Intimate Details of the Sleep Habits of the Author of the Insomnia Apocalypse

I wrote a book about what would happen if everyone on earth stopped sleeping.

Every night I sleep with an app on my phone which records my movements and translates them into neat data about my sleeping habits.

I’ve always been fascinated by sleep.  I’ve had bouts of insomnia, usually to go along with hugely stressful times, and periods of anxiety and depression.  It laid the groundwork for a lifetime of being fascinated by, and appreciative of, sleep.

Being a movie-theatre Film Projectionist for over a decade let me see a variety of sleep cycles, both in myself and in others who worked in the whacky world of a Grindhouse; closing the booth one summer had me on 17:00-01:00 shifts, which wreaked havoc on my sleep schedule.  When I took over as Head Projectionist I got to make the schedule for the booth, and set myself up with 10:00-18:00 shifts that better fit with ‘having a normal schedule’.

I watched as coworkers and managers were sick constantly.  I saw many become slowly crushed by the job.  I’m sure some of it was at least partially due to the abuse they inflicted on what should have been their ally, their treasured companion in life: sleep.

Seeing people close-open (close the threatre at 1 or 2 in the morning, and have to be in to open the theatre the next day at 9 or 10) was totally crazy to me.  When people are tired, they get sick more often, are less happy, and, from a business standpoint, cost money in the form of mistakes.  In the projection booth, these mistakes could equal big bucks.  Scratched prints, dropped prints, mistakes when splicing reels together (in the correct order, please), adverts and trailers put in upside-down and backwards… the list of things that can go wrong in a booth is long.  And when you sleep-deprived people, mistakes cost customer satisfaction and money.

We know that sleep deprivation can cause impairment.

My fascination with sleep bled into the career I’ve been working towards my whole life: being an author.  It seems inevitable that sleep was going to be the focus of a book at some point.  All my past experiences aligned and I got a bolt-from-the-blue idea that set me off on the wildest journey of my life: writing a book about an insomnia apocalypse.  “What if the whole world stopped being able to sleep?”  I set about crafting a book to explore just what would happen.  I wrote it in the style of World War Z, so every chapter could showcase some new element, a new character, a new location.  This let me produce a book with many windows into an apocalypse, and effectively illustrate just how badly we need sleep.

Spoiler alert: we need sleep a lot.  Like, so, so much.

Here’s where I can share some nifty things about sleep: I have been sleeping with an app on my phone that records movement and translates it into sleep data.  For two years, I’ve been tracking my sleep.

I have data that spans the most massive changes in my life yet:

  • going through a divorce
  • moving to the other side of the world
  • publishing my breakout novel, fulfilling a lifelong dream

I feel like my sleep data is personal.  It clearly shows the ups and downs of my life.

Also interesting are the periods where I’m on meditation retreats, contrasted to the times when I’m living in town, in ‘regular society’ and not in the peace and quiet of a meditation centre.

By far my favourite data is The Longest Night.  To celebrate my book launch, I stayed awake for as long as possible, live on a Twitch stream.  I made it 80 hours before I called it due to safety concerns.  After those 80 hours, I slept for a whopping 16 hours and 43 minutes.

It was amazing.  The days following it are also interesting.

Want to see some neat graphs about all this?  Hold onto your butts, here we go.  I give you:

Intimate Details of the Sleeping Habits of the Author of the Insomnia Apocalypse

First, everything all at once. Check it.

And here’s each individual graph so you can see the appropriate values:

But wait, there’s context.  My life during the past two years has been WILD.  Lots of ups and downs; ups from living a beautiful new life, downs from processing the end of a marriage.  Here’s the data with a bit of timeline:  

My sleep quality has been very closely tied to stress.  Moving out on my own for the first time was great; it alleviated the crushing weight of a failing marriage and I slept so much better than I had in ages.  The dip in January was me nearly dying of a broken heart.

But hey I’m still here, thanks in no small part to some Epic Meditation.  It totally changed my life, and I’m so grateful to have it.  It really helped get me through some rough times.

You notice that green line of sleep quality dips as it approaches January of this year.  You may know that I’ve been working my whole entire life to become an author, and my first book, Sleep Over, was released on January 16th.  The stress leading up to that was enormous, and you can definitely see my sleep affected by it.

The next increase in sleep quality was relief from Sleep Over hitting the shelves, in print, from a bonafide New York publisher.  I was so happy to have it behind me.  This started off a two-month period of intense meditation retreats to help process this massive life event.

