Today has not been a good day for me. So, in order to get through this “crash”, I am feeling I’ve decided to talk about mental exhaustion.
Mental exhaustion can lead to writer’s block but there are many things that can cause writer’s block so I wanted to focus on mental exhaustion separately.
It’s that feeling where you suddenly hit “The Wall”. If you are a runner, you may have met The Wall. In physical sport, it is a condition caused by depletion of glycogen which leaves you feeling suddenly exhausted all at once.
It’s called The Wall because it feels like you just ran into one.
Now writers can also hit The Wall. For us, it is the feeling you suddenly can’t do anything. It’s as if your brain has just shut down.
You will be typing away and then WAP… you are just staring at nothing because your brain went into hibernation mode and no amount of “jiggling the figurative mouse” will wake it back up.
Why do we get Mental Exhaustion?
Simple, our brains are tired.
We are not just writers, other things in our life demand our attention constantly. Family situations from the typical (raising kids) to the extreme (dealing with a family emergency).
We have worries, maybe it’s financial, health issues, business problems, job stresses…
Even without the intensity that writing brings into the mix, all those things can put a strain on you. As these other issues can drain you both physically and mentally you can start to get disheartened, feel your writing start to splutter and even stop.
Riding the Tide
Life has a natural ebb and flow and we’re designed to ride these tides. Unfortunately, life is also good at smashing us in the face with a tidal wave of overload all at once. This is ‘overwhelm’, The Wall where everything that’s been building crashes into you.
Sometimes we don’t see the warning sign of what this really is (mental exhaustion) and will try and push through. After all, we usually do right? But this isn’t just a normal stress or block, it’s too much and our bodies are starting to overload.
But we tie ourselves to the desk and sweat blood to get the writing down. Yet this can cause more harm.
The Mental Pressure of writing
Writing is a mental task, even if it comes easy, the scenes are flowing and dialogue just sings… it is still an intense process that will mentally drain you.
Our brains are alert, thinking several steps ahead while we write, trying to keep up with the words all the while, sorting and sifting the masses of information we store regarding characters, landscape information, plot etc.
Most writers can leave their writing feeling exhausted even if they haven’t written as much as other days.
Dealing with Mental Exhaustion
Acknowledge the issue and give yourself some breathing space. If you have someone who can help out when you’re struggling, ask for their help. There is nothing wrong with needing a little support.
Now, give yourself a break.
The best way is to remove excessive mental stimuli. So don’t just stop writing for a few days, give yourself a proper break.
That means having quiet moments, no TV, no phone, no spending hours flicking through the internet, or hanging around with large groups of people. Take some quiet time, to read or go for a walk somewhere peaceful or have a nap if you are really drained.
Writing can be extreme stimulation. This can overwhelm and in doing so make us view our writing in a darker light (yes, I’m aware of the oxymoron there).
This can be a good time to step away, try not to think about the writing, just go and do something else – but make that just one thing. Watch a movie, but switch off your phone and maybe ask not to be disturbed.
If you find you’re getting overwhelmed often, consider looking at your writing process.
- Are you listening to music while you write?
- Do you have IMs popping up?
- People wandering in to chat with you?
- Are you facing a window full of distractions?
Even if these were never an issue, they can become an issue if you are reaching mental exhaustion.
Try and remove other stimuli to help ease the possibility of becoming overwhelmed.
I used to listen to music and face the window. I can’t do that now, as I get overwhelmed faster these days so I do what I can to reduce the stimulation when I’m writing.
I lock myself in my room, no music, no internet, no phone. My desk faces away from the window and I have natural light. I find it helps to get me into the writing and stops me bringing a lot of the mental stresses along for the ride.
The cost of creativity
Writers are temperamental, we feel deeply, think deeply, sink into our novels and our characters. As I mentioned in the 14 Weird and Wonderful truths about Writers post, our emotions run at the surface and we can suffer for our craft.
So as a writer, you need to be attuned with yourself, your own needs and your own stressors that put you past your limit.
Know when to step away, know when to let something else go so you can focus on writing, know when to leave the writing (temporarily) in order to focus on something else that needs your attention.
What are your tips for dealing with mental exhaustion?
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Hopefully, I’ll be in a better place next week and get back on form, but I do hope you find this interesting at least.
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