It’s November, and I am going to go out on a limb here and bet that there are a few tired writers out there. The days are short. School fatigue may be setting in. The holidays are just around the corner, with all the wonderful chaos they bring. And, on top of that, we’re about a third of the way through NaNoWriMo, and the glow may be wearing off. I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year, but it’s been a busy year, and these next few weeks will be busy as well. I’m tired, too!
The truth is, for most writers, being tired and spread too thin is a reality. We have full time jobs, families, second jobs, freelance work, and social engagements. We need time to read and fill the well. We need time to rest, and that makes writing time all the more precious. So what do you do when you’re tired, but need to write? Here’s a few tips to power through:
1) Take Stock
Every few years, I re-read Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s a fantastic book for writers. His first habit is “Begin With the End in Mind.” There is a power in knowing where you are going before you start walking somewhere. The same holds true for writing. If you’re tired, motivation is key. Before you begin to write, take a few minutes to figure out what you want to accomplish, not during this particular writing time, but this week, this month, this year. Keeping your bigger goals in mind will help you to accomplish the smaller task before you today.
Following along these lines, write down a specific goal for this writing session. It should be something ambitious, but attainable, and something that allows for your tired state! If you know you’re about to doze off, and it’s too late in the day to gulp coffee, don’t try to write 2,000 words. Success is motivating, and failure isn’t. Set a goal you can attain, but that pushes you enough that you’re proud to attain it. Then get to work. Who knows? You might surprise yourself and get to 2,000 words after all!
3) Eliminate Distractions
It’s been scientifically proven that resisting temptation fatigues us. Every time a blinking notification pops up on your phone or Facebook, and you choose to ignore it, you’re draining yourself a little more. Cut out the option by putting your phone on airplane mode, closing your internet browser or even turning off your Wifi altogether. My computer’s wifi actually quit working, and I decided to forgo fixing it. The internet will always be there, but writing time is precious!
4) Get Out of the House
Have you ever read the picture book “Five Minutes Peace?” It’s about a mom who just wants five minutes of peace and quiet, but her kiddos are going crazy. Whether or not you have kids, life is a storm and a distraction, especially at home. Sometimes, my roommate just comes in my room to talk, which is great, but if I’m in the middle of a writing sprint, I’m likely to lose my train of thought. Homes are also distracting because there is always work to be done at home, whether it’s cleaning or organizing or cooking your next meal. The home is full of temptations to resist, but you can avoid all that by throwing your laptop in a bag and heading to a coffee shop.
5) Create a Creative Environment
Going to a coffee shop can be an ideal way to work, but sometimes you’re just too tired, or you want to write in bed, or there’s only forty five minutes before your family comes home, and wasting fifteen minutes schlepping isn’t worth it. If you’re at home, combat creative fatigue by setting up your space for success. Shut the door. Paste your goal on the wall. Pop in headphones so you can focus on the screen and not what’s going on downstairs. Another thing that can add a little ambiance is lighting a candle or diffusing essential oils. It’s amazing how these little things can help you relax, focus and get excited about getting to work.
6) Change it Up
Do you ever get home from work and think “If I have to look at another screen I’m going to die?” Okay, maybe that’s a little over-dramatic, but we’re writers! We can be dramatic. And we can definitely feel the burn from looking at a screen all day. It’s not just computers. We’re always glancing at our phones, too. Our eyes don’t get a break! Sometimes that keeps me from writing at all. But! There’s hope! We have these wonderful appendages called hands, and this lovely invention called a pencil, and we can write with these things as well. This isn’t ideal for NaNoWriMo writers looking to hit a wordcount, but if it’s a choice between writing by hand and no writing at all, I think the choice is obvious. You can transcribe later. And, also, the act of writing by hand is different than writing on a computer. It forces you to slow down, to really think about each word. It’s a great exercise for drafting.
I’ll also go out on a limb here and recommend writing on a typewriter, too, if you have one. There is nothing quite so motivating as hearing that Ding! that tells you you’ve made it another line.
7) Take a Break
Writers can really run themselves ragged, and I think it’s important to remember that sometimes, you really do just need a break, even if you don’t make your word-count goal, or hit the deadline today. A few ideas for writerly breaks:
- Exercise: What? Yes. It seems a bit counter-intuitive, but exercise is so key for long-term health. It will make you more energized, sleep better, and is a great time to let the ideas flow. I really am not a huge fan of the gym, but I find my mind is clearer and my work more focused if I take a half hour out in the morning to go for a run. Another great idea is to buddy up! Some of my best writing talks have been on long walks with writing friends.
- Read: Because we’re writers and we need to! Because it’s fun! And motivating!
- Meditate: Quieting your mind and finding stillness in the midst of a busy day or season can keep you sane. Even if you only have a few moments, check out a guided meditation. There are tons of free apps and guides online.
- Surf the Web: This can be a great way to give your brain a break without leaving the computer desk, but the key is to set a timer and stick to it. Maybe say you’ll get to browse for fifteen minutes, but when those minutes are up, shut it down, and get back to work!
This one seems a bit obvious, but it’s so tempting to stay up late. Whether it’s to pound out words or just goof around. When I’m done writing, I sometimes stay up late doing important things like, uh, checking Instagram and scrolling through Netflix. The truth is our bodies crash without sleep, and even if we can get more done today, we’ll be useless tomorrow. Getting in a solid eight hours will do wonders for your writing time. We also need time for our brains to unwind after writing time. So set a promise to stop an hour before you go to bed, and take that time to really relax. Read a book, have a glass of tea, tidy up your space so you’re ready and refreshed to get back at it in the morning!
9) Find Other Writers
I love C.S. Lewis’ quote on friendship. “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” I think it is especially true for writers. Having someone you can talk to who understands the craziness that is the writing life can keep you sane. Also, having someone you can write alongside will help keep you motivated and on track, even if you’re dog tired. I’m a big fan of holing up in a coffee shop with a few writing friends, and doing regular check ins to see how everyone’s progress is going. If you don’t have writers in your area, this might be a good reason to forgo cutting off the WiFi, and hopping on Twitter instead. See if anyone is doing writing sprints! You’ll probably be able to find writers at pretty much any time, and the camaraderie is so energizing.
We’re writers. Most of us probably consumer large amounts of coffee or tea during the day (and maybe wine at night, too). It can be easy to forget to drink water. A lot of us are dehydrated without even knowing it! Drinking plenty of water will help keep your brain awake and your mind more focused. Water does get kind of boring though, so I like to change it up by cutting up fruit and throwing it in. You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel–I certainly was!
What helps you power through tired writing days? Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter, using the hashtag #DIYMFA. Thanks for stopping by, and happy writing!
Bess Cozby writes epic stories in expansive worlds from her tiny apartment in New York City. By day, she’s an Editor at Tor Books, and Web Editor for DIY MFA. Her work is represented by Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency. Tweet her at @besscozby, contact her at email@example.com, or visit her website at www.besscozby.com.