Here’s more recent data in the same detail:

And again with some life events in the timeline:

And again, the separate charts for values:

The most interesting sleep, by far, is this one: The Longest Night, the night after I stayed awake as long as possible (80 hours!) for Sleep Over‘s release.  Check it.

Time in bed: 16 hours and 43 minutes baby!  Holy WOW.  Interestingly, I dipped into The Deep (deep sleep) my usual 5 times.  It was so good.  No sleep is ever going to top it, not unless something goes drastically wrong haha.

My previous Longest Night (and also one of the BEST ever) was the first night after I arrived in New Zealand, fleeing a life on fire and into the loving arms of so many helpful people.

Sleep is so helpful!  When things are hard it just makes life much easier and better if I can get the sleep I need.

Now, some nights in detail, just to show off what I know about my sleep cycle now, after observing it for 2 years.

My ideal night has 4 or 5 dips into deep sleep.  Whether I need 4 or 5 depends on how well rested I’ve been leading up to that night.  If all is well, I only need 4.  But if I’m totally knackered, I need 5, over 8 hours.

This is a recent sleep.  I’m super pooped from a new job.  As you can see, I have to be up really early, but it’s okay because I was in bed just after 7, leaving me enough time with my head on the pillow to dip into deep sleep those 5 times I need.

Now look at this one where I only need 4 dips and 7 hours:

Fun fact: on deep meditation retreat, I can be totally knackered but I only need 4 dips into deep sleep to feel well rested.  And I need far fewer hours with my head on the pillow.  The graph above is from an intense day on a 10-day vipassana retreat.  It was the hardest I’ve ever focussed and was totally in ‘the zone’.  (Absolutely MASSIVE days chockers full of sitting and learning vipassana).  4 dips woo!

Now a typical one from the heart of my month-long retreat:

I needed fully one hour less in bed than normal, and I was waking up naturally between 4 and 5.  I was often having a lay-down after lunch to get another hour with my head on the pillow, so some days when I only got 4 I was actually needing 5 (but it was too exciting to stay in bed, not when I could have the meditation hall all to myself haha).

Just to contrast these pretty great sleeps, here are some truly terrible sleeps.  The plateau leading up to the first dip means it took ages for me to fall asleep, and the plateau on the tail end means I was super restless coming out of sleep and didn’t want to get up, hoping I’d get another dip into good sleep, but not getting it.  This was the night after moving my things into storage and preparing to leave my friends and family.  A very disruptive time, and it definitely shows!  Only 3 dips into The Deep as I’ve come to think of it.

Here’s another bad one, where I wake up with anxiety twice in the night.

Nearing the end of my post, here’s a 100% quality sleep, from when I was helping do good in the world and feeling generally awesome.

So there you have it, some sleep data.  I always love sharing it in the hopes it gets people thinking about their own sleep health.

In conclusion, sleep is really important to me.  Its quality is critically linked to what’s happening in life, and how much stress I’m experiencing.

Questions?  Comments?  Have a gander at this reddit thread where I’ll be interacting to answer and chat!

And if you’re interested in a book about an insomnia apocalypse, Sleep Over is part of a Book Bub promotion this week- the eBook is only $1.99 across all U.S. platforms!

Or if you want to just toss me a gold coin, hit up Patreon.

Thanks for hanging out.  Cheers!

-H.G.

P.S. Sleep well ^_^

I Have An Agent

I am extremely pleased to announce that I have signed on with Beth Campbell over at BookEnds.  She will be representing my novel Sleep Over.

It has finally happened.  I have an agent.

I have been waiting to say those words for a long, long time.

Beth has just switched over to helming the representation of scifi and fantasy over at BookEnds.  She wants an author who isn’t just a flash in the pan.  She loves my manuscript, and my head is still swilling from all the gorgeous things she is saying about my writing.

And the writer’s head grew three sizes that day hahaha.

I won’t be able to share too much about the process of finding a publisher as it’s happening (super secret stuff), but you can bet your butt you’ll hear it loud and clear when I have signed with a publisher for Sleep Over.  My only hope is that it takes a bit of time, as that’s a good sign that more than one really, really wants it.

Meanwhile, I will keep on posting for you, my dear, dear readers.  I am so glad you could be here with me when I was finally able to give this good news!  Your support has meant so much to me over the years as I continue on this wonderful journey to authordom.

I will continue to share a great many and varied things with you. Including, if you’re interested in the details, How I Got a Literary Agent.

In addition to my fantastic announcement, here are some more things just! for! yooou!!!

