Time and Space Aren’t Enough. Your Creative Work Requires Energy.
I’m calling a time-out.
At least I wish I could, because sometimes life gets a little too crazy, and you just want to pull the emergency stop cord and bring the whole shebang to a screeching halt, even if you’re in the middle of nowhere, and getting off would leave you stranded and possibly lost. You just want to stop.
Regular readers may have noticed that there was no weekend edition last Saturday. For the first time in almost two years, I failed to publish my end-of-week ramblings. I just didn’t have it in me. There was too much happening and I was too exhausted to manage even a few words. After more than one hundred consecutive posts, I had hit the proverbial wall, and it felt awful.
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Though I was disappointed in myself (and because I missed out on spending time with you guys), my “lost weekend edition” provided a much needed reality check. You see, I’ve written about how each of us needs to create time and space for our writing, but I had overlooked the critical third element in the creative trinity: Energy.
Making time to write is an exercise in tactical and logistical planning. It’s about managing your schedule, taking advantage of opportunities, and increasing your productivity. Creating space to write is more of an intellectual practice that’s about getting into the right mindset and giving your muse room to stretch and play. Both of these are essential to the creative process, but neither of them will help you much if you come to the table so depleted that you have nothing left to give.
Last weekend, I had made the time to write, and I had created the necessary headspace, but when it came to it, I was just too physically and emotionally overwhelmed and exhausted to get the words out.
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The energy vampires that sap us of our creative spark are a well known crew of usual suspects: stress, exhaustion, lethargy, apathy, worry, fear. They creep into our heads and hearts, rob us of our sleep, and generally abuse us. What makes this gang of hobgoblins so dangerous is the insidious way they worm their way into our lives. Most of the time, we don’t realize the hold they have on us until it’s too late. Each trespass they make seems so slight – an extra hour of work here, a small concern there – but these minor incidents and emotional attacks add up quickly. Like the frog who sits unmoving in a pan of water, not noticing that the temperature is gradually rising to boiling, we just keep on doing what we’re doing without noticing that our situation is gradually spinning out of control.
Until we wake up one morning and find that we can’t get even one word down.
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What defenses do we have against these sinister foes? How can we protect ourselves and our energy?
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this issue. In a post I published three years ago (Too Tired to Write – Self-Care for Writers) I wrote, “If you run yourself so ragged that you can barely manage to crawl up to bed at night, you’re way past the point of being able to feed your creative fires. You’re in survival mode – dealing strictly in self-preservation, not inspiration.”
Though part of me is disheartened that I seem to be still falling into the same trap, I do believe that I have acquired some new knowledge about how to create and protect my creative energy. Now, all I need to do is put this good advice into practice. In the meantime, I’d like to share my thoughts in case they inspire you to create your own list of “weapons” against the evil imps who would siphon away your life force for their own nefarious purposes. There’s nothing here you haven’t heard before. Most of these recommendations are just good, old, common sense. But, as human beings, we seem to have an aversion to common sense, so these suggestions bear repeating:
- SLEEP: Getting enough sleep is a defense that is so simple it is often overlooked. Each of us has different needs when it comes to sleep, but the benchmark for “good” sleep is a solid eight hours each night. My cats sleep eighteen to twenty hours a day, and they are the most relaxed creatures I know. (In fact, I think that cats may rule the Internet simply because they sleep so damn much.)
- MOVE: Run, stretch, dance, bike, do a little downward facing dog. Whatever kind of physical activity gets your adrenaline pumping and your endorphins flowing, do it. It may seem counterintuitive (I’m tired. I should rest.), but moving really does help revive you both physically and emotionally. It revs your body back up, and improves your mood. It’s a one-two punch that works every time.
- EAT WELL: I usually don’t have any problem with the eating part. It’s the detail of eating well that catches me up. I was on a great kick of making fruit/veggie/yogurt smoothies every morning, but I fell off the wagon about six months ago, and I can definitely feel the difference. Your body needs good fuel if it’s going to run well. Make sure you give it something healthy once in a while. Start small, and work your way into some better eating habits. Make a game of it if you have to, just get started.
- MEDITATE: This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s something that’s definitely worth a try. I’m only just learning, but when I do make time for meditation, it makes a world of difference in my ability to “keep calm and write on.” Guided meditations are a great way to get started (I really enjoy the diversity of options available from the Buddhify2 app), but any kind of approach will help you manage stress, relax, and ground yourself firmly in the here and now.
- LAUGH: They say the average four year-old laughs 300 times each day, while the average forty year-old laughs only four times each day. Wow. That’s a sobering statistic. I don’t know about all the brain chemistry behind laughter, but I do know that when I laugh, it makes me feel better. It makes me feel energized and rejuvenated. So, I’m all for more laughter, however you can get it.
- GET EXCITED: Sometimes, just having the right project is enough to give you that extra bit of juice to keep going. I know, for instance, that while I hardly ever have enough energy to work late at night on client deadlines, I almost always find that I’ve got a little energy reserve available if the “work” I have to do is something I’m excited about – a story I’m working on, a blog post I’m passionate about, etc. Give yourself the gift of work you really care about, and see how your energy levels soar.
It’s a challenge to keep your energy up with everything you’ve got going on in your life. And, it’s a challenge to know when to push through the exhaustion and stress, and when you just need a good cry over a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and to put yourself to bed early. Resistance is a tricky beast. Steven Pressfield wrote a fascinating post about how his resistance (usually a head game of self-loathing) changes when he is in the throes of trying to wrap up a project, actually creating physical obstacles to working. So, be careful about how you assess your lack of energy. Make sure you’re not allowing resistance to masquerade as a true need for a time out.
And now, all that said, I need to get back to work on a client deadline before – hopefully – taking a couple hours off this afternoon for some much-needed family time. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I hope you manage to make time, create space, and preserve your creative energy for whatever writing you want to do.
My usual What I’m Reading & Writing blurbs and blog posts recommendations will have to wait until next week, but here’s wishing you a respite from whatever pushes you to the edge, and an infusion of creative energy to help you see your own projects through.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
Photo Credit: Gavin Gilmour via Compfight cc