Should You Write When You’re Tired?

By Milli Thornton

I MET A writer on Twitter the other day who writes for a living. He expressed unhappiness with his own writing, so I asked what the block was. He said, “It’s exhausting to write fiction after a long day of cranking copy.”

Sometimes the only thing to do is rest. Or read. Or sleep. Sometimes we’ve worn ourselves ragged and we need to rejuvenate. And that’s when it would be crazy to try to push through the tiredness. We need to take care of our health, so we can live to write another day.

But sometimes I think tiredness can be a form of writer’s block. We feel like we’ve given our best to all the XYZs (our job, our family, our paid writing, our . . .) and now there’s nothing left to feed our own creativity. The brain is too numb to write. The old “time for some TV, that’s all I’m good for right now” mentality.

I know I’ve done it. And felt relieved to get away from the pressure of trying to feel creative when I’m tired.

But I’ve also had enough breakthroughs that I can start to see what a line I’m spinning when I automatically say I’m too tired—without at least trying it first.

Here are a couple of my stories.

Last week, in a post called How do you get yourself out of a funk so you can write?, I talked about being in an emotional bummer and how I got out of it so I could have the writing day I wanted to have. When I looked back over my session notes for that day, I was amazed to discover that I didn’t start writing until four o’clock.

Four o’clock doesn’t sound all that late . . . except I had planned to write all day. With all the dithering around, it took me until late afternoon to get out of the funk I was in so I could write. The stress of the emotions, plus the effort of having to find ways to pull myself out of it, had left me tired. I was tempted to just write the whole day off and not bother. But I forced myself to get started—and ended up adding 14 pages to my screenplay.

Was I happy with that? You bet!

Another time. It was Friday evening, it had been a long day full of interruptions, and I’d given my best to all my XYZs. Brian was watching TV with a beer in his hand, and boy did that sound good. I longed to be out there in the living room vegging with him. Hadn’t I earned it? But there was an article I’d been meaning to write all week. It was now or never.

Slogging through a fog of tiredness, I got started. Ironically, the article (written for students of the Fear of Writing Online Course) was entitled “The Biggest Myth About Being a Writer” and the opening lines went like this:

The biggest myth about being a writer comes with two choices for wording:

“I’ll write when I get time.”

“I’ll write when I feel creative.”

Suddenly, I was off and running and the article practically wrote itself.

The biggest secret that I noticed? I felt inspired after I did the writing, not before. And I felt energized. I wasn’t tired any more. I felt creative. I felt happy.

Have you had any creative breakthroughs when you were tired that you’re so glad you didn’t miss? Leave a comment and share your story!

Milli Thornton



Milli Thornton is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Screenwriting in the Boonies and Milliver’s Travels and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching.

14 Responses to Should You Write When You’re Tired?
  1. JM Merchant
    Twitter: jmmerchant86
    October 14, 2011 | 4:53 AM

    When I was a teenager and trying to write that first play, it was really tough. I was at one of the top schools in the country studying for my a-levels. In our free periods we’d all dive off to the library or the common room and it was a normal sight to see at least five or six of my classmates propped up in the corner, under the table, down the side of a bookcase, all trying to get some shut eye.

    I would try and write during my free periods but there was always that nagging voice that such-and-such an essay was due soon and I’d not even started it. The same thing tended to happen after school, and most nights I’d be lucky to finish my homework by midnight.

    But then I’d have the whole night to write my play. A pile of sleeping bags and cushions in the corner of my room was where I did all my school work, but once that was done, my laptop and I would move to the cluttered and barely used desk under my cabin bed. Some nights I only managed a couple of hours before the call of sleep overwhelmed me, but I managed to pull three or four all-nighters on that play, and I wrote the majority of it in a week.

    That play still needs a lot of work, but the night always used to be when I got my best work done. I’m trying to hack back into that old work pattern but maybe I’m getting too old now 🙂

    • Fear of Writing
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      October 14, 2011 | 1:11 PM

      Jo, thanks for your wonderful comment! I felt I was reading a mini-story and I got lost in it as I read. And what an achievement this was! Writing a play in one week during an intense time in school. That story must have really grabbed you by the hair. Isn’t that the best?

      That you even wrote a play at that age is pretty special. I hope you do finish it. I’d love to read it.

      I know what you mean about being too old. You should try being 51 and writing till 3 a.m. 😀

  2. Emma Burcart
    October 16, 2011 | 1:25 PM

    So true! So true! Thanks for the kick in the butt I often need. During the week I get up before dawn and write before the day job and all the other xyz’s. But, on the weekends I find myself dithering away the time and using the excuse that I’m tired or don’t have the inspiration. The line “I felt inspired after the writing, not before.” is so important that I am going to type it up and post in by my computer. Maybe I don’t need the inspiration to write, I need to write for the inspiration. Great post!

    • Fear of Writing
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      October 16, 2011 | 2:04 PM

      Emma, I’m glad this post could be the right kick up the butt – though, I must say, I’m impressed with you writing at dawn during the week before your day job. That takes real discipline, plus some extra stamina too.

      The line you’ve decided to post by your computer is exactly why I wanted to write this post: as a reminder to myself of that moment and that feeling. I’m so pleased someone else got the same from it. 🙂

      ~ Milli

  3. Lois
    October 17, 2011 | 3:16 PM

    I don’t know about breakthroughs when I’m tired. But sometimes, I’ll write for hours, and by the time I’m finished, I’m exhausted, but happy. 🙂

    • Fear of Writing
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      October 18, 2011 | 8:59 PM

      Lois, that’s got to be one of the best feelings *ever* 🙂

      • Lois
        October 19, 2011 | 9:21 AM

        Ooooooh, yeah. 🙂

  4. Tania Dakka
    Twitter: TaniaDakka
    October 18, 2011 | 8:59 PM

    Here I sit…and then you kick me when I am down! Thanks! LOL EVERY night that is my excuse and I guess every night, now, you have slashed it! Thanks for the inspirational post!

    • Fear of Writing
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      October 18, 2011 | 9:01 PM

      LOL! Tania, that’s hilarious!

      Thank you for giving me the privilege of slashing your best excuse. 😀

      ~ Milli

  5. Kate Arms-Roberts
    October 18, 2011 | 9:43 PM

    Great post. And, in general, I agree.

    Just to be Devil’s Advocate, though, there does come a point where writing through the tired is ridiculous. The first time I did NaNoWriMo, there was one night that I wrote through a hypnogogic state. It was an interesting experience, but all of the writing had to be tossed.


    • Fear of Writing
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      October 18, 2011 | 9:56 PM

      Definitely. I agree. I only advocate the kind that leaves you energized or happy or in some way satisfied that you did it.

  6. Alice
    October 22, 2011 | 12:47 PM

    Hey Mili,
    I usually write because I’m tired, too tired to do anything else, just turn my brain off and start writing. Though I don’t write professionally, so I don’t have any quality standard to live up to.

    • Fear of Writing
      Twitter: fearofwriting
      October 25, 2011 | 3:52 PM

      Hi Alice,

      It’s great to hear that you can use writing to help you switch off when you’re tired. And not having a standard to live up to can be very liberating as well!

      Thanks for reading my post. ~ Milli

  7. Ink Paper Pen
    October 27, 2011 | 3:13 AM

    Oh, yes, I have had breakthroughs, even when I thought I was too tired, uninspired, busy (insert excuse here) to write. I find writing as a group to be the best motivating factor. I often don’t feel like it but when I know other people are expecting something from me, I write. And some of the times I thought I had nothing have been the times where I have really got something.

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