Running In The Hamster Wheel Of The Mind

-Sarah Hoyt

If all I do is write, why am I so tired?  If all I do is write, why do I get so hungry?

This has been brought home to me as I’m recovering from a severe ear infection, and today, at the end of ten thousand words, I woke up, having fallen asleep in front of the computer.  And it wasn’t that I was bored with the story – on the contrary.  I kept writing way past the point where I felt a little tired and out of it because I was interested in the work.

What is so tiring about typing?  How can sitting in front of the computer waggling my fingers tire the living daylights out of me?

And yet it does.

I first came across this effect when I was writing the Minoan fantasy (yes, yes, I do get that eventually I will have to rewrite that thing just to satisfy all y’all’s morbid curiosity.)  After … many pages, bringing the thing to a close was a trial, particularly since my character had had so many walls dropped on him, he just sat in the middle of the pages like a passive-aggressive Job or perhaps an uncooked lump of dough, refusing to do much of anything.  So I made it a point of finishing it in a month.  For that month, I’d sit down after breakfast and write five thousand or so words.  At which point I realized I was starving.

It got so bad that I – who hate pizza and who can cook – would forego the extra trouble of cooking, because I couldn’t concentrate on cooking while starving.  For a month, I ordered a small pizza at noon every day and ate most of it before I could think again.

You see, those last few chapters (okay, fifteen or so) were the battle scenes. The worst day was after writing a scene where my heros (ten or so of them) cross a ravine by the force of their arms on a rope stretched across.

Since then, I’ve noted that effect many times.  Trying to push on writing (and editing, being detail work is worse) while I’m sick or just recovering, or otherwise depleted is impossible.  I know that I’ve sometimes had to rest or snack before I could write a big epic scene.

Now, I’ve done real work – hard work, under the sun, like planting potatoes with the aid only of an old fashioned hoe, or building decks, or even distance-hiking.  And I’ve done intensely physical, boring work, like ironing for twelve hours a day.  I can tell you right now that this writing stuff is easy, soft work, a gig done indoors and on a cushy chair.

And yet… and yet, the phsyical effects – the tiredness, the hunger, the occasional muscle pain are very real.  Are they only psychological (is there such a thing as only psychological?)  Or is there something more at work?  There have been studies that seem to prove that you can increase your muscles by thinking of exercising, provided you think intensely and in detail about exercising.

Of course, to write action scenes, we have to think each action intensely and in detail.  So it makes a certain amount of sense.

Does anyone else experience this?  Or am I alone?

I’m taking my tired self to bed.  Tomorrow I have more actions scenes to write.  I just wish I knew if I’m insane (beyond the normal run of writers, that is) or truly, truly a weakling that I can’t recover from whatever the heck this was and write at the same time.

9 comments

  1. I find staring at the computer screen for long periods does make me tired. I think it’s more eye strain than anything else although, like you, I do get the munchies as if I had run a marathon. As anyone with a desk job will tell you, sitting in the same position for any length of time puts a strain on your muscles, as well. It is not easy to remain in that position without stretching or getting up to do something – anything – else. Also, the brain is essentially one great big muscle so if you are taxing it, it will respond the same as if you had hiked up a mountain or swam across a river. That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it!

  2. Hi, Sarah. Muscles are designed to move about. Sitting still actually causes them to tense up. Try doing some bat-crazy arm-waving every hour or do – loose the neck muscles, dance about. It might help.

    I find writing is mentally exhausting. And all that emotion has to have a physical effect:)

  3. Hi guys. I do move around a lot, anyway, particularly when I’m home. My normal writing day, I get up every hour to do dishes or laundry or whatever. I still get tired and hungry.

  4. Sarah, on the ship I always found writing a training presentation to be MUCH more draining than any of the physically-demanding maintenance we had to do. I could spend four hours wedged into the various tiny spaces behind/around/under the drain pump (being the only guy in Electrical Division who could FIT ito some of them) doing maintenance on the motor, and come out cramped yet energized. But two or three hours of trying to make reactor kinetics both comprehensible and possibly-not-mind-numbingly-dull? That’s exhausting work.

      1. Sadly, I’m not *that* small anymore. The first two years I was on active duty, I had regular meetings with a detician because I was close to 20 pounds under the minimum allowable weight. Unfortunately, I turned 40 a while back, and that metabolism packed its bags and left me for someone younger …. I’m on the high side of “average”, nowadays. 😦

  5. I think one of the best examples of this is listening to a foreign language — it is exhausting! All you’re doing is sitting, listening, doing the mental work of trying to understand — and at least I find myself falling asleep, exhausted. Even when I am interested and even excited about the material.

    1. Howdy Mike,
      For me it depends on the language. If it’s English there’s no problem since that’s the one I feel rather comfortable with. French, Spanish or Italian are a pain though, I get tired quickly and with a migraine.

      Regards,
      Rui Jorge

      1. Yeah, that’s almost part of the definition of having learned it — now I can stay awake while listening to someone talk it! But that early stage where I’m struggling to understand, and catching myself falling asleep in the middle of things, seems pretty common. And reflects on this business of being tired from mental work, I think.

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