Writers are notorious for struggling with some things. For instance, we have to be reminded to kill our darlings, because sometimes we write that glorious sentence, better than anything we’ve ever written before, sparkling with artistry and multilayered in its brilliance … except that it’s totally out of place in its current location. Some writers I know keep a graveyard of darlings, a document where they can save those sentences and paragraphs that they just can’t move on from.
There’s one problem we often picture as intrinsic to writers, though, that I have more than conquered. I don’t mean to brag—it’s just a fact.
It’s a cliché, the insomniac writer, cursed with consciousness in the lonely, no-man’s-land hours after closing time and before the coffee shops have started their first pots. Maybe their haggard faces are lit by the glow of a computer screen; maybe they’re holding a half-drained bottle of gin in; maybe they’re lying spread-eagled in bed, staring at the ceiling, tired of counting sheep.
Not me, though. Popular wisdom says it takes the average person seven minutes to fall asleep. I can do it in three. I don’t need a pillow, or even a bed. Give me a chair to curl up in, or a wall to lean against, or even just a flat surface to lie on. Make it noisy, leave the lights on—I don’t care.
If sleep were a martial art, I’d be a black belt. I should have an honorary MFA in sleep performance from Juilliard. Researchers can’t use me in sleep studies, because I’d just skew the data.
I’m a sleep master. That’s what I’m saying.
It’s better than insomnia. Several of my close friends are insomniacs, and there’s nothing enviable about it. Still, my superhuman sleep skills can be inconvenient. When I was younger—before my powers developed—I would sit in bed and read for hours. Now, though, if I sit down to read, my sleepy sense starts tingle, and soon enough, bam, I’m reading the insides of my eyelids.
It’s a gift and a curse.
This summer, though, I’ve been trying to get back into reading for pleasure. I’ve been catching up on recommendations, and one thing I’ve found helpful is putting myself in positions where it would be inappropriate to fall asleep. I’ll go to a coffee shop or restaurant, or sit outside on the balcony, or at least choose an upright seat, without arms for easy slumping. It’s worked pretty well—I’ve made some progress on my to-read list (although given the length of that list, the progress seems negligible) and have enjoyed what I’ve read so far.
My fiction tastes are not pretentious, nor particularly limited. I read and enjoyed Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, which is sufficiently “high-brow,” I think, to be classified as capital-L Literature. (The Literary-vs.-genre-fiction conversation is a huge one, and one I’m interested in, but one whose place is not this post.) After that, and most recently, I read No Doors, No Windows, by Joe Schreiber. Compare them, just judging by the covers:
No Doors, No Windows does not pitch itself as Literature. I got it from the horror section in Borders (which should give you some clue as to how far behind I am on my to-read list).
Only here’s the thing. The Master and Margarita was certainly a worthwhile read—especially for someone like me, who is a sucker for black cats causing mayhem—and it had a sense of momentum. But No Doors, No Windows had momentum, movement like I haven’t experienced in a book in a long time. It features an old, eerie house, complete with a walled-off hallway, the haunted “black wing.” Disappearances and murderers and mysterious scratching sounds—what more does a ghost story need?
No doors, no windows, no time to stop and catch your breath, no good breaking point to put it down for a bit. No temptation to nod off. I read the book in two days. I did the majority of that reading curled up under a blanket, either on the couch or in bed. Even my preternatural sleeping was powerless against its pace.
We talk about how writers ought to read extensively, but I think the “genre-shaming” that goes on in some circles can restrict those extents. After all, every genre—every writer, really—privileges some qualities while disregarding others. Without variety in reading, we miss variety in exposure, which leaves us dangerously ignorant. Why? Because every super power has is limitations. Nothing, not even my capacity for sleep, is impervious to every attack.
Reading extensively is the best way to find your own Kryptonite. And, you know, techniques you might want to steal or whatever.