DO YOU SUFFER FROM THE TTW SYNDROME?
Writers often don’t write because of a widespread malady: the Too Tired to Write Syndrome (TTWS). Late at night, after three hours of primetime soaps/CIA adventures/sports/realities/80s reruns, we solemnly promise ourselves we’ll tackle our latest writing project early the next day. Or we solemnly assure ourselves, early in the new morning and jolted by a surge of caffeinated joy, we’ll write today between 3:00 and 4:00.
But then . . . you know what happens. The day and our conviction to write drown in the rest of our lives. With all we have to do, we’re just too tired.
It’s Not Fair!
And you find yourself thinking, It’s not fair! Here’s one woman writer’s litany. The details or order may change with your gender and circumstances, but the feelings (and rage) do not. You have to
Feed the kids
Ferry the kids
Clean the house
Clean the kids
Clean the clothes
Earn the bread
Make sure it’s whole grain
Cook the meals
Clean up after the meals
Keep the accounts
Keep the car running and gassed
Keep things neat
Keep yourself looking 23 (sure)
Keep up with all the relatives and friends
Keep your partner happy
Keep your mother happy
Keep your mother-in-law happy . . . .
No wonder you’re Too Tired to Write. But whenever you declare or swear It’s not fair! you’re telling yourself that you’re feeling like a victim.
Your Rescue From Victimitis
Want to escape victimitis? Asking Why me? and breathing those bitter
feelings of unfairness are signals to turn to those around you and ask Why
That is, ask yourself who else can share the duties of ferrying, feeding, cleaning, accounting, pleasing? Partner, older kids, friends, paid help?
We can create many resourceful ways to share duties and—horrors—to ignore some. Saying No to cleaning and friends’ invitations can be extremely liberating and give you the writing time you crave.
If you cry It’s not fair! you’re also saying you’re being unfair to yourself. You’re not honoring your passion, drive, and gifts for writing. I like writer Susan Black’s determination: “Nothing can stop my brain from pouring out what it contains.”
So, rescue your inner victim. How? Decide decide decide. What will really work for you to write?
Midnight and middle-of-the-night dark? (I’m too groggy, but many writers find the black quiet creatively invigorating.)
Early morning before work? (Not for me, but many writers savor the soothing dawn.)
Immediately after work, where you pull over and sit in the care, or a park nearby and write for a half hour?
If you’re home, while the kids are at school in the afternoon? (No phones, texts, or Judge Judy.)
At 8:00 or 9:00 at night, after dinner, and abstaining from just one favorite TV show? (Admittedly hard for me.)
Other times you can figure out, based on your schedule, work, responsibilities to others, even if you live only with a fish/dog/cat/parakeet? I work at home, so I set blocks of time for client work and writing work. I don’t always stick to them, but they help me satisfy my work obligations and writing needs. For some excellent ideas, see Christina Katz’s Writer Mama (2007, Writer’s Digest Books).
You do have choices. Open to seeing them, inventing them, and deciding to follow them.
Anatomy of the TTW Syndrome
Let’s look at the TTWS for a minute. The human organism has a marvelous ability to tire instantly, ache and moan, when faced with something it doesn’t want to do or feels too put-upon to do.
Would you buy that the TTWS is largely psychological? Say you’re exhausted from all those must-dos and yearn only to crawl into bed with your stuffed teddy. The phone rings. It’s the editor of a magazine you sent your favorite manuscript to eight months ago. He wants to publish your piece, suggests a few revisions, and offers to pay you several hundred dollars.
When you hear this, you bound out of bed like a fawn in the woods spotting hunter orange. You run screaming into the living room to tell your partner—or your fish. And you can’t wait to tackle the piece and start revising. Where did your tiredness go?
Recognizing the obvious answer, we know too that every time the TTWS strikes we can’t expect the editor to call. To combat the TTWS, you must devise proactive strategies. Here are some from several authors.
• Get physically comfortable.
Sometimes tiredness kicks in when you don’t feel comfortable. Maybe you’re battling your physical setup. Rearrange your desk and chair so you can sit well. Writers often suffer from stiff necks, shoulders, backs, and wrists. So adjust your chair height, raise or lower your computer (with books or boxes), use wedges, pillows, and phone books to get comfortable. Change your clothes so you feel good in them—soft instead of starched, loose instead of cinched. Put on bright colors—red, orange, and yellow do make you feel more rejuvenated.
