Has this ever happened to you? You’re editing your manuscript, but everything– literally everything– reads awful. It’s all boring, it’s all confusing, it’s all poorly written. It didn’t feel like that yesterday, but today, it’s all garbage. I’m here to tell you that the problem isn’t your writing: the problem is exhaustion. How to make progress in such times may seem impossible, but I’ve got a few tricks that might keep you from wasting those precious writing hours.
The truth is this. When you are tired, when you’re mentally fried, you’re just going to have a hard time connecting with your story– even if it’s the best story ever written. This is not the time to revise. It’s not always writer’s block. Sometimes, you really do just have to step away and acknowledge that you are not capable of this particular thing in this moment. Trust me– I’ve wasted a lot of time and ruined a lot of chapters coming to this realization! But that doesn’t mean you’re completely useless. It doesn’t mean you can’t make progress in other ways.
Make progress by fact checking
Maybe the creative juices aren’t flowing, but not every part of improving a book is strictly creative. This may be a great time to do those more mundane checks you normally don’t want to spend your creative time on, or the things that suck you in and steal your time when you are feeling creative.
Sort through your characters’ backstories and make sure their timelines make sense. Sketch a map of your world or special locations for future reference. Organize your Plottr. Get some of that research out of the way– just yesterday, I used my braindead time to look up the average lifespan of a horse. I confirmed a suspicion that I’m going to have to adjust the timeframe in which my bandit claims he stole his animal.
Make progress on the business end
Ok, so you can’t seem to write anything you like or even like anything you read. Maybe this is a good time to do some routine website maintenance, check your ads tracking, brainstorm marketing ideas, look up conferences to attend. Put your spending and profits on a spreadsheet. You can also think about your goals and write out some actionable steps– make progress more measurable!
If you just can’t make yourself crank out pages, take some time to focus on the stuff you enjoy less. Then you can at least be encouraged that it’s done, out of the way. Next time you sit down to write, it can be guilt-free and that much less distracted!
Not a contradiction: Make progress by resting!
We’ve all been there. We’ve all had days when our brain just blue screens. And what do you do when your electronics freeze up? You shut them off, wait a minute, and turn them back on.
Sometimes you have to turn off before you can turn back on. That’s just facts. Sometimes you just need to rest, and no amount of coffee or redirection of energy will do more for you then a ten minute catnap. Or a thirty minute catnap. Or just giving yourself a day off.
I have a secret rule. When I am truly, thoroughly beat, when I am so mentally and physically drained by the demands of life, I quit. For one day, as much as practically possible, I do nothing but watch tv or read. My family has pizza that night. Laundry can wait one more day. The computer stays closed. I don’t LET myself work even if I start to want to.
Why? Well, this might not work for everyone, but I find that by the next morning I am downright antsy about all the things I haven’t done. Weirdly enough, this strategy doesn’t just force me to get rest. It also means I start the next day with a surge of pent-up adhd energy. I wind up doing more that second day than I would have gotten done “doing all the things” both days.
It’s all about learning how to trick yourself.
Know yourself. Never stop learning about yourself. If your coping mechanisms aren’t working, try something new.
Absolutely feel like you have to spend today revising? Fine. But do all rewrites in a separate document so you can compare versions when you’re more awake. Under pressure to add chapters? In the midst of NaNoWriMo? Ok; freewrite– maybe it’ll get your creative juices flowing! But don’t limit yourself chronologically; if there’s a scene you’ve been working towards, skip ahead and write what excites you. It’s still words in your project! It still counts!
Just remember: progress is progress, but not all progress has to look the same. It’s all connected. Even words that never make it into your final product help you sort through what does need to be there and how to express it.
About the Writer: Kathryn Tamburri (@KathrynTamburriAuthor) writes clean YA epic fantasy novels which seethe with slow-burn romance. You can find more of her writing tips on The Devo Blog at KathrynTamburri.com, and learn from her publishing journey by subscribing to her fun author newsletter!