Stress, Insomnia, and Writing - An Interview with Fantasy Author KateMarie Collins
Fantasy writer KateMarie Collins graced this blog a short time ago. During our discussion she revealed that, like many of us, she suffers from sleeplessness and stress. As these are common issues among many of our readers, we thought it might be helpful to see if she finds creative writing helpful with dealing with this, and whether she has any tips for dealing with these.
Hi KateMarie, thanks for coming back so soon. My first question has to be, do you find writing helps when you’re suffering from stress and, if so, how?
It helps me so much! But it's hard to define, really.
For starters, when I write I'm in a world that I can control. One that I make the rules up for. The stress in my life, that's the worst, usually comes up when things are going on that I can't fix right away. By retreating into my writing, my worlds, I regain the sense of control that I'm fighting to keep in my life.
The thought of having a set writing process, where you write so many words a day – or for a certain time, could easily seem daunting to some of our readers while others might find the set routine actually helps them structure their day. What are your thoughts or experiences in this?
I wish I could do this, I really do. I've tried to have a set time frame, etc. But life tends to happen. Kids need something, I have to run errands, a cat gets sick and needs to go to the vet.
Do I think having a routine would help me? I'm not sure. When I've had one and didn't get it done, I would beat myself up. The voice in my head (it sounds a LOT like my mother) would try and tell me that I should just give up since I missed it that day.
One day - or week - where you don't meet your own deadline doesn't equate failure. I've learned that, for me, it's better not to force a schedule on myself. It made for more stress, and my Beta Readers said they could tell when I was forcing the words to come out.
What tools do you use to deal with stress or anxiety, and do you incorporate these as you write if you become lost?
I do a lot of deep breathing, find my center, and reconnect myself with the Earth. It does bleed into my writing, as my main characters end up either Wiccan (like myself) or the world I created is one with an extensive pantheon. For example, Amber (the main character in ‘The Waystation Guardians’ series) has a habit of taking deep breaths to calm herself. The practice of centering takes a little bit of time to work on, but it helps me a lot.
I understand that, like many, you suffer from sleeplessness. What tools do you use to combat this, and do you find getting up to write in the silent hours (even in a notepad) helps?
Ugh. Insomnia. My nemesis! I've battled it since grade school. Even came down with
mono in 4th grade because my immune system had become compromised. Or, rather, that's what I was told. For several weeks after I went back to school (I was out for 3 weeks), I had to rest for an hour when I got home. Hated doing it, but I had to.
My sleep debt got so high that, as an adult, I started to get panic attacks triggered by sound. The switch in my brain that controlled ambient noise would stop working. I would hear everything, understand nothing, and the sound was amplified. It felt like I was under a physical attack by the noise around me.
I tried natural remedies. I tried sleeping pills. I did a sleep study to make sure I didn't have sleep apnea (I didn't). What a doctor recommended, which finally started to help, was a sleep schedule. I get up at 6 am most days, so I have to be asleep by 10 pm if I'm going to get 8 hours. I'm in bed by 9, trying to sleep by 9:30. On weekends, I don't sleep past 8 am. No caffeine after 4 pm. If I don't get 8 hours the night before, I'm under doctor's orders to take a nap.
That was the hardest part for me. I had to start putting my body's needs before the dishes or errands. It helped, though. I haven't had an attack for a good 6 or 7 years. That doesn't mean that I always sleep all night. I just had 2-3 nights in a row where I woke up around 2 am and didn't get back to sleep until 3 or 4. But I have the tools to get myself back on track.
I have woken up with story ideas that just had to get out of my head, too. I'll get up, write the section, and go back to bed. Those are days when naps definitely happen.
Stress and sleeplessness can lead to dark moods, which can be painful for our partners as well as us. But writing can also be an issue, as it can be a self-isolating thing. How do you manage all of this?
I'm fortunate in that my husband gives me space to write, especially when I'm in the zone and my fingers are flying. Our family's learned not to bother me when the words are flowing. LOL. They give me space to get the section I need to finish done, then we'll have some family time.
Would you advise asking your partner’s thoughts on your writing, as a means to involve them?
I used to. I would bounce ideas off of my husband for the first two or three books I wrote. The problem was that he would want it to go in a direction I knew I wasn't going to take the story, and then be disappointed when I didn't use his suggestion.