Your tiredness may be mental fatigue or anxiety. Meditate for ten to fifteen minutes. Go outside or at least away from your workspace. Sit down and take a few deep breaths. Repeat to yourself, “Relax.”
Thoughts (and self-judgments) will keep streaming through your mind, but just watch them and keep coming back to the word “Relax.” Or use instead any other word or phrase you like, such as “Peace,” “Ah,” “Om,” or “God is with me.”
If you fall asleep, you needed it. The more you meditate, the better you’ll get. Have patience and keep coming back to your word or phrase.
Many writers declare that this technique is better than an hour’s nap. They return to work with minds sharper and energy renewed. Often during my meditations, suddenly the answer to a stubborn writing problem pops into my mind or I find myself rarin’ to type.
• Take a nap.
OK, succumb. But the key is to make it short. A journalist who puts in long hours interviewing, traveling, and writing on her laptop told me this is a time-honored reporter’s trick. “When I arrive for an interview early, I park the car and nap before I go in.” She said, “Now I wake automatically in about eleven minutes—you can’t believe how refreshing it is.”
A science writer who spends many hours researching on the Internet shared another variation. He sets his timer for ten minutes, pushes his chair back from his desk, and conks off. He says he often awakens before the timer rings. Eyes and brain rested, he’s set for another Internet marathon.
One writer, an account executive by day, developed a great routine. After a full and hectic day and a wearisome commute from New York City to Queens, he comes home, kisses his wife, takes off his tie, and promptly plops into his favorite chair. There he naps for 15 to 20 minutes. When he awakens, he has dinner and exchanges news with his wife. Recharged, he then works on his latest book for several hours before bed. Into his 70s, he’s published six books with this method of revving himself to write.
• Get physical.
It’s a truism we hate to accept: the more tired you feel before exercising, the more energized you’ll feel afterwards. Feeling drained, as if you can’t move a muscle, is your cue to start moving.
You don’t need to go to a gym, spa, or track. If you want to take a walk, fine. If you have a terrace, porch, or back yard, these are all great for short breaks.
If you don’t want to go outside, stand up, push your chair away from your desk, and try a few jumping jacks. These are synchronized jumps that get your heart pumping. With your feet apart, open your arms wide. Then jump and bring your feet together. At the same time, clap your hands over your head. Repeat five times and work up to ten.
Or do some yoga stretches, jog in place, or borrow your kid’s jump rope. I use one of those large inflatable exercise balls, draping myself over it forwards or backwards, and do some crunches. Exercising on these balls is great for the back, shoulders, and neck.
• Tease yourself into it.
Writing coaches advise us to start with something easy or fun—explore new markets for the current article, make a chart of your relatives and their counterparts in your novel, browse a writing blog for a few minutes. I sometimes start with a big, long, uncensored, freewriting list of alternate titles. For my latest book proposal, I snuck up with the section on projected length and word count. Soon I was deep into the more challenging need for the book and flowed for two hours.
I’m also talking bribes. Pledge you’ll give yourself whatever really does it for you: a later (or earlier) TV show, food-wallow, shopping splurge, lunch with sixth-grade buddy, badminton tournament. Do you writing task, words, or pages, and look forward to your indulgence.
How Much Does Writing Mean to You?
At various times, we’re all tempted to succumb to the TTWS. But if writing means that much to you, and you can’t live with the frustration and itchiness of not doing it, you’ll find your own ingenious solutions to cure yourself from this insidious affliction. Use or adapt the suggestions here, alternate them, create your own, and compare notes with other writers. The next time the Too Tired to Write Syndrome threatens to take a bite out of your motivation and drive, you’ll know how to head it off—yawn, stretch, promise yourself treats, and get to work.
Thoughts? Do you suffer from TTWS?
Author, editor, ghostwriter, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle feverishly uses all of the TTW remedies in this column. After naps, they have helped her publish over 250 fiction and nonfiction pieces in print and online venues. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has guided doctoral candidates to completion of their dissertations. Based on this work, her latest project-in-progress is a practical-psychological-spiritual handbook, Grad U: Complete Your Dissertation—Finally—and Ease the Trip for Yourself and Everyone Who Has to Live With You. In her current book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books), Noelle draws examples from her practice and other aspects of life to help writers and others release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at http://www.trustyourlifenow.com