It’s happened to you, too, I’m sure. Today, for some reason, I felt brain fogged. Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep. Maybe I’ve been in overdrive working to wrap up my final — final — final — revisions of my manuscript . Maybe it’s the change in seasons and seeing all the little kids in town with their snappy pink-and-lavender backpacks waiting for those yellow school buses and feeling a bit nostalgic for those days . Who knows. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t firing on all cylinders today.
It’s easy to feel out of synch with yourself when one of these days hits you. I’ve found it’s best to have a fall-back strategy for these moments — some busy “mechanical” work that’s useful and productive, but doesn’t require too much brainpower, so you can give your mind a chance to relax and recharge. Here are a couple of easy-to-handle activities that I’ve found fill the bill:
Make minor edits and corrections: Take a draft that’s in relatively good shape and do some minor editing. While major surgery is mentally taxing, doing simple fixes can be relaxing. And doing something mechanical, like making corrections can be very soothing. So is transcribing from a tape recorder. If you happen to use one to capture your ideas, then getting your notes down on paper can be a great project for a day when you’re low on mental energy.
Organize papers and notes: I don’t know about you, but I’m very paper intensive. I’m also a piler, not a filer, so I have piles of papers not only in my office, but in various corners of my house — basically wherever I tend to work. Giving myself the task of cleaning up one of these piles or making a major dent in it gives me the feeling that I’m clearing the decks, which tends to give me a boost. The payoff for this kind of project is that it’s both mentally restful and productive: Often I end up finding a scrap of notepaper or a set of pages that has some relevance to whatever I’m currently working on.
Do basic research: If there’s something you need to investigate for a project in progress, then a day when you need a break from burning up your brain cells is the perfect time to surf the ‘net for specifics you need or to comb through your library of books and see if you can turn up anything useful. Just sitting with a book in hand that might provide some world-building background for your novel or a story you want to writing can be soothing and energizing at the same time. You can take notes, jot down ideas, or come up with a rough game plan for a chapter — any and all of which are bound to be helpful without being overly taxing. Best of all, this work can give you a springboard for a day when you’re feeling mentally sharp and stoked.
Low-energy days are part of the ebb and flow of writing. Embrace them, don’t resist them — and write on!