A guest post by Brian Keller
Recently I sat down to write, looked at the screen, and my brain was like, “Nope, not today, buddy.” I was too tired, too mentally drained, to be creative.
I’m also a copywriter—my day job is to run the website, email, and social media marketing for a business in Minneapolis—and I need a lot of energy to do that, too.
Writing takes energy and focus. It takes your undivided attention.
Let me prove it to you.
Can you multitask while writing? I can’t.
I can look at spreadsheets and plug numbers while watching HBO GO (*cough* Game of Thrones *cough*), but there’s no way I could watch Cersei manipulate Jaime while working on one of my short stories or a blog post. No way. I also write in the morning—every morning, if I can help it—but I’m crap at it if I’m burnt out.
Writing. Takes. Energy.
If I wake up at 5:40, shower, eat my healthy smoothie, and start trying to brainstorm with only five hours of sleep, it ain’t happening.
So, how do you make sure you have the energy you need to write?
It’s easy (this is a lie). When you’re not writing, focus on activities that energize you. I can’t stress this enough, actually. And, it’s deceptively difficult because it involves changing your habits.
I remember a time in my life when I realized I needed to dedicate all my free time to figuring out what made me tick—what energized me.
I lived in Japan (not Tokyo), in a place called Hyogo-ken for three years. And I didn’t live in a city, I lived in the middle of @#$%^&* nowhere: Taka. There was a park nearby called Hesso-koen—Belly Button Park. I lived in the very heart of Japan. OK, the belly button. Sounds fun, right? Yay, Japan! It was fun, of course, but it also made me debilitatingly tired. All the time.
• I didn’t speak Japanese.
• I didn’t understand the nuances of Japanese culture.
• I was one of four English speakers in a 50-mile radius.
• My family was in the U.S.; my safety net was too far away to rely on.
• I taught English to two high schools and one elementary school, and Japanese students in the elementary school used to climb up my body to get me to “roketo” (rocket) them into the air.
I remember laying on my bed one afternoon, on a weekend, depressed and spent. I no longer had the mental or physical energy to go on.
I had two choices:
1. Call home, complain, and maybe leave Japan after my second year.
2. Focus on my rapture. Figure out what makes me tick. In a nutshell: figure out what gives me energy.
I may have been mentally and physically exhausted, but I still loved the heck out of Japan, so I wanted to give my idea a go: I’d spend every minute focusing on activities that made me happy.
• I started cracking more inappropriate jokes at school.
• I stopped watching so much TV.
• I stopped surfing social media constantly.
• Jogging was a life-saver.
• I did pushups outside. This turned out to be a mistake because I got the sense the elderly farmers in my town were uncomfortable.
• I worked in my garden. I remember sitting on my porch after planting flowers in my front yard, and I said “konnichiwa” to an unsuspecting elderly lady named Yoshino; this lady was so surprised by my presence she fell off her bike and landed in a water irrigation ditch. I rushed over to help her up and accidentally grazed her breast. Not my best moment, though she later taught me how to plant strawberries, so I think all was forgiven.
And I was happy.
I was so happy, likely, because I was full of energy, and I was full of energy because I focused on activities that energized me. Seems simple, but it was a lesson I learned the hard way.
Now, when I wake up at 5:40 to work on my short stories, I need energy. I have a 9-to-5 job, as I mentioned, and what I like to think of as a social life with my many friend (not a typo). Sometimes, I’m too tired to creatively brainstorm a new character in the morning…sometimes I’m too tired to write, or even edit, a long blog post at work.
And I remember: writing takes energy.
When this happens, I think about my hard-earned lesson and I re-focus on making sure my non-writing activities energize the hell out of me: I jog, I sing (yes, I love singing), I make inappropriate jokes, and I work outside.
And my writing improves.
I bet, too, that your writing will improve if you focus on activities that energize the hell out of you. I’d bet money on it.
From Brian Keller:
My twin sister said, “You’re good at writing, you should be a copywriter;” now I’m the manager of digital engagement at Fredrickson Learning. Previously, I was a copywriting intern in San Diego, an English teacher in Japan, a Haunted Mansion “creepy butler” at Walt Disney World, and I accidentally started a river on fire in Wyoming one summer while working as a ranch hand. Now I write short stories.