August 29, 2007

The costs of writer fatigue

As is often the case, after having a session with a client, I find a perfect quote for the discussion we were having. This client noticed that he became more and more down on himself as he pushed himself to write for 1 1/2, 2, and then 3 hours. Of course, this is contrary to what I advise, which is to write in 30-45 minute segments, with restful breaks in between.

My favorite writer on this, as on many things writing, is Robert Boice. In How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency: A Psychological Adventure, he writes about fatigue:

...Fatigue makes writing, now and later, less desirable; it can trigger impatience as productivity lags and as the tempation grows to pick up the pace; it can bring anxiety and its pernicious narrowing; and it heightens susceptibility to irrationality.


...Our attention wanders and we fight back, much like a sleepy driver trying to stay awake and on the road. Next, commonly, we come to sudden doubts about what we are doing; we begin to question the purpose and worth of the writing.(1) Then with equal impulsivity, dysphoria takes hold and with it intrusive thoughts and an inability to suppress them.(2) With that comes a reinstatement of mindlessness in moving to quick, relieving solutions such as putting off writing until a "more propitious time." What happens at worst? Writers settle into the interiorization of self-focus and into reclusion. (p. 225)

(1) Daly J.A. (1985). Writing apprehension". In M. Rose (ed.), When a writer can't write, pp. 43-82. New York: Guilford.

(2) Conway M., Howell A. & Gainnopoulos C. (1991). "Dysphoria and thought suppression". Cognitive Therapy and Research, 15, 153-156.


At 11:15 AM, Blogger App said...

Here is a fun little tool to encourage you to work...and take needed breaks, too. I call it Instant Boss, and it is a favorite of the grad students over at

It might be something you could suggest to your readers. It has helped a lot of others.

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. said...

I love this tool, app! Thanks for calling this to my attention. I will definitely recommend this to the grad students and professors on my blog and in the Writing Club.


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