Method Writing Experiment: Preparing for 100 Hours Without Sleep

As you may remember, I have been known to engage in something I’ve decided to call “Method Writing”.

If you’re unfamiliar with Method Acting, basically it’s a technique employed by actors to put themselves in the psychological state of the character they’re portraying, to convey a more realistic sense of that character.

Robert DeNiro drove a cab on twelve hour shifts for a month before filming Taxi Driver.

Daniel Day Lewis has gone to extreme lengths to get inside the minds of his characters, spending months learning new skills and getting into their heads.

You get the idea.  Doing things in real life that your character would do.  Living as they would.  Amassing their experiences, so you have the emotions and memories of those experiences to draw on for your performance.

Writers are portraying characters as well.  We have to portray them all.  Every single entity in a book is characterized by a single individual.  Just take a moment on that.  Every single entity in a book is characterized by a single individual.

Good writers will have a cast of stock characters that they can draw from to make things easier.  You change details, mannerisms, speech patterns; the surface stuff that makes us different from one another can be changed as easily as a costume, and is about as effective at characterizing someone.

But the core of characters, the very heart of what makes someone tick, how many of those do we know?  How many people do we understand, really understand in their heart of hearts?  A good writer will have a few.  Enough to get by.  Great writers have more.

Thus, the more people we can understand, inside and out, and truly know, the more effective we can characterize the plethora of people needed to populate our work.

And Method Writing is one of the ways to do that.  You try new experiences, go to new places, learn the things that your character will know, so you understand them better.  Do you think I’d’ve guessed that a good Projectionist in a new building would have a roll of micropore tape in their pocket?  No.

So: getting into the mindset of a character is key to portraying them realistically.

And yes, having similar experiences to that character helps us draw on genuine emotions and thus aids in achieving a level of realism that will translate into a more rich and lifelike individual.

Of course, we are writers; our job is to imagine these things.  But we cannot work in a bubble.  We’re always using our own experiences, the people we know, the things we do, to insert realism into our work.

I’m currently writing a book which requires me to know a lot about sleep.  And insomnia.

I’m already having to invent dozens of people.  I can’t really go be a paramedic, or a sound mixer for Skrillex, or an artist working in Paris.  But I can understand what it would be like for them to be sleep deprived.

My next experiment is to remain awake for 100 hours.

During this time, I will periodically measure five things:

My blood pressure and heart rate.

My mental acuity, using simple math and reading comprehension tests.

My ability to see and sort colours.

My reaction time.

I’ve been taking readings on all these leading up to my experiment, so I have a baseline.

I have excellent blood pressure.  🙂

I see colours pretty darn well.  (Seems by biggest weakness is in the blue area of the spectrum.)

My reaction time is pretty constant.

My math skills are pretty good (always been quick to do basic math in my head, except, for some reason, the eight times-tables, which is apparently the blue of single digits).

My reading comprehension is good (the test itself had errors in it).

So I have a benchmark, because I want to have actual data points to compare to when I’m doing these things on no sleep.  I’ll try to do them every twelve hours.

What do I hope to gain by staying awake for 100 hours?  A better understanding of what my characters would be going through.  I could fake it.  I could probably write a good approximation.  But having lived it will bring an air of authenticity to the work that I will feel much better about.

Understanding people is key to writing realistic characters.  

I’m not going to enjoy doing it, but I will enjoy having done it.

Sometimes I can’t experience what my characters are going through.  But these rare times when I can, I feel an obligation to at least try.

Thanks for reading.

Heidi out.  

P.S.: (I will report back in one week, when I’m just at the tail end of my 100 hours.  I apologize in advance if it is riddled with insanity and/or is generally a mess.  I will of course do a followup with a more articulate account of how it went.)

P.P.S.: It’s different from Gonzo Journalism, or Gonzo Writing, in that I’m not inserting myself into the narrative.  It is a technique which serves only to help me understand and bring realism to characters in a story.

P.P.P.S.: I’ve been reading up on sleep and sleep deprivation a lot.  I’m not going into this blind.  It is the last step in my understanding, not the first.

Time to type every word I know: Coffee, Writing, Iron Man, Duck

As you may know, I enjoy participating in the various gift exchanges through Reddit Gifts.  It’s like doing a secret santa, only with thousands of other people, and for specific categories of things.

I was so pleased to open my Coffee Exchange parcel yesterday!  My package came from Macedonia– and contained Turkish coffee!  I tried making a cup this morning, and it was delicious (Without cream?!  Amazing.).  Very flavourful, and unusual.

In writing news, my short story “The First Gentlemen’s Galactic Scavenger Hunt” has been shortlisted for the World Weaver Press anthology, “Far Orbit- Speculative Space Adventures”.  I’d be super happy to see this one in print; I feel like it’s actually a project I’d like to expound upon a bit.  A scavenger hunt in space: what’s not to love?

I have also entered my screenplay in a contest to win tickets to PitchFest, where I would get a chance to hook a studio.  That would be totally mathematical.

Currently, I’m continuing a read-through of my Spell Carriers series, and I’m into the second book.  The first book took me three days, though it would have taken less if I weren’t making edits here and there.  It was a pretty easy read.  Trook Hunters starts off more complex, having had book one to set it up.

Anyway!  Enough ramblings.  What’s important here is seeing how they did the Arc Reactor makeup for Iron Man.

Painting on the latex.

A lot of latex.

A good sport.

Different colours for the different layers.

Airbrushed to make it look real!

They can peel the latex back and make it look like skin.

Final effect: amazing.

And, seeing as I have duck brining in the fridge, this:


Well, I’ll keep you posted.  I hope one of these days to have some truly excellent news for you.  For now, I’ll keep at it.  I know that one day all this work I’m doing will pay off.  I hope it’s soon, but I’m in it for the long haul.  🙂

Cheers guys.

Heidi out.

PS: Leaked Jurassic Park 4 logo!

I Guess Coffee isn’t the *Worst* Vice…

I’ve had a streak of unproductive, uninspired, generally depressing weeks. My writing is in a slump. Putting words down is like a slog through quicksand.

And then I made myself a bunch of coffee… I was drinking decaf for health reasons. …And I had no idea how much I really relied on coffee to get my but in gear and WRITE.

I suppose it’s not the worse vice to rely on for that elusive inspiration. My stupid Prechordial Catch Syndrome will likely make me have to ration my new method of kick-it-into-gear, but hey, now when I want a nice cup of delicious coffee, I’ve got to earn it by writing.

So cram it, heart, we’ve got work to do.