Writing While Exhausted (Reader Request!)
Hello, dear and gentle reader. Last time, I asked if there were any topics you were interested in, and a few of you mentioned “writing while exhausted.” Thus, here it is. A newsletter about writing while being exhausted.
If you’re new to my newsletter, please know that I like to share stories about the writing life while understanding that you know your situation best. There’s no possible way I can jump through the Internet like a magical fae creature and sprinkle glitter dust to whisk you away. I am deeply sorry I am unable to do that, but I trust you to take what you need and leave the rest.
Sometimes, writer’s block is complicated. Subconsciously, you may not be writing because you’re protecting your mental health. Writing is deeply tied to your health, and when your mental health is less than ideal? The words can and do reflect that. Maybe you find yourself repeating the same scene over and over in different ways. Maybe it takes more than one draft. Maybe you write slower or you have to change your habits. Maybe your beautiful, neurodiverse brain needs something you’ve been neglecting to feed it.
Sometimes, though, maybe you don’t know you're exhausted and burnt out, and the reason why you’re struggling to write is because you need rest. In the Midwest, we call this “Midwestern fine.” You pretend everything’s fabulous—because who wants to hear about the sordid details of your life—but inside you’re screaming. Over time, you get really good at ignoring the truth and then forget all the reasons why you’re exhausted.
I don't know if you recall this, but even if you feel like you’re lonely or isolated—you are a human being on a planet with nigh 8 billion people. You’re never truly alone. Not really. You have, however, forgotten that you’re part of one or more communities and, in the forgetting, you’ve internalized shame. You’ve convinced yourself that you shouldn’t feel exhausted, you should be writing every day, you shouldn’t care about [enter horrific news here] so deeply, you should exercise more, you should be making more money, you shouldn't, you should, you shouldn't.
That word: should. That’s the root of so many problems. Because that word comes from a place of judgement. And hoo, my dear and gentle reader, the creator’s world is full of them. The judgement about...
...how much time we should spend making art.
...what we share/don’t about our identity.
…what we’re learning/exploring about our identity.
...our social media followers.
...our word count.
...our submission status.
...what we should be making.
...what we shouldn't make.
...how we should monetize.
...how we should be grateful.
...how we should never have a bad day.
...and so on!
In my experience, those judgements get tangled the longer you encounter them. There are a lot of off-the-cuff opinions shared on social media just as much as thoughtful posts, and it can be hard to deal with so many of them.
So, what are you supposed to do? Right now, I imagine you either have contractual obligations or you don’t. Here’s some things to think about. You might mix and match these tips or create your own path—whatever works for you is absolutely what’s best!
If you must keep creating even though you’re exhausted, think about ways to acknowledge and compartmentalize what you’re dealing with. Here’s a sample path:
1. Acknowledge you are exhausted. I know you’re probably sick of hearing “embrace your authentic self” because not everyone gets to be authentic. Here, I define authenticity as “accepting your state of being.”
2. Recognize your exhaustion isn’t mathematical. If you live in the West, you might feel the urge to resolve your exhaustion immediately because something, something personal responsibility and expensive healthcare. Sometimes, we go through things in life that can’t be plugged into a website or calculator. What you might think is a “solution” may be a warning or detour. You don’t need to “fix yourself.” You’re not a machine that broke down. You’re a person who’s going through some shit. Exhaustion is a state of being that affects multiple systems!
3. Remember what conditions help you create. This bit is going to be uniquely personal to you. Do you remember those moments you wrote consistently and happily typed “The End.” What were you wearing? What location did you write in? What tools did you have? Music? Food? Etc. Re-create the conditions when you were the most productive to inspire you.
4. Plan for additional time. If it takes you twice as long to write while exhausted, then it takes you twice as long. You’re not a shitty writer just because you need more time. If you need that time and you don’t have it, either ask for it or consider saying “No, I can’t finish this at this time.” I promise you there will be other opportunities in the future—your career doesn’t hang on “one” contract.
5. Exercise self-compassion. Remember all of those judgements I mentioned you’re dealing with? If you don’t have the time to unlock yourself from them, please exercise patience while you’re writing in this state. It isn’t easy, and though it may be necessary? It’s still challenging AF.
If you have the time to stop creating, you might be able to focus wholly on restoration. Your path might look like:
1. Rest. If you feel guilty about resting, rest some more. Rinse, repeat. Did I mention you were doing too much?
2. Make a mess. After you’ve taken a nap (or three), take a moment and play with a new medium. Get away from the words, completely, and make a glorious mess. Make bad art. Make something your six-year-old self would’ve loved. Make Halloween sugar cookies—whatever! Get away from the words, and find something else to do.
3. Name those judgements. I don’t know what kind of judgements you’re dealing with in your life, but I’ve found the best way of dealing with them is to identify what they are, be angry about them, then disconnect them. For example, you might be p’oed about the business mechanisms of making art and/or late stage capitalism run amuck. Art should be free. Art should be expensive. Your art can only be expensive if it looks like [insert style here]. Why aren’t you Neil Gaiman? And so on, and so forth.
4. Reclaim your words. I cannot underline/stress/highlight this one enough. If you have the time to do it, recognizing that every writer’s situation is different, carve space out and write for yourself. Write something, even if it’s small like a haiku or a creative want ad, just for you that no one else sees. When you do that? When you just write for yourself? You remove all judgements except your own.
Keep writing for yourself as time allows. Eventually, you’ll realize that one of the reasons why you’re exhausted is because you’ve neglected yourself in some way. I don’t know “which” way that is, but there’s something you’ve ignored. The act of writing for you helps you reclaim that.
5. Let your recovery unfold. I cannot stress this enough: if you have the time to heal and you don’t have to write, don’t force your recovery. It happens when it happens and it’s different for everyone.
In my experience, the deeper the exhaustion, the more healing you need. It isn’t something you “get over”—that, too, comes from that place of judgement and, by now, you should know how I feel about those. All the F-bombs!
So, there you have it! A follow-up to my Gen Con Writing Symposium about writing while exhausted. I hope it helps you find the means to help yourself. It isn’t easy to write while exhausted, but it is crucial that you recognize it. After all, the deeper the exhaustion, the more challenging it will be to deal with eventual burnout.
How do you feel about this letter? Any guidance to share with your peers?
Thanks for reading Monica's Marvelous Musings! Subscribe for free to receive new posts, announcements, and support my creative works. Be well!