Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fighting Fatigue

It's not unusual for writers to be stressed out -- it's kind of an occupational hazard -- but lately I've noticed some unusual signs of fatigue popping up around the blogosphere. It's not just people neglecting their blogs or virtually disappearing for weeks at a time, either (that I blame on Twitter.) I've noticed regular comments by folks out there in NetPubLand who mention being tired or just plain sound tired. A lot.

I can sympathize. At the moment I'm trying to kill a deadline after an insanely busy release week and two separate huge family events, and frankly? I'm wiped. I'd like nothing better than to put up one of my "Off to Write" posts, unplug and hole up in my writing space until this novel is out of here. I can even see myself coming back from the post office to collapse on the nearest horizontal surface and not move until the moon enters a new phase.

Can't do it. I may have the kids home for summer, but I have a ton of commitments to keep, a career to keep going and new ideas impatiently waiting to be tested. My to-do list now has a secondary to-do list, a cross-referenced reminder list and a daily if-you've-got-a-minute list. I don't have time to collapse into a quivering puddle of writer goo. So I pay attention to my mood and my body, and I do what I can to compensate for however exhausted I might feel.

Dealing with fatigue means figuring out where it's coming from and what we need to combat it. We all experience two types of fatigue: mental and physical. Artistic people like writers also seem to be prone to what I call creative fatigue -- aka the well running dry. Sometimes one or more types of fatigue combine on us (as with what most people experience during bouts of depression.) But for the purposes of this post, let's look at them separately:

Physical fatigue has been linked to some major/common causes, such as working too much overtime, sleep deprivation, poor nutrition and (believe it or not) lack of exercise. There are also many chronic conditions, chemical imbalances and diseases for which fatigue is one of the major symptoms. If you're feeling physically tired every day, it's really an excellent time to go and see your primary care physician for a check-up. Also, talk to your doctor about how you feel and see if s/he has some suggestions on how to best recharge your batteries.

I've had the most success dealing with my own physical fatigue by making serious changes in my diet. I rarely thought about what I ate every day until I had to go to a nutritionist and confess my snacking sins. She charted my eating habits and showed me that I was eating the calorie equivalent of an extra two meals every day in junk food. Switching to a cardiac-healthy diet with no salt, caffeine or sweets was very tough, and giving up snacks hurt, but the energizing benefits were almost immediate. I slept better, I lost thirty pounds I didn't need to be carrying around (for which my knees were very grateful) plus I didn't have to go on medication to manage my cholesterol. I'm not suggesting doing the same will work for everyone, but this is an example of how making one major life change can really help.

Every person who reads this blog has to be well-acquainted with mental fatigue; it's the plague of the twenty-first century. We're all expected to work long hours and and multi-task every aspect of our lives. We now carry phones with us because God forbid we not answer a call from someone the second they want to talk to us. Add to that about ten thousand other electronic gadgets that fill every single waking second with even more demands (computers, e-readers, televisions, satellite radio, GPS and Blue Tooth and God knows what else) and it's obvious that just the technology alone is trying to bury us.

My method of dealing with mental stress is also pretty basic. I shut off all the gadgets, unplug the computer and go quilt or soak in the tub or fold laundry or just sit on my porch with my dog and watch the birds. I do not answer the phone. I do not use a laptop. I don't allow anything electronic near me for at least an hour, and when it's really bad, I do it for the rest of the day. And for me, it works beautifully.

Then there is creative fatigue. I think for writers it's directly related to the current career demands like diving into social media, promoting our books as well as writing them, and the endless endurance marathons we run in order to please our publishers, compete with our peers and come up with consistent, quality work in order to stay in the game. Creating on demand, always being on, always being told we're not good enough, we're not successful enough, and we're not doing enough. I've been working this gig for twelve years now and I can tell you this much: the pressure never ends.

I understand the siren song of all the hype that's attached to things like social media and networking, but I think it's also the reason Publishing loses so many great writers every year. The stress of trying to be-all and do-all as a professional writer inevitably and negatively affects the writer as well as the quality of their work, which tips over the seven dominoes of writer self-destruction via creative fatigue: exhaustion, paranoia, burn-out, depression, isolation, renunciation and, finally, tossing in the towel.

If you're not interested in becoming the next writer to flame-out, I believe you have to set some limits and boundaries in order to protect yourself and the work. Fortunately there's a single, amazingly powerful word that I use all the time that does it for me: No. When they come to you and say you must do this or you have to do that, just say no. Or to be more specific, say no to whatever you don't want to do and/or don't have the time to do.

