It’s been a long day. A long week. A long month, really. I’m behind on basically every project possible, there’s a lot of external drama I have to co-exist with for the time being, and honestly, I’m starting to wonder if I set too many “challnging” writing goals for myself this year. Or … too many goals in general. It’s a bad habit. I know.
Right now I’m sitting at my desk trying my best to stay awake, knowing this post has to get done (even though, if we’re being honest, the world really wouldn’t end if it didn’t). Knowing that I’m risking writing Not a Great Blog Post, though the hope is that you come here for real talk and not perfection.
Real talk: I still haven’t learned how hard is too hard when it comes to pushing myself.
Real talk: I’m worried I can’t keep going at this pace … and also that if I slow down, I’ll never speed back up again.
I’ve been awake for nineteen hours. I want, and need, to go to bed.
But my brain won’t turn off. Ideas for articles and stories are floating casually around in my head simultaneously begging for my attention. And I really want to sit down and start working on some of them. I’m EXCITED to start writing. I feel more motivated to write All The Things than I have in a few weeks and it feels pretty great.
Just the thought of having to put in the effort to write anything beyond a blog post — and even this is barely coming together as it is — exhausts me even more. Which is almost unfair, because I know I shouldn’t be mad at myself for not feeling “up to” writing, but I can’t help it. Motivation often kicks in after you start working on something — it seems backwards, I know, but trust me — and to have it greet you before you start a task is such a delightful treat.
I can’t enjoy it if I’m falling asleep at my desk. Desperate to write, but physically spent beyond reversal. No amount of coffee could fix this now. The day is done. I’m done.
I know I’m not the only one who has ever dealt with this. And if you’re looking for some kind of reassurance amidst your frustration, well the good news is, you’ve stumbled upon the right blog.
One of the biggest mistakes writers make is expecting motivation to always strike before the work happens. This is a discovery I personally made by experience — training myself to write when I wasn’t “feeling motivated,” only to discover that once the writing started happening, the motivation, eight times out of ten, very soon followed.
The problem is, if you sit around and wait for motivation to somehow magically appear, you’re going to do a lot more waiting than writing. Motivation isn’t something you can necessarily summon, either — I’ve found that both motivation and inspiration tend to show up most often at unexpected and inconvenient moments, and that’s just something you, as a writer, sort of have to learn to deal with.
Not that this makes actively dealing with it any easier. Not even a little bit.
Because the last thing any writer wants is to FINALLY AT LONG LAST decide they’re ready and excited to sit down and work on something … only to realizing the timing is all wrong. Or you’re about to head out to go do something you’ve already committed to doing. Or there are just too many tasks taking priority over your desire to write and you feel like you’re going to have a hard time focusing on any of it now.
The worst, it seems, is feeling as though you have enough ideas to propel you forward creatively in the most blissful way, except you have seemingly no energy left in you to even consider writing any of it down.
There is, I am convinced, nothing — NOTHING — more frustrating than feeling motivated to write but having basically zero energy to follow through. And I’m not just talking about the “eh, I’d rather watch Netflix than do more work” kind of tired. I’m talking about the “took 25,000 steps today moving boxes, cleaning, chasing the dog, adulting adulting adulting” kind of tired.
The kind of tired that makes everything hurt. Even parts of your body you didn’t KNOW could hurt … they hurt.
Being physically exhausted but mentally wide awake is the strangest and most irritating thing that frequently happens to writers (and I suppose people in general).
So how do you deal with this particular form of frustration? The good news is, you have a choice in how you handle it, and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it.
You can either try to force yourself to write despite your physical exhaustion — some people will tell you never to do this; I say life is exhausting and if you never write when you’re tired, well, good luck getting anything written at all. You can also jot down your idea and possibly some notes, sleep on it, and pray you will wake up just as motivated to start writing as you were before you went to bed.
While it’s completely OK to force yourself to write sometimes, do take note that it’s not healthy to do so all the time. It’s healthy to push yourself. But not the point where you’re risking serious burnout because you’re working too much and not taking enough valuable time to rest and recharge.
Listen to your body and trust your gut. If you know you need to slow down or even take a writing hiatus (whether it’s for an evening or longer), take a break. And if you’re taking a lot of breaks because you’re just too exhausted to focus on your creative projects, there are clearly some things in your life that need more attention right now. It’s not a crime to set writing aside of focus on real-world responsibilities. You gotta do what you gotta do.
What I usually end up telling myself, in situations such as these, is that there is absolutely no harm in trying to get something written down. I should at least try. And if I do try and I know there’s no way I could possibly get anything of any sort of quality written in the state I’m in, then I can shut everything down and leave it for tomorrow. Unless I have a deadline, there is absolutely no harm in waiting.
Will my mind keep me up with more thoughts and ideas than I’m likely to handle? It’s possible. But most of the time, my always-running mind never keeps me awake as long as I think it will. And more often than not, when I do wake up again, the ideas are still there. Sometimes, the motivation is, too.
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.