Changing sleep habits—an experiment in productivity

A couple of days ago I decided to try to figure out what was going on in my life at the time of some of my most productive writing streaks—what types of schedules or timed sessions or just overall attitude I had—so I can try a few things to help me make the rest of this year as productive as I need it to be.

This time, I was looking at both my daily log, my entries in my journal, and my calendar entries.

And something came to my attention.

Back in 2016 during the time I can clearly see where my productivity dipped and I fell into a funk that lasted far too long, my sleep habits also changed dramatically.

I have a tendency to track my sleep in my calendar. I put in the times I want to sleep and then adjust the entry the next day to keep a record of the times I actually slept.

Until the middle of 2016, I’d been getting up at 6:30 most days, and even though some days I definitely didn’t get enough sleep, as a general rule I tried to go to sleep by 10:30. Meaning I got enough sleep most of the time, in the earlier part of the night. I’ve always though I slept better in the early part of the night, and fight to sleep once the sun is shining outside, so this stood out for me.

I haven’t ever really considered that my sleep patterns themselves might have led to a lot of my problems during the last few years. And now I’m considering it.

So I started an experiment night before last, wherein I get into bed and go to sleep hours earlier than I’ve been doing, and I make it a priority to get a full night’s sleep.

Yesterday I felt great, all day, all the way up until I went to bed. I never had a dip in energy and I didn’t feel that afternoon dragging feeling I’ve been dealing with a lot lately. I wrote 1,817 words yesterday, pretty effortlessly.

So I went to bed early again last night, and although I don’t know how today is going to work out yet, I feel good. So we shall see if this turns out to be the thing that changed and sent me into a downward spiral of a lack of motivation and energy that has persisted far too long. (Even though it is better now than it was.) :D

I plan to run this experiment for a week at minimum, meaning I can’t let myself slip up and stay up late during that time. I’m hopeful it will show me something useful. :)

Big plans for a busy day

Today is the day I finish that book I’m working on, not because I feel it, but because it has to be. I’m not going into the holidays with this book unfinished. I want to get started on another and actually challenge myself to finish a full book in December, from a fresh start. I can’t do that if I end this month with an unfinished book.

So. I have shopping to do today (food for the holiday) and a meetup with my sister. I also have a kid coming home from college this afternoon.

Despite all that, I’m challenging myself to do whatever it takes to finish this book today by 10 PM.

Gasp. I know! But I stayed up way too late last night and I just cannot keep doing that. I HAVE to stop. I originally set a 9 PM end time for writing (a few weeks ago) but I’ve since reconsidered. I would feel fine if I got to sleep regularly at 11 PM, so ending the writing day at 10 PM is totally reasonable.

I have just a little time before I have to get busy with the first batch of stuff that isn’t writing, so I’m going to write now. Updates will follow!

(Two days later update)

I netted 6 words and didn’t finish the book.

I could claim to have spent a lot of time on those words or to have deleted a lot of words and written many more, but all that would just be a story.

The truth is that when I got home (later than I wanted to get home) I was tired and I didn’t feel good enough to do anything, much less write this ending that’s being a pain in the butt.

I’ve been sickish for two days since so I’m going to assume that’s why I didn’t (and don’t) feel well and don’t seem to be making any progress.

I refuse to give in to resistance

Again today I’ve let the time creep on, and here it is 7:09 p.m. and I haven’t written any fiction at all. I really don’t know why I keep doing this, but I don’t want to break my streak, which is up to 4 days now, so I’m going to overcome this. Since I also don’t want to stay up until 2 a.m. again (although tonight it will immediately become 1 a.m. again!), I need to start now.

I’d like to get in 4 or 5 hours of writing. Honestly, I’m toying with the idea of just setting my clock back now and pretending it’s 6:11 p.m. Why not? There’s nothing stopping me.

Except every time I look at the clock on my computer, it’s 7:11 and it’s hard to play mind games with yourself when the clock is conspiring against you.

Still, it does mean I can stay up until 1 a.m. writing, go to bed, and get up at 8 and feel like I got 8 hours of sleep instead of 7. Of course, reality says I’ll wake up at 6 and find it impossible to get back to sleep because it’ll be daylight. No simple change to the clock is going to change what time my body thinks it is until I’ve retrained it.

