Most people go through at least one bout of insomnia in their lifetime, and for us writer folk, these bouts seem pretty common. I personally struggle with frequent bouts of insomnia followed by brief periods of oversleeping, and have for most of my life. It’s a lot better now than it used to be, but I still struggle to fall asleep before 2AM most nights.
Of course, insomnia isn’t the only thing that can cause exhaustion. Working too much, spending your free time with toxic people, job hunting, apartment hunting, these things tax your mind and soul. Mental illness and a variety of other disabilities also bring frequent exhaustion.
When we’re exhausted, sometimes we have to admit that we’ve been pushing ourselves way too hard and take a few days off. But I find that more often I only need to take an hour or two out of my day, and I can refill the creative well enough to make at least a little bit of progress on my current writing projects. When I’m able to fully control my own schedule–which, as a freelancer, is most of the time–I even build a full hour of recharge time into my day. This time is separate from my meal time, and I use it for several different things, all designed to boost my creativity in different ways.
Everyone’s different, so you might find that none of these activities help you, but they’re all worth trying.
There are as many ways to boost your creativity as there are writers. Here are a few things that have worked for me:
I lumped these two together because I do both in the same hour. A few stretches and even 5-10 minutes of meditation gives me a huge boost when I’m running low on sleep. There is energy all around you, giving life to everything on this earth. Meditation is a great way to tap into it. It can’t completely replace sleep but it helps.
2. Read books
When I haven’t slept much I don’t want to do much walking. Or much that requires physical energy. So I curl up with a good book, usually in the backyard if it’s a nice day. Most of the time I end up itching to get back to my writing. When I don’t, I spend a day with a good book–something every writer should do once in a while.
Cleaning is a good way to let your mind relax. When I’m worn down from a few days without proper sleep, I don’t want to go out, but I do want to clean house. Getting up to sweep will give your body some energy and having a clean workspace will make you more eager to stay there.
Sometimes only actual sleep will help. Most people nap for half an hour, but my bouts of insomnia are pretty severe so when I do nap I usually give myself a full sleep cycle (approximately an hour and a half). Remember to give yourself an extra few minutes for the process of actually falling asleep.
Keeping the creative torch lit
There are days when all the creativity boosters in the world can’t get you up to your normal productivity level. You may feel like a failure on these days, but everyone has them, and it’s totally okay. Be gentle with yourself, and commit to getting more rest than normal–but also figure out how to maximize the energy you do have.
When I’m struggling with insomnia, I often go to bed early or nap through a large portion of my normal work day, but I always get something done. I’ve even created a prioritized list of things I can do when I’m exhausted, so I don’t have to think about decisions when I’m exhausted. If you struggle with chronic insomnia or frequent fatigue you may want to do the same.
Here are a few strategies I use to maximize my creative energy on bad days:
1. Set a minimum activity goal.
It might be a page on your current project each day. Maybe it’s only 50 words each day when you’re particularly exhausted. Choose a minimum amount of work you’ll be satisfied with, and don’t force yourself to work past it. Producing quality work is more important than the quantity(unless it’s Nanowrimo).
2. Focus on shorter projects.
When you’re tired, it’s difficult to face a novel. Writing–or rewriting–a book is daunting. Focus on shorter projects like blog posts and you’ll feel much less overwhelmed. When I’m tired I’ll often commit to just a brainstorm or an outline and end up drafting three blog posts. By the way, did you notice how I said drafting? I don’t publish anything I’ve written in this state without intense editing.
3. Write on paper.
If you haven’t been sleeping well computer glare can be quite painful. Writing on paper is easier on the eyes. It also stimulates different areas of the brain, encouraging new types of creativity. At least, making the switch to paper always gives me fresh ideas–and saves me from posting garbage. After all, I have to type it up before it can be published, which means the editing process is built right in.
4. Research markets.
You don’t need much creative energy to research writing markets. This is also a good time to do any other research you’re interested in or might have to do for an upcoming project. Taking notes is easy, feels productive and often leads to new ideas.
Do you struggle with frequent exhaustion? Have you developed your own strategies for dealing with it? Tell me about it in the comments section below!