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Building a Writing Life

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Work / Life Balance or apparently, you can’t just not sleep?

by Feb 26, 2018On Writing: Craft and Commiseration, Word Count Updates and Writing Goals0 comments

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was in a production of Cinderella (as Cinderella, naturally) and it was the first time I was really starting to feel the struggle of balancing everything I want to do between extracurriculars and theatre and social life and academics and everything. There was a senior in the play with me, Dave, who was president of a billion clubs, honor roll MVP, salutatorian and in the school play with me… basically doing all the things I wanted to do. He was living the dream and having it all.

During downtime at rehearsal one day, I asked him for some advice. How did he prioritize? How did he balance everything to fit it all in?

“I just never sleep,” he replied.

And then, as if to illustrate his point, he literally fell asleep on stage while we ran through the next scene.

But this stuck with me. And many times in my life when I had to make a choice between, say, studying for that big test or going to that awesome party, I thought of Dave and said..

And I went to the party and then stayed up the rest of the night and studied and aced the test. I had my fun, I got my A and all I had to give up with sleep? What a deal! My college years, I was like Jim Carrey in Yes Man, doing everything I wanted to do even if it meant staying up all night. And it worked out fine. I got great grades, had a good job, participated in all the activities I wanted to, had a good social life, got to do almost everything I wanted to do. I was tired but living the dream.

So, when I outlined my plan for getting more writing and work done this year when I knew I was going to have less working hours than ever before, it will not surprise you that the first thing I decided to do to get myself more time was to cut out sleep.

This made sense in my brain for two reasons

  1. Lots of other writer friends sacrifice sleep and get up a couple of hours earlier to write before work / kids get up. Why couldn’t I get accomplish the same thing by staying up a couple of hours later?
  2. This was basically the same thing I’d been doing my academic whole life since I learned Dave’s secret to having it all.

I started to stay up a few hours later each night after everyone else was in bed to write. And it worked great! I was getting SO MUCH done! Yeah, I was exhausted beyond all reason but that’s what coffee was for, right? I soldiered on, making progress and finally feeling like I had found that balance between family and work I’d been struggling with since the baby was born. I was really doing it!

And then it all came crashing down.

I got sick. Like, feverish and dizzy and two different ailments at the same time sick. Then the medicines for those things gave me two OTHER things and I was being swallowed by side effects and symptoms from all of the above when it was time for our first family vacation in two years which was very nice… but where I got sick with a whole new thing, this one even worse than the others. And as that sickness lingered for several weeks and the treatment recommended for this was the same “lots of rest” as all the others, I was forced to come to a sad realization.

I couldn’t keep this up. I can’t just not sleep. It’s not a viable strategy anymore.

I do not have the kind of life I used to have in school where there were breaks and days off and other chances to catch up on rest. My life now is more physically demanding than it was in college. I am not as young as I once was. My body needs rest.

Especially because

  1. I’m still nursing the baby and getting up multiple times a night so I’m not getting an uninterrupted night of sleep in the first place
  2. My kids both get up hecka early in the morning (which is why I can’t use mornings to write in the first place, I’d be getting up at 2 am)
  3. There are two small humans in this house who are completely dependent on me and they need me on my A Game and not as a sleep-deprived zombie slug

I realized I had only been getting a total of 2 to 3 hours of interrupted sleep a night since January started which is why my usually boss immune system was overwhelmed by so many illnesses in such a short time. I had to start going to bed earlier and taking better care of myself.

I had to give up my beautiful, productive new-found writing time.

I was really bummed. I wallowed in self-pity for a while, which was easy since I was still sick and miserable anyway. I felt like I should just give up on all my dreams and become one of those Pinterest housewives everyone hates.

But then I snapped out of it and got back to work.

Because any time to write is still better than nothing and sleep is pretty great, all things considered. The search for work / life balance continues but at least I don’t feel quite so physically awful, even if I’m still mentally itchy and impatient. But I know I will eventually find other ways to make it work that aren’t at the expense of my health, so I’m biding my time.

A few years ago, Dave and I found each other on Facebook and I reminded him of that conversation. He said he didn’t remember it but that he holds sleep in much higher regard these days. I think I should probably follow his lead on that too.

Here’s to taking care of business… and ourselves, too!



  1. Q1 2018: Winter Writing Wrap-up - Hillary DePiano - […] in January was because I started staying up later to give myself that time to work and write. As…

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About the Author

Hillary DePiano is a playwright, fiction and non-fiction writer who loves writing of all kinds except for writing bios like this.

Books and Plays by Hillary DePiano


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