It's not difficult once you make up your mind to do it. Be courteous but firm, and don't listen to them whine about how all the other writers are doing these things (I can tell you, I'm probably not doing it, so use me as an example.) I say no all the time, and you wouldn't believe how much creative fatigue that has removed from my life. Which is the real reason why I knock out all these novels every year while my competition is busy Facebooking, Twittering, networking, interviewing, blog touring, book signing and otherwise not writing their books. I'm not as fast as you think, folks; I simply don't squander my creative energy on things I suck at anyway.

Writing will always be a stressful job; most of us are too emotionally invested in our work for us to develop an indifferent clock-in clock-out mentality. That's why it's important to find healthy ways to fight fatigue and keep our physical, mental and creative energy at decent levels. Subsisting in a constant state of exhaustion doesn't mean that you're suffering for your art. It could mean that you're actually wrecking it -- and yourself in the process.

What sort of fatigue do you suffer from most often, and have you found any successful ways to combat it? Let us know in comments.

Related links:

10 Healthy Ways to Fight Fatigue by Allie Comeau

Mental Fatigue Causes Perceived Physical Exhaustion

How to Manage and Recover from Mental and Emotional Fatigue and Stress by Dr. Rosalia Mariz

Mental and Physical Fatigue Linked by Rick Nauert

10 Ways to Fight Fatigue ~ How to Feel Alert and Energized All Day by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

Rev Up Your Energy by Dulce Zamora

Image credit: © Nataliia Fedori | Dreamstime.com

31 comments:

  1. I find that the cure for all types of fatigue is sleep. Sometimes, when the mind is going wild with ideas, it can help to have a default "bedtime story" that you feed your creative self so it can get off whatever it's excited about and get to dreamland.

    I have a couple of these that I pull out regularly - usually it's a combination of some of my characters some of real life, and some magical fantasy thrown in (even if the characters are not fantasy characters). Just a fairy tale - like what if your favorite sneaky villain were suddenly appointed your boss's boss? (Or James Bond, or Galadriel....) What if one of your characters showed up as a student in your creative writing class?

    Combining creativity with reality kicks my head into dream state faster.

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  2. I could hug you for this.

    Today has been one of those days. For me, one of those days means law school starts to sound like a pretty good option again; this from the girl who ran, screaming, from it's hallowed halls. I've been there. I should know better.

    Thank you for the advice, and taking the time from your writing too do this particular side show.

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  3. I've noticed a wealth of such posts lately, maybe just because I've been a bit tired as well. Some of it is physical/mental exhaustion since I work full-time, do grad school part-time, and have a semi-busy social life and still balance writing on top of it, but most of it has been creative dryness since I finished up my last novel-length project. I agree with you about career demands; I haven't even tried to get published yet and I'm still supposed to keep up with all these platforms and the like? Don't get me wrong; I enjoy the blogosphere because it teaches me a lot, but at times it seems like a ridiculous expectation when all I want to do is write. And sometimes I unwind by just reminding myself of that: as much as I'd like to be published, my foremost desire is just to write and let that be my creative outlet. I like your advice for dealing with it.

    Eating right and getting even moderate exercise does an amazing amount to physically rejuvenate you. Congrats on your own healthy changes!

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  4. Thank you for this.

    I have just been through a series of major stressful events, yet I expect my writing quota to remain the same.

    Sometimes you need someone to point out the obvious.

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  5. Excellent post, with great points made!

    I enjoy working with people, but too much people time exhausts me. My phone is always unplugged on Sundays when I recharge my batteries by not planning the day at all and just going where my body and spirit guide me.

    Also, planning regular exercise time and the actually exercising is a blessing. It's incredible how many things just either fall away or into place while you move your body.

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  6. Physical activity is a biggie. I tackled the garden this year for two reasons; I knew it would make me work outside at least an hour a day, and then I'd have to eat all the fresh fruit and veggies it produced. Just eating more fruits and veggies and working physically outside has done wonders for my fatigue. I've also cut the caffeine, which is another biggie. Sure it boosts you but then it drops you hard.

