Fend off Writer’s Fatigue

JordanWriting. Practice.7 Comments

Last week I wrote to the writers who need the reminder to sit butt in chair. This week I speak to those of you who probably need to get your butt off the chair.

For the writer who lives to write, it can be alarming to find yourself in a place where writing feels like work. And I’m not talking about those times when inspiration wheels away from you like a startled bird, but the times when you’ve worked yourself a little too hard, by choice or obligation and the pleasure is all but gone. You may be experiencing writer’s fatigue.

Writer’s fatigue can happen for a number of reasons: you’re working on a long haul project that requires commitment and a daily mustering of energy; deadlines press; you are an indie-publisher and have made your writing into a business; or the most common one—you just put a lot of pressure on yourself to be productive.

Fatigue can take many forms. For me I know I’m on empty when even my usually joyful fiction writing feels like work. When my brain resembles a dry creek-bed, empty of ideas. Or when my usually focused mind acts like a fly trapped in a windowsill and I can’t think straight.

The obvious answer to fatigue is to take a break. But how, Especially if deadlines loom? Here are some strategies, from small to big, to give yourself a rest.

Small, in-the-moment Breaks:

  • Refresh your eyes with images: You’re using the small black squiggles too much. Brains get tired of meaning making and language construction. Go look at a magazine with shiny photos. Gaze out your window at trees or your garden. Let your eyes go unfocused, if possible. If you are done working and can take the break, put on a quick show. Go stroll through a local art gallery.
  • Deprivation: The eyes may be windows to the soul, but they’re also windows to your to-do list and your self-doubts. Try a little visual deprivation. Close your eyes altogether for as little as a minute, with no obligation to think. Just breathe. Take it up a notch and close them while lying in the sun, smell essential oils, dip your feet in hot water.
  • Feed Me: Overachievers often forget or fail to eat because they become absorbed in work. Don’t forget to tend to your body; it’s the vehicle you’re going to need to permanently rely upon to get your work done.
  • Stretch: Sometimes the very position you’ve been keeping as you write is contributing to your fatigue. Changing positions, walking around your office, or simply standing up can shift your mental as well as physical energy.
  • Laugh: Laughter has been shown to help injuries heal faster and provide instant mood lifting. Keep a funny show or comic or friend handy (though no locking people in closets!) for comic relief. It can make all the difference.

Breaks with Preparation:

  • Shift: Sometimes when you’re working yourself into a lather on a project, you just need to allow yourself a day off. Not necessarily off work itself, but to take a break from your writing routine. Consider writing every other day until you feel your energy return.
  • Play: Hang out with animals and children. Both like to play, most of the time, and are usually appreciative of your attention. They also are not big fans of work, and can remind you to lighten up on yourself.
  • Restore: I will come back to this as a suggestion for almost all that ails you. Nature is, quite simply, the great restorative. You don’t have to book at trip to the seaside or hike the Andes. You can walk under some trees in your neighborhood, or

Bigger Picture Breaks:

  • Sleep. Make sure you get enough. I can’t say this enough. Do NOT sacrifice your sleep for your writing. The vehicle has to be kept running. Lack of sleep is a guaranteed way to run yourself into the ground. If you can nap during the day, do it. The ideal length of a power nap is 17 minutes 😉
  • Retreat. Okay, so when possible, if you can, schedule real down time away from your office and your obligations. Even just a day will do, more is better. Whether you hook up with an actual planned retreat in a gorgeous location, or you take yourself on a day-hike, it doesn’t matter. The results will be the same.

If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or sign up for my newsletter. Also check out my books: Night Oracle, Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time and, Forged in Grace. And check out my Plot & Scene Writing Retreat with Martha Alderson at the Mt. Madonna Retreat Center, May 1-3, 2015.

Creative Commons License
Photo, “Post-Gala Exhaustion” by Keturah Stickann, at Flickr, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.

JordanFend off Writer’s Fatigue

7 Comments on “Fend off Writer’s Fatigue”

  1. D. Scott Meek

    I’m there. I have written almost nothing in weeks, almost nothing this year. Blame my increasing efforts to try and market and build interest. Blame all the plans to get married this year. Now we’re trying to fix up and sell the house. And now I have a new position at work. There’s only so much energy to go around. Plus I feel really pressured to get things finished and out the door, not to mention I have like seven novel projects just sitting on my porch, knocking on my front door. Erg! I need more quiet time. I need the world to go away for a little while so Stella can get her groove back.

  2. Rosanne Bane

    Hi Jordan,
    We write on similar, but not identical topics, so I’d like to trade posts with you. That is, you guest post on my blog and I’ll guest post on yours. That way, our readers get a new perspective. If you’re interested, check out my blog at BaneOfYourResistance.com and email me at Rosanne@RosanneBane.com

  3. Gina Stoneheart

    Great tips, Jordan. Although I have yet to experience writer’s fatigue, I did, however, experience writer’s weight gain. I wanted to finish my novel within three months and I had to sacrifice my morning workouts for the price of my creativity. 20 pounds heavier and a manuscript finished, I was left with the fatigue of not being able to run on the treadmill until I got back into my groove.
    I think we go through stages, as authors. And most times, it’s hard to balance our time, especially if we have day jobs and households to cater to. I think we progressively learn as the journey continues.

    1. Jordan

      Gina, yes, I think that we do go through phases. I’ve been there with you, sacrificing exercise for writing. I find that even the tiniest bit of movement helps. Congrats to you for both finishing your manuscript and getting back in your groove! No small feat, either one.

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