You Won’t Write Your Best Stuff When You’re Tired and That’s OK

Stop trying to make perfect happen. It’s never going to happen.

Due to circumstances mostly out of my control, I was up way too late last night.

But I was writing, I swear. Work is work no matter the time of day. I sat at my desk pushing through every word that came to me until I hit my minimum goal for the day, and reaching it felt AMAZING.

Until my alarm went off this morning and I realized that what I had done may not have been the wisest way to go about achieving a writing goal.

It’s one thing to be tired but not really have to claw your way through it. It’s something different entirely when you have to, you know, use your brain and get things done and make it sound like you’re awake and excited for what you’re writing about! Even when you’d rather just be back in bed!

Why am I talking about being tired on a blog about writing? Because writing is tiring. Because life is tiring. And writers do not exist in a safe cozy bubble of optimal circumstances. Sometimes we have to write even when we’re not at our best, despite the fact that so many advice-givers have probably said something along the lines of “Don’t force yourself to write when you don’t feel like it — what a waste” once or twice.

Do I agree that the best times to write are the times you’re feeling healthy, energized, and motivated? Of course.

But the reality is, it’s not realistic to expect that you’re going to “feel like” writing every time you sit down to write. I still don’t feel like writing this blog post and I’ve already started it. That doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying it, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be terrible. At this particular moment, I’d just rather be doing something else. I had to make the active choice to say yes to work and no to whatever I might otherwise be doing right now.

So many aspiring writers — who desperately want to write — don’t get very far, if at all. Not because they can’t or don’t want to write, but because they expect writing to always fill them with a sense of joy and purpose. And this simply isn’t always the case.

I’m not saying you should write if it makes you miserable — writing should always leave you with a sense of fulfillment. But there are going to be days you just don’t want to regardless. You have to come into writing expecting that it’s not always going to feel amazing, though it will always be worth it in the end no matter what.

Writing is not this magic thing that takes away all your problems, aches, and worries. Writing is something you often have to do despite these things. And doing it when you’re sleepy sometimes feels like the hardest of all of them.

If you’ve been alive for quite some time, you may have noticed that being tired is sort of … normal … these days? I’m pretty sure an adult’s most used phrase is “I’m tired.” It’s our excuse for everything — and there are many days we really do end up feeling so tired we’re not sure how much longer we’re going to make it.

Unfortunately, even if you KNOW you shouldn’t use your exhaustion as an excuse not to write — you could just write anyway, right? — it’s likely you can’t help worrying about that, too.

If you’re too tired to write, but you proceed to write, will the words that end up on that page even make sense? Will they even end up usable? Or will you end up wasting more time than you thought you were saving because you’ll have to delete most of what you wrote in your sleep deprived state and rewrite it?

Is it better to stay creatively silent when it’s a struggle just to keep your eyes open and try for a fresh start tomorrow when you’re (hopefully) better rested?

I think that really depends on you and what you need to be rested and available for tomorrow (if anything). If I had thought through what I was doing last night, I would have realized how many deadlines I happened to have today and most likely would have gone to bed much earlier than I did.

Writing is important. But it is not always the MOST important thing in your life.

And if you do end up writing and you know it’s not your best work, well, is a first draft of anything worth much? You don’t always have to be at the top of your game to write content, whether it’s exceptional or not.

If you like to be at your best when you write, well … do more throughout your days and nights to make sure you’re feeling as close to your best as you can.

Let this also be a reminder to all you hard-working writers out there (myself included): GET SOME SLEEP. It matters. I don’t know about you, but my body cannot run on less than five hours of sleep the way it used to, and that becomes apparent with every step I take the day following a restless night. One day of extra struggling never hurt anyone, but don’t make this a habit.

Take care of yourself, always, above everything else. If you aren’t healthy, you can’t give your full attention to the things and people around you that need it most. Do what you have to do, but don’t make so many sacrifices that you end up burning yourself out. That’s not fun, nor is it helpful — to you or to anyone else!

Write when you have to. Push yourself, but not to the point of breaking. Do not do as I do, because if I’m being honest, I messed up and it’s going to bite me in the butt at least once before I make it back to my bed tonight.

Good luck. Do your best. Make good choices based on how you want to feel tomorrow. Probably.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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6 thoughts on “You Won’t Write Your Best Stuff When You’re Tired and That’s OK

  1. I love this. Life is truly exhausting at times, and I can always see it in my work when I’ve written during a tired time. But words are words, no matter how bad, and I can always edit them. This post is a great reminder that all writers go through this, and not to feel guilty when we’re too tired to write well. <3 xx

  2. I think one component is “recognizing the different types of writing work that one does, and which require more mental energy.”

    For me, few things compare with outlining and rough draft writing. Editing a story is a close second, but that initial phase of “figuring out what’s going to happen” is a highly demanding state.
    In contrast, updating my blog, studying (via books and articles on writing), and conducting an analysis of a story (as a learning exercise) require far less mental energy.

    I think another big piece of the puzzle is having some idea what tasks you want to tackle in a given week, and which day(s) you plan to dedicate to the more challenging ones. That way you can consider “today” in light of “tomorrow’s work.”

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