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  7. Margaret S6:57 AM

    Hi Lynn
    When my forehead feels like it has a knot on it I go to this Youtube address - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=876MtdZJ-Lo&feature=related - lay back in my chair, close my eyes and let the music flow though me. I can feel the easing of the tension as the muscles relax. I think it helps that it is not in english so you don't have to think about the words.
    If you don't like this song the same singer does a great version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow (also on Youtube).
    On a side note-- Re: Book Piracy
    Maybe the situation would be helped by an international release date - Dreamveil for example has been out in the US for a few weeks - release date for UK 18th August.
    To order from Amazon.com $7.99+$7.98P&P=$15.97(approx.£11). To wait and order from Amazon.co.uk pre-order price £5.49 P&P free. Its a case of wait or pay double the price.
    It does make the eager reader wonder where to buy earlier and cheaper.
    With modern communications why is this delay necessary except to boost US sales though US companies.
    I will be getting a copy despite all of that. The same as I did buy a paperback copy of Shadowlight having read an ARC copy you gave me.
    Thank you for all the many hours of pleasure your books have given me.
    KEEP 'EM COMING

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  8. Wow, you said what was on my mind. I really enjoy interacting with people on facebook, but it uses the same creative side of my brain that I use for writing. Therefore, I've become aware that it has to be one or the other and I balance it out day by day.

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  9. I'm still here! I just like twitter a lot, too.

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  10. Good timing. I've been noticing my exhaustion going way up.

    What's interesting is that it goes up *after* my output goes down. Then my fear of messing up kicks in, so I do less, get more tired and... yeah. Maybe I'll try exercise, though. Or working on my (non WoW) computer to keep from getting distracted.

    What I really need is a mini-vacation. Usually by the second or third day I've relaxed enough that some idea pops up and *has to be* worked on *right away*. Otherwise, there's something to be said for sitting on a beach at 2 am watching the waves.

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  11. I think for me, it's the lack of exercise coupled with the depression...and the less I exercise, the more the depression gets a foothold until all I can do is sit on the couch while my brain shuts down. I have to force myself to get up and move. And it's so hard to do! But summer is here and I love my flowers so I'll get moving gardening and hopefully, keep it up when the garden dies back in the fall.

    As to the creativity, I still have all those ideas and plots and things floating around in my head. I'm just trying to figure out what's stopping me from putting them to paper. I find myself procrastinating. And I hate it.

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  12. Elizabeth10:07 AM

    This is such wise sense. Your comments about blogging and FB really resonate with me. So often I work hard to put a post up and then realise that my energy could have been better spent in making that post into a saleable article and submitting it! x

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  13. My mental fatigue is caused by work (I've been in the same IT career for 11 years and starting to burn out a bit) and college (I'm back in school working on my math degree).

    My biggest way to recharge right now is to work on writing. Fanning the creative spark does wonders.

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  14. I can blame much of my fatigue on having had surgery a couple weeks ago but other recent events have brought another cause to my attention. My solution is a major rehab of my work lineup, dropping a couple of writing gigs that pay steadily and reliably but at a rate too low to compensate for the time and energy they demand. They're just not a good fit for me, and I've been happier waiting tables than writing for these outfits. And with tips, I made more.

    Long ago, a good friend and fellow writer advised me on the wisdom of protecting the creative and mental energy necessary for me to meet my writing goals. I took that advice to heart and followed it through many successful years. Gradually, though, I let other gigs creep into the mix for various reasons, all good at the time. Still, for many of us, it's better to work a mundane, no brainer job to make ends meet between contracts and save the creative energy for the on spec projects we love and that will, we hope, eventually earn a decent advance and royalty.

    I hear McDonald's in town is hiring. The nursing home, too. I have options, just in case this writing thing doesn't work out.

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  15. I'll be honest, Lynn, I'm definitely feeling the burn. Sleep, as a cure, doesn't work for me b/c my back doesn't let me stay in one place too long.

    Learning to say no is probably the hardest thing I'm going to have to do. And I've found that I'm really not good at a lot of the promo stuff I'm supposed to be doing. LOL.

    *hugs* on the fatigue.

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  16. I get hit by all three kinds of exhaustion at once. Am feeling it right now, in fact :(

    I'm still learning how to set my expectations for myself. I'm not a full-time writer. I have a non-writing day job that demands just as much mental and creative energy as writing. And two small children. There aren't enough hours in the day to do "everything" and still write. And I can't seem to quit the writing. Or the day job, LOL.

    The person I have to say no to the most is my own internal critic--the one who tells me that I'm not "doing it right" because a "real writer" does {everything}.

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  17. Liz B2:40 PM

    Girls' night out is a big way that I de-stress. I'm usually not into the whole girl thing. I don't go shopping (unless a bookstore is involved) and I don't just "hang with the girls" mostly because about 90% of my friends have always been guys. But recently, I've found that having a girls' night out with my few girl friends to just have a massive bitchfest on everything in our lives really helps. I never knew that just having someone to talk/listen to could be so helpful. It always gives me the kick I need to finish off the week/month/whatever.

