You Shouldn’t Write When You’re Tired

If you’re going to write, and it’s going to be any good, here is a list of things that you cannot be:

Tired. I read somewhere, and I believe it’s true, that your brain consumes around 40% of your body’s metabolic oxygen supply. Writing comes straight from the brain. It requires massive amounts of thinking, and thousands of little decisions — “Do I use “in concert” here or “at the same time”?” — all of which take brainpower. If you’re tired, you either make bad decisions, or default to whatever’s easiest. Your work will show it. Being tired also means you have to take a lot of breaks, so you will also write more slowly, which isn’t good either.

Drunk or hung over. Hemingway notwithstanding, booze absolutely destroys judgment, which is what writing is all about. I cannot imagine writing anything that isn’t pure crap if I had a few drinks in me.

Unfocused. If I have all the time in the world, if I’m not sure of the topic, if it doesn’t really matter, I tend to produce lame writing. On the other hand, I write very well under pressure. Although I’m usually incredibly easy to distract, when the pressure’s on, I have the ability to superconcentrate. I literally don’t see or hear anything besides what I’m working on. This served me well in school, during tests, and it helps me write. When there’s no pressure at all, the wheels tend to come off. Deadlines help.

High. Cannabis is legal in California, and yes, I certainly do enjoy it. But it absolutely sucks all the air out of my writing for about the next three days after I’ve gotten high. The work isn’t awful, but it’s sort of flat, and the act of writing isn’t much fun. I absolutely hate the sensation of having a brain full of cheap maple syrup when I’m trying to write. When I need to bring a word or a name up out of the memory banks (example from a few minutes ago: Who wrote The Roominghouse Madrigals?) it has to appear instantly. So, alas, no weed.

Upset, particularly heartbroken, sad, angry or anxious. If I’m preoccupied in any way, it also affects my ability to write. I either have to expend a lot of effort to keep the emotional demons at bay or they simply march in and take over, and I end up perseverating about whatever’s bugging me.

Hungry. I don’t think I need to explain this one.

This stuff is hard. To do it well, you need to be rested, calm, focused and have a very clear idea of what you’re trying to do, and when you need to get it done.