I worry myself sick over it! Not really, but like most of us, I don’t do enough for my well-being. It’s a challenge I need to work on. Sleep, exercise, and quiet are key, and I need more of all three. I’m generally a worrier, so I’m training myself to let go of that where it’s pointless, and to listen to my lovely wife when she reminds me I’m obsessing over “what if’s?” For sleep, I turn in early with a book, and put on white, pink or brown noise. When I need to read a paragraph twice, I put on an eyemask, turn off the light, and drift off easily. When I wake a few hours later, and I always do, I repeat the process.
For exercise, there’s lots of stretching, some light weight workouts, a rowing machine at the gym, a few weight machines. Walking with an audiobook. I know that the fatigue from workouts can help me sleep.
Quiet is a goal. Of course, we live in an age of instant distraction, and it’s a cliché to blame it all on screens, but they do keep us engaged in passive, shallow ways. With a kind of noise.
I do try to fight that, and remain connected to more profound inspiration — by reading and rereading authors whose work speaks deeply to me.
2. Why Sleep Matters?
As a songwriter it was not uncommon to record and mix for twenty hours straight in the studio. After the 11th, I began to fall in love with everything but think it could be better than really, really good, but great — if I just kept at it awhile longer. Delusions set in, with diminishing returns. Quality suffered. The same with writing fiction, or screenplays.
These are low-stakes scenarios. It’s frightening to imagine that doctors are underperforming while exhausted from the legendary lengths of their shifts. And certainly we’re all becoming more aware of the costs of sleep deprivation on our highways. We know now that deprivation impairs judgement generally, and a longer list: memory, emotional balance, motor control, cognitive functions: all suffer.
People believe stamina and hours worked are the way to success. It’s dangerous.
I’ve noticed my ability to handle stress diminishes with deprivation, quickly. Focus is hard to achieve and maintain. I’m less in control of my emotions, and feelings of fear and sadness become outsized — less than appropriate or proportional. I’ve had what I think are micro-sleep episodes, and one found me in an intersection making a left-hand turn through a red light, horns blaring, tires screeching around me. I avoid driving when I’m over-tired now. Just as I pay attention to my fatigue when working, because I know about the diminishing returns, which can accumulate.
There are issues in every life that are unresolvable. We are all variously haunted by what we should or shouldn’t have done, or by events that were traumatic, and we defuse overwhelming emotion connected to those unresolved experiences when we dream. Without sleep, and so without dreams, the emotions can overwhelm us all over again.
On the plus side, I’ve come to depend on sleep for creativity. I write in my head while I’m falling asleep, and half-asleep while waking. Phrases occur to me, and solutions to writing problems I wouldn’t let myself consider when fully awake. Some call it ARISE (Adaptive Regression In the Service of the Ego), a term in psychology which relates to idea of accessing the unconscious without being overwhelmed by it.
I’m leery of calling it inspiration — I think instead it’s about letting go of the self-editing process.
3. Success Story?
I feel torn about having a success story at all. Aside from marrying well, I feel like the jury is out on I’m whether or not I’m a success. And I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up.
Am I reinventing myself, as artists do? Or trying to achieve authenticity? Are they different?
As a college student, I was selected to be a candidate for the college nomination for a Rhodes Scholarship. Didn’t get it. As a poet, I was published early in an anthology edited by mentor and Poet Laureate Robert Hayden, and then soundly rejected by poetry magazines everywhere.
As a songwriter way back, I had lots of good luck, with songs recorded by Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson, and in the Top Gun film and soundtrack album, and lots of others, and had well-paying music publishing contracts, but then no luck for many years, and no contracts, so I decided to fail at something new: screenplays.
More good luck. My third script was an adaptation of a novel I wrote, WINGED CREATURES. The novel dealt with the aftermath of a random shooting, and how the survivors variously coped, or failed to, with the horrific trauma of what they had lived through, in the week that followed, after the cameras went home.