I've got a group of four Beta Readers now. Each one is good at spotting different issues, they all know how to tell me things don't work/need fixing, and still let me write the story I'm trying to write. With 'Guarding William', my last book, I thought I was done. All four came back saying I had to resolve something between two of the characters. They were right. I wrote a final chapter that finished that off, and it made for a stronger novel. It also set up the 4th book nicely.
Writers need good Beta Readers. It doesn't have to be your partner, either. They're not always the best to give you the feedback you need.
Do you think that stress and loss of sleep gives an added dimension to your writing, and if so how?
I've gone down some pretty deep rabbit holes with some of my characters. I've also not thought I needed a nap, realized I'd reread the same paragraph a dozen times and didn't remember any of where I was, and closed my laptop. Even when I want to write, I have to keep the sleep in balance.
The more I know how to overcome stress and insomnia, the more my characters do. Having characters who deal with stress, and come out on top, helps me do the same. I created them. I put them in the situation. And I got them out of it. It's a reminder that I can do the same with my life.
J.K. Rowling’s journey into a published author was a torn one, and she used the dementors in Harry Potter as a symbol of her own fight with depression. Have you ever found yourself enabling your characters with your issues, as a metaphor for what you’re experiencing?
Dear gods, yes! There's a part of me in every character I write. I put them through some
of the same situations. As they grow and heal, so do I.
Two examples: in 'Daughter of Hauk', Arwenna ends up being raped. I was, as well. At some point, she gets help working through all the pain and self-blame that comes with that. It doesn't matter the circumstances, self-blame is part of it. We should've fought harder, screamed louder, etc. As she healed and came to grips with what happened to her, so did I.
In 'Mark of the Successor', I had a character (minor) who I modelled after my own mother. All of my beta readers recognized I was dealing with the issues in our relationship. Lily comes out on top, breaks free of the conditioning the person she thought was her mother instilled in her. So did I. I found the courage to confront my mother about some of the problems we had, and our relationship did improve.
A few months after the book came out, we were visiting them. She pulled out a copy of the book and told me it was 'the best thing' I'd written and she'd 'read it cover to cover the first time she picked it up and couldn't put it down'. She died in 2015, never once seeing herself in the character of Erena!
Last question: What advice might you offer to those suffering from depression, anxiety and/or lack of sleep?
As isolating as it feels, you're not alone. And the first person - or dozen - you reach out to may not have the answer you need. It took me decades to find a solution to my insomnia. It's not cured, but it's manageable now.
When I get discouraged, I remember where I was before I started writing, before I had the sleep schedule. I've come so far since then! I use that to remind myself that I'm capable of a lot more than I give myself credit for. So are you. Surround yourself with people who care about you, support you, and not those who want to keep you down because of their own insecurities. Yeah, it's hard to cut those ties sometimes. Or have those conversations. But no one ever said healing was easier than getting hurt. It's not. You survived.
That's step one. Even if it's just one day that was hard. You did it. Books are written one word at a time. Souls are healed one breath at a time.
KateMarie, many thanks for sharing some deeply personal issues and how you've learned to manage them. We greatly appreciate this, and look forward to seeing more of your work in print soon.
Book buy links:
Daughter of Hauk: myBook.to/Daughterofhauk
Son of Corse: myBook.to/sonofcorse
Wielder of Tiren: myBook.to/WielderofTiren
The Raven Chronicles: myBook.to/theravenchronicles
Guarding Charon: myBook.to/guardingcharon
Guarding Amber: mybook.to/guardingamber
Guarding William: mybook.to/guardingwilliam
Arine’s Sanctuary: myBook.to/arinessanctuary
Kick the Can: myBook.to/kickthecan
Looking At The Light: myBook.to/lookingatthelight
A Stab at the Dark: myBook.to/astabatthedark
The Rose Box: myBook.to/therosebox
Challenges Met: myBook.to/challengesmet
Fin’s Magic: myBook.to/finsmagic
Alaric’s Bow: myBook.to/alaricsbow
Emile’s Blade: myBook.to/emilesblade
Amari: Three Tales of Love and Triumph: myBook.to/amari1
Mark of the Successor: myBook.to/markofthesuccessor
Consort of the Successor: myBook.to/consortofthesuccessor
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