thankfully, I don’t need THAT much sleep to re-charge.

    I do think about my characters in my WIP when I’m trying to go to sleep. I don’t think about the plot as much as I think about the actual characters and picture them in a scene I’ve just written or one I particularly like. Sometimes I awake obsessing about all the things I need to accomplish that day-what a way to kill a good nights sleep. With JeRoWriMo starting in a couple days, I’m going to be obsessing big time.

    Thanks for visiting and hope you blog for us again soon!

    Reply
  6. Jenna Blue

     /  January 30, 2012

    Maria, You are most welcome–I’m so thrilled to be here! I’m always amazed at your dedication–early mornings used to work for me, but I’m finding them tougher and tougher. It’s a wicked schedule you keep. How many hours sleep can you get by with?Obsessing wakes me too, or keeps me awake depending….and I get doubly frustrated if I lay in bed worrying about it all–better to just get up and get moving!

    Reply
  7. Hi, Jenna! Great post! Glad I’m not the only one losing sleep. I thought it was just me. I had a similar scenario play out one night when the wind actually blew the back door open, which then banged against the dryer and set off the house alarm. DH slept through the whole thing, while I went into ninja-mode, grabbed a heavy bookend, and investigated. Must be the supermom protective gene or something. Most nights though, my problem is waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep. The mind is going, the characters are chatting (mine and others), and the problems of the day are surfacing, all at the same time. It’s quite the cacophany in my head. I’ll have to try all your suggestions and see if they help. Certainly couldn’t hurt! Wishing you many Zzzzzz’s and writing success!

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  January 30, 2012

      Thanks, Marlo! I would just love to see you in action with that bookend! And how mad does it make you when DH sleeps through the entire thing? : )

      Reply
  8. Jenna,
    🙂 Loved your blog. I so hear you about dream characters and night noises. I’ve been woken up by my characters numerous times wondering, “Why aren’t you working on my story?” Loved the suspense of your dream as well. I used to have a zillion Mission Impossible dreams, where I was involved in the event.
    My remedy for a sound night’s sleep, warm a cup of milk with a teaspoon of vanilla, a teaspoon of sugar, and a touch of cinnamon once it’s warm. It’s yummy and ensures you rest well.
    Take care and I wish you every success!

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  January 30, 2012

      Thanks, Dianna! Appreciate you posting, and that sounds like one yummy remedy! I’m also going to try Mission Impossible right before bed–what fun! : )

      Reply
  9. Nicole Doran

     /  January 30, 2012

    Jenna,
    Great post..and suggestions. Wow, I never have such vivid dreams! Great idea #2. I’ve just moved my computer and desk out of my bedroom. Unfortunately, I’m not a morning person, so when the kids are asleep, burning the midnight oil either reading or writing is a given. One night I heard a noise when my little guy was still in his crib…thinking there was someone in the house I grabbed a piece of wood (which my husband was supposed to put up as a shelf) and creeped out of the bedroom. I figured to use it as a battering ram to any intruder..since I could barely lift it. It was my son jumping up and down in his crib! DH..slept and snored thorough all my well-intended bravery.
    Get a good night’s sleep tonight!
    Nicole Doran

    Reply
    • Jenna Blue

       /  January 30, 2012

      Seems a lot of us have husband who sleep through it all! Had he been going to sleep while you were typing away too? Glad you could move your computer out–should help! I too stay up too late working. Sometimes writing, sometimes real work, last night it was responding to the first blog posts to come in! So fun…but makes the morning rise and shine a little difficult!

      Reply
  10. Lori

     /  January 30, 2012

    Jenna,

    Your stories always keep me amused and this one didn’t disappoint. I am not someone who has trouble with sleep most nights. In fact I wish things kept me up giving me more time to work with the characters.

    Reply
  11. Jenna Blue

     /  January 30, 2012

    Lori,
    Be careful what you wish for! : )
    Julie
    PS: I would trade anything to sleep like the dead anywhere anytime! Am so envious of those of you who can!

    Reply
  12. Jennifer Sampson

     /  January 31, 2012

    Coming to this late, but loved the post! I’m feeling very sorry for my poor hubby. I’d wake him up and have him listen for noises with me. Of course, it takes him all of 2 seconds to fall back to sleep so I don’t feel too bad. I’d probably be up the rest of the night.

    Reply
  13. Hi Jenna,

    Yes, many of us have snoring companions. Mine, even if I did wake him to say I heard something, would just turn over and say ‘I don’t hear anything.’ Very encouraging to say the least.

    I really enjoyed your whole scenario, right from the moment you woke to when you sat in that applesauce thing. I was right there with you.

    Reply
  14. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  February 2, 2012

    Great post, Jenna. I think we’ve talked about the struggle to find time to sleep and exercise. Sleeping soundly is another matter altogether! For me, I do believe that it goes hand in hand with exercise.

    I love the action sequence of your dream and then the follow up plan of attack in your home. Very vivid! Isn’t it true that the husbands sleep through it all? I hear EVERTHING that goes on in our home even while sleeping. As someone else mentioned, I think it is the Mommy Lioness in women. We are always ready to protect the young! 🙂

    I’ve had several writing dreams. My most recent involved an evening in which I narrated all my dreams in First Person.

    So…will your next WIP involve a Navy Seal?

    Reply

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