Too tired to write?

Do you often find you’re too tired to write? If so, you’re suffering from a widespread malady: Too Tired to Write Syndrome (TTWS). I know it well. Late at night, after three hours of primetime soaps/CIA adventures/sports/reality shows/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 later today between 3:00 and 4:00.

But then . . . our promise to ourselves to write drowns in the rest of our lives. With all we have to do, we’re just too tired.

It’s Not Fair!

You find yourself thinking, as I often have, It’s not fair! A writing colleague who cried the corrollary Why me? shared her litany of unfairness. 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 gassed and running
  • 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’ve got TTWS.

Choose not to see yourself as a victim. When you cry It’s not fair! and Why me? you’re telling yourself you feel like a victim.

Your Rescue From Victimitis

To escape victimitis, instead of Why me? first, ask others around you, Why not you? That is, who else can share the duties of ferrying, feeding, cleaning, accounting, pleasing? Partner, older kids, friends, paid help? Ask them.

Second, see where you can say No. Excessive (or even regular) cleaning? A request to head the editorial committee? An invitation to lunch with a friend who complains nonstop about his life? Saying No can be extremely liberating—and give you the writing time you crave.

Those lamenting cries mean also you’re being unfair to yourself. You’re not honoring your passion, drive, and gifts for writing. Adapt one writer’s declaration and determination: “Nothing can stop my brain from pouring out what it contains.”

Anatomy of the TTW Syndrome

Let’s look at it. The human organism, when faced with something it doesn’t want to do or feels too put-upon to do, has a marvelous ability to moan, wail, tire instantly, and ache with a mysterious, immobilizing fatigue.

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 teddy. The phone rings. It’s the editor of a magazine you sent your long-labored 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 that tiredness go?

Recognizing the obvious answer, we know too that every time the TTWS strikes, we can’t expect a call from an editor to dissolve it.

What Really Works?

Instead, decide and analyze 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 car or take your laptop to a park nearby and write for a half hour?
  • If you’re home, while the kids are watching cartoons, playing video games, or at school? (Please resist phones, texts, or Judge Judy.)
  • At 8:00 or 9:00 at night, after dinner, tearing yourself away from just one favorite TV show? (Admittedly hard.)

Other times you can figure out, based on your schedule, work, and 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 both my work obligations and writing needs.

You do have choices. Open to seeing them, inventing them, and deciding to follow them. Now that you know what writing time works for you, to help ensure you’ll actually write, devise proactive strategies. Here are some from several authors.

TTWS Therapies

  • Get physically comfortable. Sometimes tiredness kicks in when you don’t feel comfortable. Maybe you’re battling your physical setup. Writers often suffer from stiff necks, shoulders, backs, and wrists. So get a more ergonomic arrangement; or adjust your chair height; raise or lower your computer (with books or boxes); use wedges, pillows, or phone books to get comfortable.Change your clothes so you feel good in them—soft instead of starched, loose instead of cinched, warm instead of clammy, cool instead of sweaty. Put on bright colors—red, orange, and yellow do make you feel more rejuvenated. I always wear dangly earrings—they make me feel professional.
  • Meditate. Your tiredness may be mental fatigue or anxiety. Meditation helps, even for five, ten, or 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. No one ever turns off the mental stream completely. 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, 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 time-honored reporter’s trick. “When I arrive for an interview early, I park the car and nap before I go in.” She said, “I’ve trained myself to 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 phone alarm for ten minutes, pushes his chair back from his desk, and conks off. He says he often awakens before the alarm rings. Eyes and brain rested, he’s set for another Internet marathon.Another writer, an account executive by day, developed a great routine. After a full and hectic day and wearisome commute from New York City to the suburbs, he comes home, kisses his wife, takes off his tie, and promptly plops into his favorite chair. There he naps for fifteen to twenty 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. Now in 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 for walking, light jogging, or lifting a few weights (or soup cans).If you don’t want to go outside, stand up, push your chair away from your desk, and try a few jumping jacks, 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. Then catch your breath and rest.Or do some yoga stretches. I spread out my yoga mat on the terrace. Then, video on my phone propped up in front of me, I do some basic positions, stretching slowly and as far as I can. Great for the back, shoulders, and neck—and your mindset.
  • Eat. Sometimes we need physical sustenance to fuel our cerebral sustenance. I’m not
    talking chips or Twinkies but more sustaining foot, like protein or whole grain. Make it tasty, though, so you don’t fall back into the bag of Oreos.
  • Set today’s short-term goal. You’ve probably heard this before—set a goal you’re pretty certain you can keep: one section, one character sketch, two pages, 500 words, twenty minutes. If you do more, great. But at least you’ll have met your goal. And set your goal for tomorrow.
  • Tease yourself into it. If you still can’t get into it, here’s another trick. Writing coaches advise us to start with something easy or fun. So, explore new journals and magazines for your current article, make a chart of your relatives and their counterparts in your novel, browse a writing blog for a few minutes.When I’m dragging, I sometimes start with a big, long, uncensored, freewriting list of alternate titles. For my latest book proposal, I snuck up with a paragraph on projected length and word count. Soon I was deep into the more challenging section on the need for the book—and flowed for two hours.
  • Bribe yourself. Choose your carrot. Pledge you’ll give yourself whatever really does it for you: a later (or earlier) soap opera, food-wallow, shopping splurge, lunch with sixth-grade buddy, watching national pickleball tournament. Complete your writing task and look forward to savoring 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 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 freeze your motivation and drive, you’ll know how to head it off—and get to work.

© 2020 Noelle Sterne


Guide to Making Time to WriteNoelle is a contributor to TAA’s forthcoming book, Guide to Making Time to Write: 100+ Time & Productivity Management Tips for Textbook and Academic Authors. The paperback version of the book is now available for pre-order. Pre-Order by 9/15 and receive a free eBook and instant access to 8 downloadable templates.


Noelle SterneDissertation coach, nurturer, bolsterer, handholder, and editor; scholarly and mainstream writing consultant; author of writing craft, spiritual, and academic articles; and spiritual and motivational counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 600 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inspire Me Today, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years helped doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion (finally). Based on her practice, her Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015) addresses students’ often overlooked or ignored but crucial nonacademic difficulties that can seriously prolong their agony. See the PowerPoint teaser here. In Noelle`s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. Following one of her own, she is currently working on her second novel. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com