We hear a lot about setting writing goals. Do any of you have secret thoughts like these?
Setting goals is great, but I don’t have the energy to pursue them or I’m already so exhausted that I can’t add one more thing to my life—even something I love.
Is that you? Then you’ve come to the right place.
Plug the Drains
Years ago I had a car that guzzled oil. I added a quart every Monday, but by Saturday the oil light was back on. It did no good to add oil without fixing the leak.
The same holds true for your energy level. You can set goals, shore up your willpower, and grit your teeth, but you won’t have any more get-up-and-go until you plug your energy leaks.
Identify the Source of the Problem
We usually lose energy in two ways: (1) enduring annoying or toxic behaviors in other people, and (2) tolerating conduct in ourselves that is harmful (overeating, no exercise, over-due bills, or keeping a cluttered office.)
One essential skill is learning how to set boundaries on yourself, such as: no sugar or caffeine before 5 p.m., bedtime by 10 p.m., straighten your desk when you quit work for the day, or pay bills the day they arrive. (For more specific help, get my free e-book in the upper right hand corner on managing your writing space and writing time.)
You can also set and enforce boundaries with people who steal your energy. Limit your availability, for instance. If you have a cell phone, give the number only to those who really must have it. Your cell phone is to serve you—not the rest of the world. Other people can also drain us with their foul moods, irritating habits, and constant “crises” demanding our attention.
Learn to set boundaries in these situations; keep your energy inside (where it is useful) instead of spilling out on other people. Believe it or not, family members and friends can be expected to “fix” their own bad moods and self-created crises. (Memorize this: Lack of planning on their part does not constitute an emergency on my part.) If you need help with this essential relationship skill, read Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
Remember: the goal is to find more energy for your writing. You must plug the unnecessary energy drains first. Then you’ll be ready to recover your ability to function with ease.
Get in Shape
You’ll be tempted to skip this step, but I hope you won’t. It’s far more important than most writers realize. Just like you need to maintain your car (oil, spark plugs, belts, brakes) if you expect it to run smoothly, you need to maintain a healthy body if you expect to write in flow, enjoy your work, and be productive.
Are you health conscious? “I watch what I put into my body—no alcohol, drugs, caffeine,” says Sophy Burnham in For Writers Only. “I have become so sensitive to my body’s claims that now I actually often eat when hungry (imagine!), stop and lie down when tired. It has taken me years to learn to listen for those two simple demands, knowing that I write better when the machinery’s warmed up, oiled, clean.”
We all write better in that state. I encourage you to take a “health inventory” right now—and do whatever is necessary to turn you into a lean, clean writing machine.
After you’ve plugged the leaks and kicked your health up a notch, it’s time to actually create energy instead of wasting it. If you have set (and enforced) boundaries on yourself and others, you’re no longer tied to energy-draining habits, people, and situations. This should have freed up some time for you. Use that time wisely now—to create more energy in your life.
Nurturing activities create energy. So, what nourishes your soul and spirit? List activities (ten-minute activities, two-hour activities, half-a-day activities) that give you a real boost. This list will be very individual.
For example, my list of energizers includes hot chocolate in my porch swing, photos of castles in England, Jane Austen movies, and journaling. Your energizing activities might be more social (going to the beach with your family) or more physical (running or snorkeling.) Whatever things energize you, incorporate them into your daily life.
Is All This Really Necessary?
Why the emphasis on making more energy? Without sufficient energy (both physical and mental/emotional) we won’t be very creative writers. We’ll sound tired and bored, and writing will be an uphill struggle.
The discipline of plugging the energy leaks (and creating more energy instead) can put the joy back into your writing.
So…your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is:
- Identify your energy drains.
- Set boundaries with self and others, where necessary.
- Make physical health an ongoing commitment, at least during the work week.
- Incorporate energizing fun activities into your daily life.
Then be ready for untapped sources of energy to bubble up! [Just curious: which of these four things are the most challenging for you? Leave a comment, please!]