Episode 7 AND episode 8 of my Oddcast, Forgotten, are up! Episode 8 took the longest of all of them and had so many outtakes.  I’m really pushing the form to the limit, and “the voices” really had a tough time of getting this one to work.  It’s getting better as it goes along, and I’m really happy with where it’s heading!

We’ve also got more videos from my husband’s Wild Gears Creations channel.  Are you ready to see something wild? This one is crazy!

And are you ready for parallel lines?

 

Something else fun: the tale of my Message in a Bottle which was answered by The X-Files (4 images in album- clicky).

Also, here’s a little comic I made about how I make coffee.

That’s all for now, dear readers.

I think we’ve entered into a new and exciting phase of my career here. I am one step closer to having a major work published, and hopefully soon I can share that with you too.

Cheers.

Heidi out.

Character Creation Part 1

While I’m between projects, it’s interesting to see what starts to bubble up in my creative mind.  Sometimes it’s plot, sometimes it’s setting.  Right now it happens to be character.  For some reason, I’m getting wicked insults popping into my head in a new character voice.

Wicked dialogue does not a character make.  I must craft one, and hopefully I will create one to suit these lines that my hindbrain is feeding me.

So, here are some notes on character creation.

When writing, you have to know your character pretty well before you start off.  A lot of the discovery of who they are happens while you’re writing them, yes, but you need to have some idea of who they are at their core before you begin.

The trimmings can evolve as you go, and it’s quite thrilling when you discover parts of a character on the fly.

But who they are deep inside is yours to lay out and set in stone before the first time they grace your page.

It is a writer’s basic duty to lay out coherent characters.  If the players in your story are unbelievable, that is to say, they are untrue and your audience picks up on it, you lose all credibility as a writer.

Your plot can be genius, your settings magnificent, and your prose delightful, but if your characters give your reader pause, you’ve failed.

This is a rare case when the converse of the rule is just as true: your plot can have some holes, your setting could be a little bland, and your prose might be a bit generic, but if your characters grab your audience, buddy you’re in the door.

My first draft of this post included some examples of this, but I thought it would be better for you to discover your own.  Ask yourself, are there any stories that come to mind, films, TV shows, books, anything at all, where you forgave them a few mistakes because of their characters?  When you excused a lame plot hole or some flat exposition, because you were being drawn onwards by the strength of the character?

We forgive a lot if the characters ring true.

So how do we go about making believable characters?

First let’s look at where we get aspects of the character from.

From life.  “People watching” is a great way to spot things to stow away in your bag o’ writerly goodness.  From the smallest gesture to the way someone stands, from their accent to their dress, you can take that and run with it.  You can expand this into people you know, but there is a danger there.  Tuckerizing someone as an injoke is one thing, basing whole characters off of people you know is entirely another.  And I think very few writers would recommend it.  Let’s keep the friends we have, eh?  There are plenty of people yet to be invented that we can abuse.

A common mistake for new writers is to get hung up on names.

The name of your character is mostly unimportant.

Let me say that again.

You don’t need the name before you write the character.

Use a place holder name, and for godsakes, don’t wait until you have their perfect name before writing the story.  That’s an excuse and you’re fooling yourself.

I’ve heard some people advocate changing character names every ten thousand words, or every few dozen pages, or every other chapter or whatever.  The idea behind this is that we don’t want to get too attached to our characters- we need to be able to hurt them in brutal ways, and if you’re all precious about them, you’re going to have a hard time doing things that will make your work better.

So rename them.  Figure it out later or as you go along.

I like to pick a name and generally stick with it, but I’ve often found myself at a loss for a name at the start of something, so I use placeholder names.  Ctrl+F and replace is your friend.  Don’t get precious.  Names are unimportant.

But don’t be clever- stupid names that draw attention to you as the writer instead of keeping your audience in the work where they should be is something to avoid.  If it doesn’t make sense in the context of the story, find something ‘less cool’.

I’ll do another post about how writers intrude on the story, but for the purpose of character creation, one of the big ones is naming them.

With that out of the way, onwards.

So where do characters come from?  Life, yes, but also fiction.

Writers cannot ignore the thousands of years of story telling from cultures around the world, and all the myriad of characters that have already been created.  There is nothing new under the sun, but we’re all beautiful unique snowflakes, right?  So there should be characters left.  There will always be characters left.

The archetypes are there and you have to be aware of them.  Good writers get pretty familiar with maybe half a dozen archetypes, great writers have more.  These skeletons can be helpful forming a basis for your characters.  The specifics of their motivations, backgrounds, and surface details change, but these archetypes exist for a reason.  Use them.

