Today has not been a good day. I can have a lot of up and downs and unfortunately today was a down.
Hence the lateness of the blog post AND why it’s still not a return to my World Building series. I’m sorry guys. I know I suck right now.
So, in order to get through the “crash” I am feeling today I decided to talk about mental exhaustion.
Firstly, mental exhaustion can lead to writers block but there are many things that can cause writers block (here’s a post on helping to deal with it) but I wanted to focus on mental exhaustion separately.
It’s that feeling where you suddenly hit “The Wall”. If you are a runner (no, I’m not, but I know runners who have told me about The Wall) you may have met The Wall – happens to marathon runners when they reach a certain point. 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 apparently feels like you just ran into one.
Now writers can also hit The Wall, it is that feeling when 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” is waking it back up.
WHY DO WE GET MENTAL EXHAUSTION?
Because our brains are tired…
We are not just writers, other things in our life demand our attention constantly. Family situations from the typical (looking after the kids) to the extreme (being a full-time care giver or dealing with a family emergency). We have worries, maybe it’s financial, maybe it’s health issues, business problems, job stresses…
Even without the intensity that writing brings into the mix, all those other 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.
Now life usually has some kind of ebb and flow and we are 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.
What this does it overwhelm – all those things that have been building up slowly get dumped on even more by everything coming crashing down at once.
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. However this can cause more harm.
Writing is a very mental task, even if writing comes easy to you, even if the scenes are flowing and the dialogue just sings… it is still a intense process that will mentally drain you. Most writers can leave their writing feeling exhausted even if they haven’t written as much as other days.
Our brains are alert, thinking several steps ahead while we write, trying to keep up with the words while also sorting and sifting the masses of information we store mentally as we remember character details, landscape information that needs to be written in.
So when you have all this other stuff going on as well it can leave you empty.
Society has it drilled into us that we need to do everything, we need to multitask. However if you go beyond your limit, the mental exhaustion will have you and if you try and push through that you can hit The (Writing) Wall.
DEALING WITH MENTAL EXHAUSTION
You need to acknowledge the issue and give yourself some breathing space. If you have family or friends who can help out when you are struggling, ask for their help. There is nothing wrong with needing a little support. It does not mean you are weak or unable to cope.
After all if your friend asked you for help would you not give it? If you found out later that a friend who hadn’t asked you for help, had been struggling how would you feel?
So now you’ve acknowledged you need to 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 sites on the internet, or hanging around with large groups of people. Take some quiet time, to read or go for a walk somewhere peaceful or go for a nap if you are really drained.
Writing can be extreme stimulation especially when you are working on long complex plots, detailed characters and struggling to fix holes. 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 your are getting overwhelmed more and more, 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 to 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 stimulation to help ease the possibility of becoming overwhelmed.
I used to listen to music and face the window. I can’t do that now, with so much stuff in my life that is demanding 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 let me get into the writing and stops me bringing a lot of the mental stresses with me.
However even those don’t work when things can get rough, and in those instances I need space, time, quiet to recover from the exhaustion.
Writers are temperamental, we feel deeply, think deeply, sink into our novels and our characters. As I mentioned in the Some (weird) 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 attune to yourself, your own needs and your own stressors that can put you passed 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.
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.
As always I update this blog on Fridays though mostly at 18:30 (BST) but every now and then I end up putting one up late….like this.
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