That’s the beauty of working for myself, at home, though. I can adjust, or not, as I see fit. This would be the perfect time to start getting into bed earlier and getting up early, because my body will feel like I’ve slept until 8 at 7 a.m.

What that means is that I’d better get to writing. Turns out I don’t want to stay up late tonight, because I’d rather let the time change do the hard work of readjusting my sleep schedule for me.

 

The path of least resistance

What can I do tomorrow to make sure I write early? What’s the path of least resistance?

This was last night’s musings, something I wrote here just to remind myself of what I wanted to do today: start writing early.

It didn’t happen. It’s 3:01—approaching late afternoon—and my word count is 0.

:-0

I should have tried harder to come up with an answer to those questions, because I didn’t even open this site until a few hours ago, and by then it was already past noon.

Then again, it’s only been 5 hours since I dragged myself out of bed (a 2 a.m. bedtime again after doing so well with an earlier (but creeping) bedtime this week) (but I got my 500 words, so yay!). I woke up much too early and tried much too hard to go back to sleep but couldn’t, so ended up wasting several good morning hours. And I have a headache from lack of sleep.

That kind of thing should count as self-sabotage, no joke.

I’m left with the question: how do I make writing my words the path of least resistance?

Update: It took a while, but I finally started writing sometime after midnight and ended the day with 1,004 words.

Holiday! Okay, not really

I’m not supposed to be taking days off for the July 4th holiday this year because (1) I don’t want to go to the parade, sit in the hot sun, and smell horse poo, and (2) I kind of need to finish this book I’m working on sooner rather than later.

But… I’ve been about as productive a writer today as I’ve been a circus performer. Since I never got to take gymnastics as a child, I’ll just say now that I’m not a circus performer. In case you were wondering.

I’ve written about 237 words today and I have 07:18 left on my 30 minute timer. This session has been waiting on me to finish it since midday. It’s far from midday now. I don’t want to finish it and it’s going to be a chore to make myself (which I am planning to do, but ugh). Doing more than that is probably a dream.

This is what happens when I don’t get enough sleep.

Let’s try not to make that mistake again, okay?

Tomorrow I resume the challenge to reach 6000 words in a day

Today I haven’t written any fiction. I have a daily writing streak I could keep alive by writing something now, but I don’t think I’m going to. I might, when I finish writing this post, go write a little something, but I might not. I’m tired and I’m not really seeing the need.

Tomorrow I resume the challenge to write 6000 words in a day. I was SO close a few days ago but I just couldn’t get those last 200 words. I’ve been staying up too late and when you’re falling asleep at the computer, it’s time to put the computer up. ;)

I’m just about there now.

There’s a caveat to the resumption of the challenge for tomorrow though. I have to start working my way back into good sleep habits. I’m paying for the lack of them in so many ways. Increased appetite, cravings for sweets, tired eyes, that kind of thing.

Anyway, the point is that I’m still very interested in reaching 6000 words in a day but I also want to not have to work so hard at it. :D

First thing: I need to make sure I’m in a place in my head where I can write freely. I just can’t do this without a better pace. 10 hours and 33 minutes is how long it took me to write the 5,816 words that broke my previous record of 5,758 words in a day. That’s just too much time.

I don’t want to have another 10 hour day anytime in the near future. Seriously, it was rough and I felt very much like all I did was get up Sunday, start writing, and write all day long until I gave up at about 10:30 that night. I know I had times when I was away from the computer, because I only clocked 10 hours and 33 minutes, but I sure can’t remember any of them. It was write, write, write, all day.

Anyway, enough of this ramble. The TL;DR for this is I’m still chasing 6000 words a day, but I’m setting some limits. :)

Goodnight!

Too little momentum (challenge update)

I’m just shy of 2,000 words and it’s taken me just over five hours to get there.

I’m doing better than yesterday, but nowhere near good enough to reach 6,000 words by my bedtime today unless something changes significantly.

I do expect to finish today with a much better word count than yesterday though.

One thing I’m sure has hurt me is that I came up about 2 hours short on sleep last night. I’m already feeling run down. Then I started writing almost an hour later today than yesterday.

How to not write a lot of words

I feel asleep at the computer last night. Well, mostly I feel asleep if you count head bobbing and momentary lapses in consciousness.