As you get more and more specific with a character, the closer you come to creating a character that already exists.  It’s impossible to know every single story and every single character that’s ever been created, but this is where a sometimes overlooked aspect of creating comes into play: consuming.

You have to know what’s out there.  What characters are in the popular culture right now?  Are you inadvertently recreating them because they got under your skin without you realizing it?

One morning, I independently invented Dexter.  :/  Good thing I already knew about Dexter, or that could have gone on longer than it did.  It was one of those “smack your forehead and laugh” moments.  You can search the internet, ask friends, and check out TV Tropes.

Consuming media, literature, movies, TV shows, opera, whatever, is a vital part of the creation process.  You cannot write in a vacuum.

Where else do characters come from?

From yourself.

DANGER DANGER

HIGH VOLTAGE

This is very risky business.  A lot of first-time writers write themselves as the main character.  It’ll save you some time if you just listen when I say to NOT do that.  (Other characters that are wasting your time: a writer, a writer struggling to ‘make it’, someone writing anything, especially in a coffee shop).  I mean, I can’t tell you what to do… but know that agents and editors delete those stories without a second look as soon as they see those characters.

Of course, how do you write a character without putting yourself into them.  I don’t know that it’s possible.  Even the vilest of characters, those who I would be loathe to think I had even the slightest bit in common with, come from within me.  And because I’m not just creating flat evil, as in, a bad guy who has no past and is evil personified for no reason, I know that they have motives, desires, and feelings.

Empathy is the strongest source of character creation.

Understanding why characters do what they do leads to crafting complexity into them, and this is the breath of life.

I’ll say it again.  Empathy.

The best characters come from understanding.  You craft their stories, and in doing so, delve into their pasts, their motivations, their thoughts and feelings.

Truly understanding a character will allow you to bring richness to their portrayal that will draw your audience in.

This seems like a good place to leave off, as this topic is rather dense.  To recap:

Realistic characters are needed to tell your story.  These characters come from many places: real life, people you know, characters that already exist, and yourself.  Understanding your characters enables you to write them more convincingly.  Understanding what characters already exist enables you to create new characters.

Well I hope this has been helpful.  I do enjoy sharing my notes.

Happy writing!

Until next time dear readers, thanks for stopping by.

Heidi out.

“Luka and Iso”- Top 10% in The Nicholl Fellowship!

Hello wonderful blog readers!

I received an email from the Nicholl Fellowship today.

Every year, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences picks five writers and pay them, based on the strength of the script they submitted, to produce another feature length screenplay.

I didn’t make the cut for the Fellowship, but my script scored in the top ten percent!

7,251 entrants, and I’m in the top 10%?  Pretty awesome, but of course, disappointing not to advance.

Ah well, I’m hoping I can find someone out there as excited about the story of the first genetically engineered dragon as I am!  Perhaps this will help me along.  It will make a killer film.

Congratulations to everyone that is advancing.  I’m sure there are some amazing scripts, and how they’ll ever pick just five is completely beyond me!

In other news, I received my second ever royalty cheque!  Seems that A Quick Bite of Flesh is still selling.  Want some zombie flash fiction?  Then this book is forrr yoooouuuu!

I am waiting on an awesome agent for a new book I’d like to see in print.  Paranormal romance/urban fantasy here I come!  I’m well into the sequel already, and hitting short stories out of the park on a daily basis.

I’ll keep at it until- BWA HA HA YOU CAN’T STOP ME

Thanks for stopping by.

Oh what’s that?  This is my 100th post?

Hurrah!

Oh man, if I’ve been this into my small successes so far, when I get my first novel picked up I’m going to be happier than a kitten with a feather.  More excited than a porcupine with a banana.  You do know porcupines love bananas, right?

Anyway, thank you for stopping in and staying with me on this long, long journey to authordom.

Heidi out.

Heading into the home stretch!

Well, I’m nearing the 60k word mark, and it’s looking like, after editing and fleshing out some sequences a little more, I’ll be sitting at around 70k words.  Pretty good; young adult generally falls into the 60-100k range.

I’ve been using my limit breaks well.  Five hours here, six hours there, each time getting 4k, 5k, even 6k words down in a single sitting.  I’m really enjoying this process.

I joined a new Minecraft server, one with a whitelist; no griefing, stealing, killing- just nice people building amazing things.  It’s an interesting counterpoint to the fervour of writing.

For your viewing pleasure, this video, which made me laugh out loud.


Cheers,

Heidi