How to Write When … You’re Tired
This post is part of my ongoing “How to Write When…” series.
Are you tired today?
Perhaps you slept well, you’re full of energy, and you’re raring to go. But even if that’s the case today, you likely have days when you’re just feeling worn out.
Or maybe you’re tired today. Maybe it was a bad night. Perhaps you struggle with insomnia, or a child woke you up, or you’ve got so much to do that there simply aren’t enough hours to get the sleep you need.
It can be really tough to write when you’re tired. And if you’re just having one exhausted day, I’d definitely recommend you ease up on the writing and get some extra rest.
But if you’re often finding yourself tired—or if you have deadlines to meet and you need to keep writing regardless—then how can you push through tiredness and keep writing?
We’re going to run through some practical tips for writing when you’re tired, before taking a quick look at the bigger picture around tiredness.
#1: Set a Small and Achievable Writing Goal
A few weeks ago, I blogged about my fiction writing goals for 2023.
One of my goals is to write 250 (or more) words every day. I deliberately made that goal small. It’s something I can do even when it gets to 9pm and I feel like I don’t have any energy left. Often, the last thing I feel like doing is writing … but 250 words is do-able and I’m always glad that I’ve done it!
Could you set yourself a small, easy to achieve goal? You could have a minimum daily goal like mine, or you could simply set a goal for each day, taking into account your energy levels. On a good day, without other commitments, you might aim to write 1000 words. On a day when you’re really tired, 100 words might be a real achievement.
You can make your writing goals as tiny as you like. Things like:
- Write one sentence.
- Spend 5 minutes making notes for my scene-in-progress.
- Read over the previous chapter I wrote and write down 2 ideas to use in the next chapter.
#2: Use a Timer to Stay Focused
One of the things that I find hardest about being tired is that it can be so ridiculously easy to get distracted.
I’ll sit down, intending to write, but then find myself checking news headlines or scrolling aimlessly through Facebook. And the little bit of time I had for writing slips away.
Something that really helps me is to set a timer. I make the commitment to myself to write for, say, 10 minutes, I set my timer, and (most of the time) I get on with writing and stay focused. It’s also reassuring when I’m tired, because I can tell myself “I only have to do this for 10 minutes.”
I used to use Alexa for this, but I recently got a TickTime Cube, which I love. It’s incredibly easy to use: you simply flip the cube to set the timer (1, 3, 5, or 10 minutes). You can press to set a longer timer – e.g. flip to 10 minutes then press it to set a 20 minute timer, or press a second time to a 30 minute timer.
#3: Don’t Try to Write Something Difficult
When you’re tired, it’s probably not a great idea to tackle that hugely complex scene that brings together five different plotlines and ten characters. It’s also probably not the best moment to begin your multi-part, in-depth blog post series or the most harrowing chapter of your memoir.
If at all possible, find something easier to work on. That might mean skipping ahead to a different scene of your novel – or it could mean switching to another writing project entirely.
What if you are stuck with something difficult to write? Perhaps you need to finish a detailed piece for a client because you’re running up very close to the deadline. I find that, when I’m tired, it helps to break things down into little pieces. You could try doing more planning than you normally would, and then, when you write, focusing on one small section at a time.
#4: Be Ruthless About Switching Off Distractions
Life is full of distractions – and sometimes, you might find them fairly easy to ignore. When I’m deep into my freelance work in the morning, I can usually get a lot done with minimal checking of news headlines and social media!
When you’re tired, though, it’s so easy to get distracted. Perhaps your mind wanders and you find yourself staring at your phone without having made a conscious decision to pick it up. Or maybe you just can’t seem to concentrate for more than a sentence at a time before flicking to a new browser tab.
It’s always a good idea for writers to minimise distractions, but when you’re tired, that’s more crucial than ever. If at all possible, silence your phone, close unnecessary apps and tabs, and even consider switching off your wifi. Make it as easy as possible for you to stay focused.
You don’t have to do this for a long stretch of time: just switching everything off for 15 minutes is enough to make some real progress.
#5: Get Up and Move Around
A couple of days ago, I was feeling unusually tired in the late afternoon. I didn’t feel like doing the 20 minutes of exercise I’d planned: I felt like taking a very long nap! But I had some dark chocolate, got on my elliptical machine, and after my exercise and a shower, I felt much more awake and energetic – and that energy lasted all evening, so I managed to get my 250 words of fiction writing without it feeling like a huge drag.
You don’t need to do a full workout to get the benefits of movement. Simply standing up from your desk, stretching, and walking around your home for a few minutes could be enough to wake you up a bit. If you can get outside for a quick walk, even better.
Tackling Tiredness Over the Longer Term
If you’re tired because of a bad night’s sleep or an unusually busy few days, then hopefully your tiredness will resolve itself quickly. Feel free to skip this section!
But if you’re finding yourself feeling tired day after day, week after week, then any number of writing-related tips will only provide a surface fix.
This isn’t a medical blog, and I’m no doctor, so please don’t take anything I say here as medical advice. I just want to briefly share a few things that I’ve found helpful in reducing my tiredness levels: feel free to pick or choose any that sound like they could be useful for you, too.
Vitamin D Supplements
If you live somewhere that doesn’t get much sunlight in the winter months, you might need extra vitamin D. My doctor prescribed me a strong dose of vitamin D a few years ago (after a blood test, when I’d been feeling low and run down for a few weeks). Now, I take a vitamin D supplement most days, especially in the winter.
Having a Bedtime
One of the great things about being an adult is getting to set your own bedtime. If you’re feeling tired, having a specific bedtime (that allows you to get 7–9 hours of sleep) is a great idea. I know this might well be easier said than done – it’s tricky in the Luke household because our kids’ bedtimes have gradually become later over the years. But I’m making a real effort this month to stick as close as I can to my chosen bedtime, and it’s definitely helping.
Having “Winding Down” Time Before Bed
If you write in the evenings and you’re struggling to get to sleep, you might want to add in some time to simply relax between writing and going to bed. I know that if I write too late in the evening, my mind is racing when I get to bed and I’m still thinking about characters and plotlines and snippets of dialogue. Moving your writing a little earlier in the evening might help.
Avoiding Screens Very Near Bedtime
Sometimes, I find myself scrolling my phone in bed, when I should be going to sleep! It can be a nice way to unwind with something mindless – but I definitely sleep better if I avoid screens in the half hour or so before bed. It’ll probably be the same for you.
Getting Practical Support Where Possible
If you’re being kept awake by, say, a small child – then can you rope in some extra help? Maybe that means asking your partner to do more of the night-time wakeups, or asking them to have the kids first thing so you can have a lie-in. I know this isn’t always possible or practical … but even a little bit of extra help could make a big difference to your energy levels.
Making Sleep a Specific Goal
It might sound a little silly to have “sleep more” as a goal – but if this is something that’s a challenge for you, it’s absolutely worth making it something to aim for! One of the goals I’m focusing on this week is to get to bed on time each night: I’ve managed it three nights in a row so far.
Everything is harder when you’re tired – and writing is no exception!
It’s absolutely still worth writing, and I hope the tips we’ve covered will help you do that. But it’s also important to figure out if there are any practical ways to be less tired – not just for the sake of your writing but because you deserve to get enough rest.
Looking for more help making the most of the time you have, even when you’re tired? Supercharge Your Writing Session is packed with tips to help you stay focused and energised while you’re writing.
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
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