8 ways to keep writing when you’re running on creative fumes

It started last Thursday.

I woke up and immediately noticed that I felt “off.” I spent a good half of the weekend on the couch, remote control in hand. And working out today was no fun.

No, I’m not sick. I’m running on creative fumes. I’ve been writing so fast and furious that I can feel my body screaming, “Uh, can we have a little break here?”

Can you relate? There are times when all deadlines seem to converge – no matter how organized you are, or how judiciously you plan your time. Instead of going from one project to another in a relaxed flow, everything is urgent, high priority and due right now.

This situation is something any Web copy writer – from freelance SEO copywriter to in-house content marketer – deals with from time to time. At first, working such a fast pace is exciting. You’re balancing multiple projects and never feeling bored.

Then, about halfway through the projects, you start to lose momentum. You look at your copy and wonder, “Is this any good? Or does it sound exactly like what I just wrote yesterday.” You go home feeling exhausted. Television or a good book is about all you can handle. Talking….not so much.

Good news: Your writing quality probably isn’t suffering at this point (yet). But your psyche is. You’re writing too much in too short a time – and it’s taking a toll.

Exhausting, isn’t it? Looking back at the last two weeks, I’m not surprised I went for some quality couch-time last weekend. But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing (obviously – I’m writing this post!). I’ve just learned how to manage my energy better. Here’s how you can, too.

  • Admit where you are. Some folks have it in their heads that writers should “always” be able to write, no matter what. The reality is, there are good days – and there are bad days. Saying, “I’m a little frazzled right now,” is OK. You don’t have to be 100 percent “on” all the time. No one is.
  • Be picky about what you put into your body. I used to manage these “running on creative fumes” times with a two-pronged approach: Starbucks double-shot latte (which would make it the sixth espresso shot of the day) and a cupcake. I can almost feel the sugar high just by typing this! Then one day, I felt my blood sugar spike and crash within a very short period of time. It was uncomfortable, made it impossible to write and was more than a little bit scary. Now, I focus on protein during high-stress times and always have food like almonds nearby.
  • Recognize your energy flows. Even during my creatively frazzled times, there are still some hours where the writing is easy and effortless. I’ve learned to embrace that time and write when I’m feeling “on.” If I’m checking email every five minutes and blankly staring at my computer screen, I’m not working (or being productive.) I’m wasting time.  At the same time, even if I’m in an “up” energy flow, I’ve learned to…
  • Slice production expectations during busy times. I can write super-fast when the Muse is with me, and I tend to pack my to-do list accordingly. When multiple deadlines are crashing down and I can feel myself starting to burn out, I start slicing items off my to-do list. Ask yourself what’s priority to do right now, versus what can wait until tomorrow. Do you really need to write that Web page now, or can it wait? The more you can conserve energy, the easier it will be to get through your deadlines.
  • Obsessively plan your writing. Sure, if you weren’t as busy, you may be able to sit down and write perfect Web copy without much prep work. But when you’ve been writing way too much in too short of time, your brain just can’t perform on a dime like that. Your best bet is to take time to outline every Web page before you start writing, and have your keyphrase research easily accessible. Spending a little “prep time” now can help prevent you from blankly staring at the screen later.
  • Take time to relax every day. Yes, I know it’s the holiday season – and “relaxation” is typically not associated with this time of year. Still, it’s important to spend even 30 minutes away from the computer and doing something relaxing. Maybe that means reading a book. Maybe that means staring at the window and watching the people go by. It seems counter-intuitive that you need to stop work in order to work more efficiently – but it’s true. Try it and see.
  • Enjoy yourself. I know it’s easy to gripe and moan about “deadlines” and “burnout.” I’ve done it too. At the same time – you can also look at this time as a fun creative challenge. Think about it: If you weren’t so darn good, you wouldn’t have this problem. Enjoy the moment.
  • Rest when the crunch time is over. Congratulations! You made it through. Take a few writing days off and focus on doing other things. By the time you sit back down at your computer, you’ll be seeing your work with fresh eyes – and your writing will flow without flagging.
4 replies
  1. Tim Biden
    Tim Biden says:

    Some of your suggestions here are things that I already do, but taking time out to relax… I need to work on that one.

    I love the focus that a little caffeine will give me but the crash is more than enough for me to say that I don’t need it. I used to have a 12-pack of Mountain Dew a day habit, now a bit of green or white tea will get me buzzing. I’ve become hyper sensitive to caffeine so it’s really not my default energy source any more. Almonds and a protein shake are much better for my brain and there is no mental crash to worry about.

    And back to your suggestion to relax during the day, what do you find is the best way to do that? TV? Book? Exercise? Something else?

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Hey Tim!

      Wow – Mountain Dew! That’s hardcore! :) Green tea is a great alternative. If it wasn’t for my love of lattes, I’d be switching to green tea as well.

      Exercise is a big relaxation tool for me, as is reading. Television is a dual-edged sword. It’s great to space out to, but I wonder sometimes if I’m not making my overwhelm worse by watching a bunch of flickering images on the screen (after a full day of looking at a screen.) I’ve been debating about canceling cable for the longest time because of this. What do other folks think?

      Reply
  2. David Smith
    David Smith says:

    When I’m having trouble being creative, I’ll work on research, revisions and proofreading. I find those tasks relaxing compared to creating new work and it lets me get something useful done while I recharge.

    I’ll admit I’m also a coffee junkie – up to 18 cups a day.

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      @David…what it is about us writers that make us coffee junkies? :) Good idea about working on research, revisions and proofreading. That “stuff” needs to be completed anyway, and low creative times are a great time to do it!

      My admin go-to task is bookkeeping. Weird, I know. But there’s just something about reconciling my account that helps me feel better….

      Reply

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