On Muscle Fatigue and Writing

We are excited to welcome our new monthly contributor Megan Paasch!

One of the most common writing adages is to write every day, be it a page, a paragraph, a sentence, a word . . . write something every day. It’s great advice! The idea behind this is that the creative part of your brain is like a muscle; you need to exercise it on a regular basis to keep it strong. And to an extent, this is true. But there’s one tiny thing this comparison doesn’t take into account: you can overwork your muscles if you aren’t careful.

Anyone who’s ever been in to weight lifting knows that if you want to build muscle, you don’t actually strength train every single day. You do it every other day, with a day off in between. That day off gives your muscles time to knit and bulk up and . . . okay, I’m not sure what they do exactly, but they do something important, and if you don’t give yourself that break, you increase your risk of muscle fatigue, or worse—injury.

For me, and I suspect for a lot of you as well, writing is like that too. Now I’m not saying to skip a writing day every other day. I do think that, as long as you’re able, yes, you should try to write every day. But if you get blocked, or frustrated, or you start hating your work and want to print it out just so you can tear it to shreds, set it on fire, stomp it out, then set it on fire again . . . mayyyybe it’s time to take a break. It’s really okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

I know, I know, it’s really hard to make yourself stop worrying and obsessing about why a scene isn’t working, or why a character isn’t sitting right with you, or why everything you type appears to curl up into a fetid mass of garbage. It’s hard to force yourself to step away and think of something else. But trust me—if you do this, that big noodley mass of curls in your noggin will let out a relieved sigh and thank you for it.

Then, when you’re ready (hopefully this should only take a few days), get back to it. You might find yourself looking at whatever wasn’t working for you in a new light. You might decide you like it. You might know exactly how to tweak it to make it better. Or you might deem it unfixable, cut it, and try something else. But no matter which you do, the decision to do so will be made with a much clearer head. And in those rare circumstances you come back from your break and still find yourself stuck, well, that’s when you should take another prevalent piece of advice and write through the block. After your break, you’ll be much better equipped to do so.

When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband.
A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here

One thought on “On Muscle Fatigue and Writing

  1. This is so true! After years of writing most every day and then not writing for weeks because of burn out, I'm working on making my writing schedule M-F and taking the weekends off. It makes writing five days in a row easier when I know I'll be getting a break soon and it protects me from the muscle fatigue you speak of. Great post!


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