How To Avoid Being A Cranky, Sleep-Deprived Writer

Jim Woods by Nathan Cowley (Creative Commons)

Grrrrrr. You’d have thought someone put spiders in my Cheerios.

After grumbling to myself all afternoon, I came to the realization that being an early bird writer simply doesn’t work for me.

There is a major flaw in thinking you MUST be an early bird to be a writer because other people get up early. What works well for some people doesn’t for others.

So on that note… figure out what works well for you. Sure, some people have the energy to get up at 5 AM and write. Others like to stay up late until 2AM.

Just keep in mind that if you overdo it with either approach and you’ll hit the point of diminishing returns (AKA mental fatigue) which often leads to burnout.

It is important to write at whatever time YOU work best. Figure out what blocks of time you have available. Get creative and figure out what works for you.

Five hours of focused writing is better than 20 hours of unfocused writing.

Here are some potential times that may work well for you if you are finding time to write in the margins:

  • Your lunch hour.
  • Right after work.
  • When the kids take a nap.
  • Ride the bus and write while you are commuting.
  • Cut back on watching sports and write on the weekends.
  • Get up a half hour early or staying up a half hour late building up to an hour over time.

You will find the gaps and margins that exist if you look closely for them. All hours in the day are not equal — you will work better during certain parts of the day. Be aware and intentional to figure out when you do your best work.

A Word For Parents

If you are the parent of young kids, let’s face it — all bets are off. Being a parent is unpredictable, draining and absolutely awesome. Many times the best you can do is to work with your spouse and to intentionally support each other.

The dream of being a writer will turn into a nightmare if you are not on the same page with your spouse. Maybe every other Saturday morning you switch off and give your spouse some dream time. Do what you can and realize that maybe this is just a super busy season.

Enjoy this time and don’t neglect your family — or you have already failed.

Make the choice to focus on what matters most to you.

You’re not a robot, so don’t pretend you are one. Don’t compare yourself to others who work more than you do. Good for them. This isn’t a race.

You already know this, but the odds of divorce and disconnection from your family get higher for each hour you work.

Here are some tips to avoid being a workaholic writer:

1. Be self aware. This means paying attention to what your body is telling you. Sleeping when your body says to sleep. Not eating junk as you know it will make you feel worse.

2. Set boundaries. Work designated hours. This can mean 8–4 or even 9–11 on every other Saturday. When you have a “work schedule” you will be able to know when you are working and when it is time to not work. Quit checking email all the time and put down the phone when it is family time.

3. Know your energy levels. All hours are not remotely equal. Find your “prime time” that is when you write best. This will be when you are most alert and use that time as wisely as possible.

4. Writing is very important, but again, remember your family is much MORE important. If you have kids, the truth is they don’t care how much money you make. You can’t get that time back no matter how many zeroes you have in your bank account. Our time on this planet is limited and childhood goes by in the blink of an eye.

Are you spending your time on what matters most to you or are you spending your time focused on acquiring stuff you don’t even need?

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Stories are powerful. That's why I write.

Akron, OH

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