It’s been a crazy few weeks for me lately. I’ve just put Trace to bed, I’ve just started a new job, and I’ve been managing my budget very closely because the new job means I skipped a paycheck in late October. So lately I’ve found myself sitting in front of the computer in the afternoons, staring at GoogleDocs or a text file, and just feeling way too exhausted to write anything.
It’s a little bit of a lie, because in that moment I’m not too exhausted to answer email, respond to the needs of the people I work with, cook dinner, or go see a movie or play. But anyone who’s a writer knows that it takes a different kind of energy to write as it does to do those things — it comes from some separate source, one that’s easy to drain, like we take energy from there first. For a while, I’ve been wanting to go over my techniques for getting over this weariness, and since National Novel Writing Month is coming up, I thought I’d share them here.
These are the ways I get past that fuzzy-headed, apathetic, weary feeling when I want to write.
1. Eat something. But not in front of the computer. When I want to revitalize a little I get up, walk away, get something to eat, and sit down somewhere else and just focus on refueling. It doesn’t have to be a meal, it can just be a banana or a bowl of popcorn, and obviously one shouldn’t do this frequently. But it helps to focus on something else, and the food can give you an energy kick.
2.Time yourself. Give yourself a brief time limit within which all you are allowed to do is either write or stare at the cursor. Staring forces you to think, but the limit means there’s an end in sight, so you know you’re not going to be staring endlessly. I prefer fifteen minutes, but even as little as five might help. And if staring’s all you do, that’s okay. You only had to do it for fifteen minutes today.
3. Go to a movie. I say “go” only because if you watch a movie it should be something you haven’t seen before. Twenty minutes into any film I see at the cinema, I’m dying to get back to writing. When I’m in a dark room with someone else controlling my input, I get twitchy. I do my best writing sometimes after seeing a movie. If you’re watching at home, you can even pause the film to start writing, and go back to it when you’re tired again.
4. Write something else. If you want to write but don’t want to write what you have to write, write something new in a new window for fifteen or twenty minutes. Sometimes it gives you the kickstart you need; sometimes it gives you something to avoid; sometimes it turns into something enjoyable and you can finish that and go there, I finished something.
5. Love what you write. You don’t have to love it all the time, but if you’re not engaged in the story you’re telling, why tell it? If you can find love even when you’re tired, it’s easier to keep writing. Re-reading, for those not obsessed by proofing, can also help. Find the scene you love, either written or unwritten, and re-read it, or dream it up like a fantasy. You don’t have to write every scene in order.
6. Do research. Researching what I’m writing always gives me new ideas, and if it doesn’t make you want to write, you’ve at least done something meaningful while waiting. It doesn’t even have to be on what you’re writing; wikiwandering is a great way to get ideas.
7. Find your time. Most people have a time of day when they’re at their peak and do their best writing. My pal Christian is experimenting with new times right now, but I recall a time when he got up at three in the morning to write, because it worked for him. Nameless was written entirely between the hours of ten pm and midnight. But your time can depend a lot on other aspects of your life, too. When I had more spare time, I could write anytime; right now my best writing gets done either mid-morning or late at night after I’ve had time to come down from the day. Don’t assume your “best time” is static, but once you find a time when you’re productive, try to work your schedule around it a little. Most of my actual work gets done later in the day now, because I schedule morning time to write. Everyone else at work is too sleepy to notice.
So those are the ways I cope.
I should get back to doing some of them again…