So no, I didn’t make it through my book so that today’s writing could go more smoothly. In fact, I kept tinkering with that particular scene I mentioned yesterday until the head bobbing and lapses in consciousness caused me to read the same two lines in the story about twenty times.

Today, however, I finally figured out why I kept tinkering with that scene, fixed the thing I needed to fix, and am so glad it’s done. The scene is also much more in line with what I wanted. I’m pretty happy with it right now.

I adjusted some chapter breaks (about 4 or 5 of them) and now I need to finish the read through edit I’m doing for about 14 more chapters. To be honest, I’m not really editing. I’m just fixing stuff so the damn story can start moving again. :D

As for the chapters, I like to have chapters of about 2,000 to 2,500 words, and definitely not more than 3,000 to 3,300. I usually have several good breaking off points in a chapter, so it wasn’t hard to find new cliffhanger style endings for the new chapter breaks. :D

Only one chapter defeated me and I had to leave it at 3,140 words. There just wasn’t a good place to split it and I liked the ending it currently had too much to bury it in the middle of the next chapter.

I’ve managed to gain 169 words today so far doing this and I’m hoping not to spend too much more time on that and get on with the real writing soon.

Since I’m not anywhere near where I’d need to be right now to have a 5,000 word day, I’m going to quit hoping for that and just write as much as I can.

So no more breaks for me until I’m ready to call it a day on the writing. WIFI is going off the minute I post this, and I’m going to hide my damn tablets and phone. (Okay, I just turned them off, but that should serve the same purpose!)

The writing streaks are dead—sort of

I’ve let the writing streaks end. Last night, I wrote, but I deleted and then wrote and then deleted, and I had a negative day and just couldn’t climb out of it before I was too tired to continue. I’ve been staying up way too late and 1 a.m. last night did me in.

However! There is a however. :D

I wrote. So technically I have a new writing streak to replace the old two.

148 – 12/30
172 – 12/31
203 – 1/1
209 – 1/2
246 – 1/3
277 – 1/4
345 – 1/5
470 – 1/6
(35) – 1/7

 

  1. I’ve written fiction every day

I’d love to know how much I wrote yesterday, because I have a feeling my >100 words streak would still be alive, but that’s not how I count words and I’m not going to change that. It’s not necessary anyway. I have no goals, am using no timers, and following no schedule. A broken writing streak isn’t breaking any kind of commitment to myself.

I’ll just let a new one happen.

Another day to add to my streaks!

The streaks continue. :)

148 – 12/30
172 – 12/31
203 – 1/1
209 – 1/2
246 – 1/3

  1. >100 words a day, and
  2. increasing words per day

I’m up to almost a page a day now. :)

I’ve been writing so few words because (1) kids are still home for the holiday/winter break and (2) I spent the last two days working on a massive spreadsheet project I’d been putting off for a couple of years now.

I thought having all my title sales in one Excel workbook would benefit me, but after getting it done, I’m just not sure I didn’t waste a lot of time on this. As someone who will write a book I want to write regardless of the possible payoff, I don’t have any need to see my sales broken down by title or series (which is what I did).

Not only that, but there weren’t any surprises there either. I’ve apparently been doing just fine consolidating in my head the information I gather from the individual sales reports from each vendor. I’d created a very realistic picture of where my money was coming from and the books were all doing just about what I thought they were as far as revenues go.

I don’t think I’ll update the spreadsheet going forward. I won’t delete it outright, but I see no need to keep it current.

I just don’t care how much each specific book brings in, and I don’t even really care how much each series is bringing in. I write these books because I really want to and I’m willing to take my chances with them.

Now, time to go write some words for today. I have to get to bed earlier tonight. I’ve stayed up two nights in a row until 2 a.m. working on that stupid spreadsheet. I need a better night’s sleep tonight so I’ll feel liking writing lots of words tomorrow if I decide that’s what I want to do. :D

Good month, bad day

I’ve reached one new record this month: April 2016 has now become the month in which I’ve written the most words since I started tracking. Fiction words, of course, because if I counted these blogs posts and other stuff, who knows what it’d be? Just know that when I talk about records, I’m always talking about fiction I plan to publish.

I’ve written 55,810 words this month. Then there’s today.

It’s unlikely I’ll reach my 3,933 word count goal for today, but I have written a few more words that I’ll add to that number, and I might write a few more on top of that. We’ll see. More below on that topic.

