The end of 2018 taught me a lot about fatigue. So much so, that I haven’t even written about it until now. I’m finally ready to look at my lessons and really learn from them.
To begin with, I gotta say, fatigue is real. If you think your creative well has run dry, and you’re frightened that you may never feel that spark again, please (with all my heart) don’t be scared. What’s happening is natural. It’s happened to millions of other artists before, and there is a clear path out.
However, that path does not include beating yourself up, pushing through, or getting impatient. Let go of those habits because they make it worse.
As many may know, 2018 was a big year for me. I left my full time job of seven years to take my author coaching full time and launch my first course, The Writer’s Lab. At the end of the year, I had reached a place of exciting success and fulfillment as found myself checking off the final items of my To Do List.
My first thought was, wonderful! Clean slate! Now I can start planning my next big creative project! But I also felt I deserved a nap. I remember laying down for that nap on December 4, 2018, and didn’t fully wake up for about eight weeks.
For eight weeks, I was sleeping nine to ten hours every night. I would walk into a room and not remember why I was there. Of course, we all do that when we’re tired, but it’s a constant frustration fatigue. My ability to concentrate disintegrated, work hours would disappear in front of YouTube, which made me feel helpless and ashamed. I couldn’t keep my body in a chair to create content, there was this intense urge to flee every time I tried to do my favorite thing: write.
Worst of all, when I would try to approach a new creative venture, there was no spark. I was always excited to help others achieve their dreams, but I had lost any sense of my own.
As someone who supports her family by writing and creating content, this was scary. However, I’ve learned so much about nurturing balance in my life and creativity.
Really, fatigue was like the dysfunctional spouse to the anxiety I’d been under. Before my mind had been hyperactive with creativity and aspiration, as well as fear and worry, so that when I finally allowed myself to rest, a heavy brain fog engulfed me.
Even if your creative slump doesn’t deal in the extremes of anxiety and fatigue, the sense of balance that I learned from this experience will improve your writing practice tenfold. These are the major lessons I took away from my experience.
Step 1: Recognize It Is What It Is
Whether you’re dealing with a momentary slump, or full on fatigue appreciate what’s happening. Take an objective inventory of the symptoms, just like I did in the seventh paragraph above. Then you can embrace the fact that this isn’t normal and it too will pass. For me, fatigue is like quicksand, the more you struggle, the more you sink. Pushing yourself only makes it worse. Don’t fight it and don’t fear it. Take care of yourself.
Step 2: Adjust Your Expectations to Support Recovery
Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, take as much off your plate as possible for a period of time. This will give your body and mind some time to rest completely and recuperate. During December I shut down my Instagram completely, and would post in the Facebook Group twice a week. I didn’t take on any new work. The reason I couldn’t concentrate was because my mind needed to wander. It’s not a writer mule that can be whipped into submission.
Step 3: Get Into Your Body
Fatigue is physical. It’s not a character defect and it’s not being lazy. It means your physical body is asking to heal. If you’ve been putting too much pressure on yourself creatively, often you leave your body behind. Your adrenal glands might be fatigued as well. Is it too obvious I’m speaking from experience here?
The reason I couldn’t sit in a chair and wanted to flee was because it’s not natural to spend long hours sitting still. Writer’s can fall into this accidentally. Now yoga, running and daily park walks are non-negotiable. If I ever cheat myself by thinking I don’t have time, I ask myself, “Would you rather take 30 minutes today, or spend eight weeks in recovery later?”
Step 4: Journal the Sparks
One of the enormous blessings of fatigue was that it taught me to take better care of myself. I started treating myself the way I treat my son, which is something we should all do. As that happened, the symptoms subsided and I began sketching in my journal. I didn’t force myself to do this, nor did I try to write anything productive. I observed my world inside and outside. This journal was a gravity free zone, where I could just let thoughts float.
But after a few weeks, those thoughts started to take shape and I was ready to be creative again.
As you develop your own regular writing practice, I highly recommend that you don’t swing between the extremes of anxiety and fatigue. It’s so much healthier, not to mention more enjoyable to balance out your day with exercise and self care.
However, even if you never experience fatigue, and are perfectly balanced in your work habits, you’re still likely to experience creative slumps once in a while. That’s fine! These steps work just as well as that. Just use your intuition and feel your way through with the help of these steps.