We had a neighbor move in next door, film director Frank Coraci, who directed Adam Sandler comedies, and I knew he was just perfect for my dark, ensemble art film (not at all!). When he loosened my grasp on his ankle, he agreed to read the script and to both our relief, liked it — enough to hand out to a few friends, one who became the producer.
It took years, and I began to doubt the producer’s reassurances. Finally, on the first shooting day, I drove to the set, and stoppedto watch from afar and imagined for a moment that the producer had hired actors and trailers and cameras to make it appear the film was happening to keep me optioning the rights to him for free. But it was happening, with Forest Whitaker, Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Kate Beckinsale, Josh Hutcherson, Jennifer Hudson and others. Great luck, signed with a big agency, got some studio writing jobs. Then the film came out, poorly reviewed, though the novel was much more well-received. By any measure the film wasn’t a success, though the fact it got made at all might be considered one. I guess that why I’m torn: is it a success story?
My screenwriting career foundered; the film didn’t find a big audience, and it hit hard and shook my confidence, which is always a result of how I regard my own abilities, but necessarily how others regard them, too. And though others still believed me capable, I struggled with doubt.
More good and bad news followed. My wife and I pitched our version of a libretto for Anne Rice’s CRY TO HEAVEN, and got the job, commissioned by Seattle 5th Avenue theatre, one the largest venues in the country. The staged readings went beautifully! When will the musical go into production? No idea, so arguably not a success.
More bad news, good news: I had been writing a novel, DEPRIVATION,
that imagines a town struck by insomnia for weeks, and the craziness and violence that result. This one was rejected over the course of years by fifteen or so publishers. Until I put it in a drawer for a while, took it out after a few years to show to a new friend who liked the idea, rewrote and resubmitted to indie publishers. Two wanted it. It will be published in January 2020.
Some of us are talented, some have little talent but believe they do, in a kind of denial. I’m still trying to figure out which one I am: tenacious, or in denial!
Born in New York and educated at Beloit College in Wisconsin, Roy has been Associate Editor for the nationally renowned Beloit Poetry Journal, and for the national desk of The New York Times.
He received a Master’s Degree in English Literature from the University of Michigan, where he wrote and directed “Persona Non Grata,” an Ann Arbor International Film Festival prize winner.
As a graduate student of poetry, Roy’s work was among those selected by Poet Laureate Robert Hayden for inclusion in the year’s BEST AMERICAN POETRY anthology.
As a songwriter, Roy has written for Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Smokey Robinson, Gloria Estefan, Alan Jackson and many others, while under exclusive contracts to Warner Brothers and EMI Music. He’s received numerous BMI Most Performed Song Awards, Million Performance Awards, and gold and platinum certifications, with songs in the “top ten” on the Billboard charts, and featured in such films as Top Gun, and Donnie Brasco,
As a screenwriter, Roy has written for DreamWorks (Salvati), Warner Brothers and Sony (Winged Creatures), and with Debrah Neal for Fox Searchlight (Frontin’).
As a novelist, Roy wrote WINGED CREATURES (St. Martin’s Press, 2008). Published in five languages, the novel was one of five fiction finalists for the Southern California Independent Bookseller’s award 2009. He adapted it for the 2009 feature film (re-titled Fragments), starring Academy Award winners Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson, Josh Hutcherson, Kate Beckinsale, Guy Pearce, Dakota Fanning, Walt Goggins.
Continuing projects include Mercy Road, an action / drama shining on a light on the international trade in counterfeit medicine. Matt Berenson (Place Beyond the Pines, Secret in their Eyes) is producing.
Most recently, Seattle 5th Avenue Theater has commissioned Roy and his wife Debrah Neal to adapt Anne Rice’s CRY TO HEAVEN for the stage. Roy’s upcoming novel DEPRIVATION will be published by Meerkat Press. For more information, visit: royfreirich.com