You’ve probably heard some variation of the idea that each of us has our own finite amount of daily energy that we can spend on various tasks.
Writers and other creators have the added complication of having to figure out how not to spend all their energy on the “essential” activities of their days to leave some left over for writing.
It’s OK if you’re not very good at this.
It turns out many of us aren’t. But here’s how you can try.
Writing requires effort, and effort is exhausting. There’s often this misconception that every time someone says “I can’t/don’t want to do this right now” it automatically means they’re being lazy. To be clear, as an editor I’ve met plenty of lazy writers who just don’t want to do the work. They do exist. But just because you don’t feel like putting in the effort is something you’re currently capable of doesn’t mean you’re slacking off.
Writing requires effort. Yes, you’re physically sitting in a chair or on a couch or on the floor (I don’t know how you write). But your brain is pretty much on fire (in a good way … hopefully). Creativity isn’t passive. You burn energy by thinking really hard about what you’re writing even if it seems to flow naturally from your head to your hands to the page.
Sometimes when you feel like you couldn’t possibly write another sentence, it’s because you’re worn out. You’ve spent your energy. You have no more.
How do you get it back? You rest. You stop writing, even if it’s just a 10-minute break.
Writing also isn’t the only thing you’ll spend energy on today. Possibly one of the most difficult things about being a writer is that writing is not your only responsibility. Most writers have day jobs in addition to their more personal works in progress. Many have families. Pets that need attention. Friends that they want to keep in touch with. Things that need cleaning and organizing. Lists that cannot be forgotten.
Writing is just one of the many things you need to spend your energy on. Which sometimes results in that “oh, I really don’t want to do this” feeling when it’s 8 p.m. and you still haven’t written anything yet and you know you should, but you’re just … so … tired.
Distributing energy evenly between tasks is almost never going to happen. The level of energy you have to give to certain things will change daily. Many writers struggle because routines often don’t stay the same on a regular basis, and not having the energy to write is one of the most frustrating roadblocks of all time.
Struggling to write because of ‘low energy’ is a valid problem. Let’s be honest here: Many of us live in a culture that often withholds comfort and relaxation in favor of productivity. I’m a victim of it. Maybe you are, too. One of the issues that’s arisen from this is that you almost can’t say “I don’t have the energy for that right now” without being severely judged for it.
It’s not that people’s opinions of you REALLY matters when it comes to the big picture. But we’re all human (presumably). We all want to be liked and respected and understood. It’s hard to admit you’re too exhausted to write knowing at least one person is going to tell you that you should “just get over it.”
For the record, I am, and always have been, an advocate for the “just write anyway” mentality when it comes to creativity. I don’t think giving up or avoiding a task out of pure exhaustion is usually the best outcome. But that doesn’t mean you can never sit down after a long day and say: “I’ll just write tomorrow.”
We’re not perfect, not a single one of us. Sometimes we can push ourselves to do just a little more. Sometimes we can’t. Whatever the outcome of our effort, none of it is true failure or a waste of time. “Failure” implies that you didn’t try, or were aware you were doing something wrong and did it anyway. Trying is not failure. Not succeeding is simply that.
If you don’t have the energy to write, don’t beat yourself up about not writing. Create a solution-focused approach to your problem, though. Ask yourself why you’re struggling to write. How you could have managed your energy better to spend more of it on writing. What can you do differently next time?
Be honest. Be resilient. But also be kind to yourself.
You deserve to rest.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.