I don’t know why I’m even asking. Of course you are. We all are.
I begin this post very late at night at the end of a very long day. This was one of those long stretches of daylight during which everything that could have gone wrong did just that — the dog decided naps are overrated, my microphone stopped working the one day of the week I needed to record something, every writer seemed to turn in work that needed twice the amount of edits that are normally required (hey, writers in general — follow directions, please, please, please).
Needless to say: I am very, very tired.
I’m that kind of tired where your body starts to hurt just to remind you it’s tired. I’m having a hard time focusing. I would give anything to sit down with a good book and spend the next 30 minutes reading, 20 of which I will spend reading the same page over and over because I won’t be able to keep myself awake.
Mind you, I did not simply leave my day job and proceed to put off my writing responsibilities in favor of leisure time. I, probably like you, had to come home and “adult.” You can think whatever you want about that term, but it’s a very real way to sum up all the responsibilities we have outside of our work and social lives. We all do it, and we all do the same things. Errands. [Fur] Child care. Cooking, cleaning, you know … adulting.
Most if not all aspiring writers have to deal with the added stress of going to work all day, coming home, doing random things that need to be done, and THEN debating whether or not they still have the energy to write … and whether or not they should push themselves to write anyway.
Why am I writing all this right now despite my long and exhausting day? Because I made a commitment to this blog and I take it very seriously. That is my motivation, though sadly “commitment” alone doesn’t work for everyone.
Are you constantly struggling to write because you lack the energy and/or focus to do it after you return home from a long day of obligations?
Here’s what you might be able to do to get more writing done without feeling totally drained all the time.
Start by deciding what you actually want to accomplish. You might have a goal as specific as writing a book, or you might just want to write and don’t feel you have the time. What has helped me more than anything this year is having a very specific, pre-determined milestone in place that I can work toward at the beginning of every writing session.
For now, don’t worry about when or how often you are going to write — we’ll get to that in a minute. Start with “every writing session, I will …” and go from there.
Some people (such as myself) select their “by session” writing goals based on word count. Others count pages or measure their progress in chapters. You can very easily set a time based goal — “I will write for 30 minutes every night before dinner.” That’s a little trickier because a writer doesn’t typically spend every minute of their writing time actually writing, but you can factor that in if you want. It’s really up to you.
The point is to have a rough plan and know what you’re getting into before you begin writing. Sometimes you set a goal to hit 500 words and just barely make it — but you make it, and that feels good. Other times you say you’re going to go to 500 and end up writing 1500 or 2000 because you get into a flow state and struggle to STOP writing.
Set that one goal. For me, right now, it’s getting this blog post done so I can move on to other life commitments. For you it might be finishing up an article for a client or getting just one chapter of your book written. It can be a big goal, it can be a small goal. It should be whatever you can handle — the absolute minimum if necessary. There is a time for pushing yourself and a time for settling for the lowest tier of accomplishment. There is nothing wrong with that.
Set specific days for writing and others for not writing. There are probably some nights throughout the week or weekend that are slightly easier or more convenient for you to write than others. I, for example, hate writing on Friday nights because by that point I’m dead tired and don’t want to think. Thursday nights are also tricky because we typically record our podcast that evening. But Tuesdays and Wednesdays? I almost always get my writing done those nights. And so I plan ahead for those nights, and cut myself some slack on others.
What you don’t want to do is come home on Thursday and say “I’ll write tomorrow” and continue to say “I’ll write tomorrow” for the next three weeks (it happens to the best of us). There tends to be a lot of guilt associated with this type of procrastination, and that’s not going to help you fix the source of the problem. It’s just going to make it even harder to execute.
So if you know you’re not going to write on Thursday anyway, don’t even plan on it. Don’t add any more pressure or stress to your life. But DO pick at least two or three days when you are going to fully commit to writing when it is most convenient for you. It may still not be all that convenient, but it’s at least possible. Work with that. If you start your Tuesday knowing it’s a writing day, you might do things a little differently to prepare for your long evening ahead.
Why is this helpful energy-wise? Because you know there are days you are “allowed” to rest and relax and days that’s not going to be as easy to do. Tonight I knew I was going to have to hit the keyboard hard, but tomorrow I might be able to finish up work a few hours early and chill. It’s something I look forward to and makes this total energy zap not quite as frustrating.