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  18. As a long-time insomniac, I struggle with physical fatigue all the time, but right now, I'm mostly hit with the creative fatigue. Recent debut release, and all that.

    But right now, there's also work fatigue. A person at work is going out of his way to make my working life miserable, and all because he did something wrong and I caught him at it. Of course, in his mind, he did nothing at all wrong and I'm just a tattle-taling bee-yotch whose sole purpose in life is, apparently, getting him into trouble. Like I have that kind of energy!

    At any rate, this post is extremely timely, and thank you so much for it. Some days, I want to just say heck with it all and move to the wilds of Montana. No cell towers. No internet. Just beautiful, lovely isolation... and the possibility of getting completely snowed in 5 months of the year. Har-de-har-har.

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  19. Anonymous4:47 PM

    I work with special needs kids and suffer from patience fatigue by the end of some days. poor hubby and teenagers get the brunt of shortness and lack of patience. I find summer vacation helps (although I'm working summer school this month)a glass of wine on the deck, some peace and quiet, and an hour with a good book go a long way to help get me thru the evening.

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  20. One of my best stress fighters: taking the hound for a walk/play in the woods. Watching her run--the sheer joy of it--always makes my mood improve. And the exercise for me is an important part of it. If I walk, I feel better.

    Life at a walking pace just seems to ease the insanity for me.

    And baking bread is also therapeutic.

    One of the things that is crucial is understanding when I'm feeling overwhelmed, it's because I'm not taking good enough care of myself. It's the old 'place your mask over your nose and mouth before assisting others' routine.

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  21. This is a really timely post. I had a job role change in January and I had a huge amount of work to do to sort out a number of things that hadn't been done.
    I read hardly any new books because I was too tired to think when I got home; same for the writing, and I didn't even look at the blogosphere for 2 months. Things are easing up now, but six months of huge amounts of caffeine, sugar, and a lack of sleep has meant that my physical energy is really low - so that's my immediate area to address with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, more plain water than anything else, and a gradual reduction in coffee so I don't end up with the withdrawal hangover.

    I'm out with the dogs a couple of times a day though, so I'm getting excercise, even if I could do more. (Although that seems to be the modern mantra - 'Can you do more?')

    Merry

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  22. Like Charlene I've found physical activity helps a lot. Sometimes I run off my frustration. Other times, when it's more fatigue than anything else, I walk it away. And when I'm just feeling crazy and crabby I pull the curtains, crank up the music and dance like a maniac.

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  23. Hi Lynn,

    My wife pointed out your blog to me a while ago and since then i read it everyday.

    Loved this post so much that i had to send you a comment saying "Thank You" for the blog and you really known how to it the spot every time!

    best whishes for you and all your family.
    Regards

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  24. Exercise, like gardening and dog walking is out for me at the moment ( ie. months) because of my back, but they always helped before.
    My publisher just indicated that a sequel is expected and the first one isn't even out yet.
    So I worry that I'm not producing--that the next book isn't ready yesterday--and I have less demands on my time than most people.
    Still, I hear you and you are absolutely right.

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  25. Thank you for dedicating a post to the nemesis that claims us all, fatigue. Being creatively and physically well is not an easy thing to do. I often find my creative fatigue stems from my physical fatigue. Thank you for sharing what things you do to battle fatigue.

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  26. wow great post, thankyou! useful information and wonderful insight :)

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  27. This was really, really great and needed. I got here from Nathan Bransford's blog today, so thank you Nathan, and thank you Lynn! I'll be following.

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  28. Fantastic post. Thank you, Lynn.

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  29. OMG! I am able to resonate with all the comments in here..

    Am feeling the stressed, burned out, depressed feeling for the very first time (in a combined manner) and kind of waking up every day to it..adding more burdens and things slip one by one, piling up to a huge insurmountable wall.

    Everything is being affected due to it..physical, mental and creative aspects..

    I guess I have to tackle one thing at a time..and work through the mess I have made..cos no one else can!

    Thanks so much for the timely post and such valuable info!

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  30. Great post! Thanks for the links, I shall be gobbling them up. I'm a (recovering?) workaholic and I've come to realize that if I don't step away for a while now and then, my body forces me to. And a week on the couch in pain isn't a suitable substitute for a few days off. Of course, I'm still working on the actual "stepping away" part, but I'm doing better! :D

    It's good to see I'm not alone, though!

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  31. This is great! Most of the time if I just set a goal and make myself get there no matter how crummy/tired/stressed I feel then I allow myself a weekend full of reading and napping. It's not perfect, but it somewhat works :)

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