To do so requires “ebb and flow” throughout your day. The tide goes out all day (energy spent writing and doing writing-related activities), but the tide must come back in (energy renewal).
How Much Is Enough?
I don’t mean energy renewal after six months of working on goals until you collapse. I don’t mean energy renewal on Sunday, as a treat for making it through the week. I don’t even mean renewal at the end of your work day. [I have tried all three, and all three will fail you.]
If you truly want to be a marathon writer–one who makes it through the long haul–you must learn something crucial. Just as energy goes out all day long (or however many hours you have to work), it also needs to periodically flow back in.
Be an Effective Energy Manager
A quote from the book The Power of Full Engagement says this:
To be an effective energy manager, you need to spend nearly all of your time fully engaged in the high positive energy quadrant [energy going out writing] or recovering your energy by spending time doing things in the low positive energy quadrant [energy renewal].
Because of time pressures (writing, marketing, families, day jobs) we tend to believe that we just don’t have time for renewal. That’s what I always thought–and the kind of thinking I fight daily.
But the truth is, we don’t have time not to be renewed. In the end, not taking the time will make us sick, either sick in body or sick in spirit or sick of our manuscript! Without renewal, I tend to experience all three.
Let’s define terms first, and at the end I’ll share with you some of my own renewal practices I use throughout the day. (They are short, mostly ten minutes or less.) But it makes the difference between a day that wipes me out and a day that leaves me tired, but also energized.
Producing = High Positive Energy
The high positive energy is expended when you are producing as a writer.
These activities include (but are not limited to) writing, outlining, researching, drafting, revisions, social networking, updating websites, school visits, answering work-related email, speaking, mentoring, blogging, writing-related teaching and critiquing, and studying a book on the writing craft.
Renewal = Low Positive Energy
The low positive energy quadrant consists of doing activities that leave you relaxed, mellow, peaceful, tranquil and serene. For me, that means (among many things) reading a good book or watching a good movie or spending time with certain people with whom I’m on the same sympathetic wavelength.
For you, such positive-energy producing activities may include fishing, golf, sitting in your porch swing, listening to music, going for a bike ride or stroll, or any number of things.
Finding Your Writing Energy Balance
Is renewal periodically throughout the day really that important?
Yes, and here’s why. If you spend all day writing furiously on your novel, zipping along in your high energy positive quadrant, you’ll produce an amazing amount of work. That day, anyway. Maybe even two days in a row, but that will be it.
But unless you spend sufficient short periods throughout your day in intermittent recovery, you’ll burn out and experience a host of other unpleasant symptoms.
By relentlessly spending mental energy without recovery, you’ll be tired, anxious, irritable–and self-doubt will inevitably set in. In a tired state, our stories stink, our ideas sound hackneyed, and our prose deadly dull. At that point, we end up taking off more time from the writing than we would have if we’d made ourselves take those intermittent breaks throughout the writing day.
What’s the result of taking those short “low positive energy” recovery breaks throughout the day? You’ll come back to your work more energized, less ache-y in the neck and back, and more emotionally upbeat.
The emotional component is just as important as your physical energy level! Defusing the bombs of self-doubt and anxiety will help your writing as much as feeling re-energized. And in the end, you’ll write more, not less, by taking the short breaks throughout the day.
Examples From My Own List
I suggest you make a renewal list of your own. Mine is long, printed out and also in a file on both of my computers. Remember, this is very individual. My list may sound very lame to you, but your idea of renewal might make me shudder. It is very individual, depending on your personality, your likes and dislikes.
My list has forty items, and I add to it when I find something I enjoy. Here are some items on my “mini-pleasures list” that should help you get started on your own list. Many take just ten minutes; others are longer “end of day” pleasures. [NOTE: at the end are some **spiritual items that renew me that may or may not apply to you.]
- read mystery for ten minutes
- read in Villages of England book
- relax with soft music, sit on porch swing, sit in sun
- journal thoughts and feelings for ten minutes
- call or email good friend
- watch sunset
- lie down for ten minutes and light a cinnamon candle
- weed flower bed
- take a short walk on trail by our house
- listen to book on tape for ten minutes
- read an uplifting book for writers
- pray–and listen
- read a devotional book
- focus on being thankful for the blessings in my life
Try this idea of “ebb and flow” energy for a week and see. I think you’ll be amazed. And if you have a favorite way already of renewing yourself during the day, please leave a comment.