Is it a writing day? See if others will work with you to make it easier. Here’s the other reason I recommend having scheduled writing days: It’s easier to rearrange your life when you’re doing it on a schedule. You might not be able to spend three hours a night away from your partner/kids/dog/other pleasures/responsibilities. But it’s very possible you could spend one, maybe even two focusing only on writing, if time allows.
You might be extremely lucky and work for a manager/boss/company that lets you work an extra hour or two over a span of four days so you can leave early on a fifth day. Or maybe you and your partner can sit down and say, “I’ll be writing this night and this night every week, but on Friday nights, I’m all yours.” Perhaps you can simply tell your friends you’re unavailable for lunch or dinner on a writing day — is there another day that works for them instead?
You might be surprised that some people can actually work with you and be flexible if you treat your writing like “work” and ask to have a schedule. It’s not always the case, and if it’s not for you, that’s okay — it’s the way it is and there might be other things you can do instead. But it never hurts to try, or to ask.
Can you summon energy you don’t have? My “confession” is not actually a shocking secret: I drink too much coffee and it is not good for me. Coffee in tandem with my extreme, borderline unhealthy stubbornness is the main reason why it’s almost 10 p.m. and I’m still writing. I do not have the energy to write, but I do have a nice legal chemical that makes me feel like I do, and that comes in handy.
It is extremely frustrating when you want to write but don’t feel physically or mentally able to do so. I think more people struggle with this than we’re aware of. Things like work and social/family life put extreme pressure on us to go above and beyond in every aspect of our existence. When you’re also a creative human with big dreams, it’s so much harder to balance everything while also promising yourself you are going to write even if it kills you (okay, maybe not that extreme).
My suggestion is to read my post about only committing to the amount of writing you can handle. I think there’s a big misconception that when we write we have to go ALL OUT in terms of production volume or it doesn’t count — I have fallen prey to this exaggeration dozens of times and it’s just not helping anyone. It’s important to realize that any writing you do in your life matters, even if you only write 500 words a day. Five hundred words a day will, eventually, make a novel. It might take a while, but you will get there.
The point is that only you can determine how much writing you can fit into your life. Maybe it’s a lot (though hopefully not 1 million words in 365 days because honestly … don’t do that, do not do as I do). Your productivity limit is specific to you and you alone. No matter what you can handle, decide what you do have the energy to produce and strive only for that. Do not look at this as a failure or “falling behind.” Look at it as what you can afford to dedicate to your writing journey right here, right now.
Should you write when you are tired? It depends on the kind of writing you are doing, who it’s for, and your willingness to commit to some possible extra rewriting and/or editing later.
I’ve had people tell me writing when you’re tired is a waste of time because “you’ll only have to fix all your mistakes later.” I get that, to a point. But the way I see it, in some cases anyway, is that you’re going to have to do rewrites and edits anyway. No, you shouldn’t write when you’re too tired to see straight, but I don’t think “I don’t want to spend 200 hours editing later” is necessarily a great excuse.
I do not typically write articles for clients when it’s late at night and I’m struggling to stay awake. I don’t necessarily like writing blog posts at that stage of tired either, but sometimes I don’t have a choice. I do, however, write fiction when I am tired. My thought process: It’s already a rough draft, it’s not supposed to be perfect and I’m still getting the basic story out, so the fact that I’m tired while writing really doesn’t matter.
If you’re frustrated because you’re trying to do work for clients and you’re afraid you can’t do your best quality work during the week, I would suggest either considering weekend work hours or evaluating how many commitments you can handle. Some people just can’t juggle a day job and side hustles. There’s nothing “wrong” with you if you can’t. That kind of life is not for everyone. If you can’t force it, don’t. It’s not worth it. The money might be, but you have to take your health into consideration too here. Sleep deprived writing might be okay for a day or two, but if you try doing it all the time, you’re going to end up hurting yourself. I say this from personal experience. Be kind to your mind, and your body. Please.
This post is getting pretty long — and, remember, I’m tired! — and I know for a fact I haven’t covered all of the questions/concerns you probably have on this topic. So if there’s something in this area that you are struggling with that I haven’t addressed here, please leave me a note down below and I will either add it in here or create a second post about this. I’m here to help! Let me know how I can help.
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.