I feel like I’ve slowed down these last few days, but I think it’s because I’ve been so tired from lack of adequate sleep. I want to write more, but I just don’t have a lot of energy for it.

I’ve already made a pact with myself to get into bed early tonight. I really have to stop staying up late for stupid reasons!

Unfortunately, that resolution doesn’t help the fact that I’m dog tired today, and it’s 3:52 and all I’ve written so far is 302 words. I didn’t use the timer for those words either, so I have no notion what my writing speed is—I think it’s slow. Like, really slow.

The big problem seems to be my natural affinity for morning light. It’s getting light outside very early in the mornings here, a little before 5:30 am. I’m just not getting to bed in time to get a good night’s sleep considering how difficult it is for me to sleep after daylight comes. I’ve been waking up around 5–5:30 am and not getting back to sleep. That’d be fine if I was going to sleep before 11:30–12:00, but I’m not. I don’t believe I’ve gone to sleep before 11:30 once this past week, and it’s been much closer to midnight many of those nights.

I need more sleep.

If I don’t make myself get it, I’m going to stall out again on the writing. I can tell. Today proves it. I feel the desire to write, but I can’t even keep my eyes focused on the screen as I’m trying to write. (I sometimes get headaches if I don’t get enough sleep and today is one of those times. My eyes don’t focus well when I have a headache and I don’t work through headaches well.)

Anyway, all that to say today kind of sucks for writing.

But—I want to keep trying. I’m about to start an actual session on one of my books. Maybe knowing the timer is going will help.

I could be reading the book I finished yesterday, searching for mistakes, but yeah… I’m sure that’d go great with this headache. I’ll save that for tomorrow.

By the way, lack of sleep really can feel like inebriation. I have that same floaty head feeling and it’s dogged me all day. And there’s one reason why I don’t drink alcohol very often. I hate that feeling.

Let’s try this again

Today is not a good day for breaking my record, but I think I’m going to try again anyway. Here’s the deal: I have things to do today that mean I’ll be away for at least 4 hours, probably more than 5.

But to break my record, if I can maintain my current speeds (average of about 835 words an hour, or 922 if I only count this last week’s work*), I can write 6,000 words in about 7 hours of writing. I think I can keep those speeds up with the way the writing’s been going.

So here’s the plan: write for 3 hours before lunch, take a short lunch, and write 3 more hours before I have to stop. Then, if I’m close, I think I can find the motivation to write for 1 more hour before I call it a night, and I’ll sleep in tomorrow morning.

Then, of course, do it all over again. :D (I wish. But why not dream big?)

So here goes. I have to get started, because it’s already 8:40 and I’m terribly bad at losing time to breaks. Lunch will be here before I’m ready, guaranteed!

Hour 1: 1,067 words
Hour 2: 1,392 words | 2,459 cumulative 1
Hour 3: 756 words | 3,215 cumulative 2

1 Whoa! Also, I’m less than one session away from finishing that troublesome novel I’ve mentioned in several previous posts. Yay!

2 I totally screwed up by not finishing 3 sessions before lunch, and then watching tv during lunch. It was not a short lunch. :o Hour 3 dragged on and on, but I finished one of my novels! I’m not sure about the last couple of lines, but I think it’s going to work. Either way, I’m saying it’s done. I’ve sent it to my Kindle for a read through later. :D

Final count: 3,228. I added a few words but I’m definitely not going to be able to write for another hour because it’s much later than I expected it would be. So that’s it for today.

*Why am I writing so much faster than my previous speeds? I credit the high level of interest I’m maintaining in my work by switching freely between projects. It’s been a magic pill, really it has. Also, I don’t know. Something might have changed in me.

A bit of a stumble

It’s 7:35 pm and I’ve written only 766 words today, in one hour of writing that I did before lunch today. I’m not really sure where the day went, tbh. I started writing late today and stopped for lunch early. I slept badly last night and have had a headache most of the day.

I’d like to go to bed early tonight to make up for that bad sleep, but… I haven’t actually had much energy for writing at all until within the last half hour, which doesn’t bode well for an early bedtime.

So now, I’m going to cut this short and go to work on one of my books. My goal is to write for an hour and see where I end up. My plans to take tomorrow and Monday off writing to work on preparing some stories for publishing hasn’t changed, so I want to end today in a good place. If I can manage another 1,000 words in the next hour, I’ll be happy enough. Less won’t kill me, but why not try for better instead of good enough, huh? ;)

About yesterday, book covers, a sleepless night, and work

I started working on some book cover practice yesterday and got sucked in so I missed my last writing block.

I did a lot of thinking yesterday about some decisions I needed to make about covers. I’ve hired out the latest cover for one of my series. I’m so ambivalent about having done that that it’s driving me crazy. I committed, though, and I’m going to see it through.

The plan was to get the one cover, decide if I was ready to use it, then order the entire series redesigned. But the cover didn’t fit the book. It did, however, seem well-suited to the next one. So I had to decide if I wanted to commit to double the cost for two covers. In the end, I decided to go ahead. So I’ve actually commissioned two covers in that series at this point.

I probably shouldn’t have, because I’m still not sure I’m actually going to use the covers. But I want to use them. And how does that make sense, huh?

I think it’s because: (1) I like being in complete control of my publishing schedule. I can’t quite do that if I have someone else responsible for the covers; (2) I have certain expectations for how all of my covers work together and getting something from the designer means either I have to be very specific about my wants (maybe too specific to be easy to work with) or I’ll have to redo all my other covers to consolidate the branding. I’ve already run into a few issues, changed my mind about something, and now am not sure the designer is going to deliver something I’m going to be satisfied with.

In the end, I’ll just consider it a learning expense if that happens and I’ll use my own covers. (Let me be clear: the cover draft I’ve seen from the designer is great. That’s not the kind of satisfaction I’m talking about above.)

Just last night I was reminded of something I’ve said I believed (but maybe didn’t really believe, because I actually found myself surprised). I asked for and received some feedback on a few of my own covers (all variations for the same book) and surprise, surprise, it wasn’t the one that looked the most professional to me that got called the most eye-catching. That surprised me, to be honest. I thought one cover in particular was much stronger than the others, and one was much weaker, and yet the comments didn’t bear out my expectations.

And then I asked myself: why not?

I’ve said several times that once you get a certain level of decent with a cover, it doesn’t usually pay to keep trying to make it better, because it won’t really make much of a difference. I mean, yes, I do believe there are certain covers that just have something special that can attract a large quantity of people, but those are kind of like books: they happen by chance, they have a certain spark that can’t really be analyzed and recreated except on superficial levels. Then you hope for the best.

The only thing important after reaching “good enough to catch someone’s eye” is to signal to the right readers what’s waiting for them in the book.

So now I need to remember that—and use it to get past this horrible perfectionism that still ties me up when I’m working on a cover.

Finally, yes, I’m still off coffee and tea. But something’s got my brain working overtime, because I woke up at 2 am and couldn’t go back to sleep because of too much brain activity. Or maybe it’s the time change still screwing with me. Who knows? The end result is that I’m exhausted today and have a headache from a sleepless night, and I don’t really care why. I was miserable from 2 to 6.

Tuesday’s session log

Minutes Words Session WPH
40 515 515 773
40 766 251 377
40 1,157 391 587
40 1,654 497 746
160 Total minutes
1,654 Total words
620 Total WPH

My pace was down and I can’t really explain why, but I’m hoping I’ll do a bit better today. It’s 12:04 pm, though, and I haven’t even looked at my book this morning, so we’ll see.

Believe it or not, I’m making fewer typos than usual, despite the lack of sleep, and my words are flowing nice and fast.

It might be a good day to write, in spite of everything. :D

Terrible night’s sleep again but it won’t stop me today

I’m not really sure what’s been going on with my sleep the last few nights, but last night was terrible, again. I woke at 3 am and couldn’t get back to sleep until after 5 am. Then I was up at 6. So, I’m not at 100% today. More like 60%. I actually feel pretty good at the moment, although I’m not sure why. I’m sure it’ll fade. ;)

In the meantime, I’m going to try to stare at my book and write something before I lose all my energy, and do my best to stay on task from 9–12 and 1–4. I have obligations later, so writing is my only priority today. I’m not going to bother worrying about the rest of those publishing tasks I’m still trying to catch up on.

I finished the paperback format for my last release yesterday, and I now only have 3 more books to get into paperback. Whew. :)

Now, it’s 9 am and time to write!

Update: Twenty minutes later, it totally stopped me. I took the day off. :)