How To Write When You’re Really Tired

by Joe Bunting | 22 comments

Just last night, I arrived back home from the Middle East, where I was working for the last two weeks. I traveled over 7,400 miles over thirty-two hours, and honestly, I'm exhausted.

write when tired

Photo by Umberto Salvagnin (Creative Commons)

However, I also have a lot of writing to do. I'm working on a new ghostwriting project with someone who has been doing conflict resolution work in the Middle East for over twenty-five years. Deadlines are fast approaching, and I don't have much time to rest.

How do you write when you're tired? How do you focus when you really just want to take a break?

“I Don't Feel Like Writing”

What do you do when you just don't feel like writing? You know you should be writing, but when you think about actually doing it, you start thinking about all the other things you'd rather do (e.g. play another round of Candy Crush, scroll mindlessly through Facebook, eat Elmer's glue).

One way to handle this is to say to yourself, “Just do the work, darn it! Push through. It doesn't matter if you don't want to write. Do it anyway!”

While this approach does work sometimes, it can also develop an inner resentment against your work that can actually lead you to be even more unproductive later on.

Another way to deal with this is to slow down, take a deep breath, and connect with your shadow.

The Shadow's Secret to Restful Work

I've talked about your shadow several times on this blog (here's an introduction to the concept of the shadow and here's a longer discussion about how to write a book with your shadow's help). I find that the idea of the shadow is one of the best ways to think more creatively.

As I was struggling to summon the will to write, I began talking to my inner shadow. I asked it questions, like, “What do you want to write about? How are you feeling about this? What would make you happy?” 

Almost instantly, I started to think about new ideas to write about, topics that excited me, that made me actually want to write despite my lack of willpower.

And within just a few minutes, I was not only writing, I was enjoying myself.

Finding the Willpower to Write When You're Tired

When you're too tired to write, you usually take one of two options:

  • Procrastinate and avoid writing
  • Bully yourself into it

Both of these options are less than helpful.

Instead, try tuning in to your inner shadow. Ask the following questions:

  • How are you feeling about this?
  • What do you want to write about?
  • What will make this more interesting to you?

These questions will often unlock a new, creative path for your writing to take, and more importantly, you'll almost always have more energy to write than if you try to bully yourself into writing what you're supposed to be writing about.

Do you think this would work for you? How do you get yourself to write when you're tired?


Talk to your inner shadow and ask a few of the questions listed above, especially, “What do you want to write about.” What does your shadow say? After you listen to your shadow, start your timer and write for fifteen minutes.

When you're time is up, copy and paste your practice into the comments section of this post to get feedback. And if you share your practice in the comments section, please be sure to give feedback on a few pieces by other writers.

Have fun writing!

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.


  1. Chloee

    I grabbed my purse the kids had left earlier for elementary school after I had rushed around trying to find backpacks, matching shoes, and permission slips signed and ready. I walked tiredly out if the door of our tiny apartment and down the steps to the concrete jungle.

    My beat up pick up truck lurched to life as I turned the key after giving a cough it spurted to life and gained speed. I looked out the window at the line of traffic that spilled from the highway I sipped my coffee careful not to burn my tongue and sighed. I looked at myself in the rearview mirror.

    Dark bags hung under my eyes from staying up late trying to diecide what bills to pay after the kids had gone to bed. Since the divorce I had heard nothing from Will and money was tighter since all the court payments. So from bedtime till dawn I sat and crunched numbers which always left bad news. I tried not to show for the sake of the kids but the late hours were starting to show.

    I turned on the radio and “Your momma don’t dance” blared though the radio. My mind drifted to when I was a kid. My long brown hair tied up in a ponytail flew around carelessly as my father swing me around.

    My constant giggling grew louder as he mouthed along to the lyrics as Kenny Loggins voice filled our kitchen. Mom sat at the table clapping along smiling and my father’s hazel eye’s twinkled as I danced around the floor my skirt twirled and my feet tried to stay upright.

    The day’s of youth and innocents when the sound of that small FM radio could light up my whole world and the hands of my father guided my though life. I turned up the radio and sang along till the very end.

    • Dawn Atkin

      Love it.
      The fickle and challenging demands of life transformed by music and the remembering of freedom and the child your character once was.

      In this short piece so much backstory and a massive transition/ arc for the main character.
      Well done.

  2. James Hall

    But I don’t want to write, I’m tired.
    I don’t care if you really want sleep, I want to write. Lazy shadow.
    I’m telling you… just do it in the morning…. you know how you are when you are tired.
    Shut up! I wanna write this thing! I don’t care how heavy my eyes feel!
    See here I go. Blocking you out so I can write now. I’m writing now. Pencil in my hand and I’m writing.
    Look at that! I wrote two sentences already. Things are happenin’ now! Soon my characters will be bouncing off the walls. The Tired ain’t cuttin’ into my productivity.
    Ok. So this will have to come first, and that will have to come later.
    Ooh! Yeah! Love it. Holdin’ back those blinks. Blink Blink Blink.
    My characters running through the trees! Skipping past….
    trees. running passing rocks.
    I saw that
    Ehm! The WATER is running over the rocks, past the gorge. The trees are blooming like…
    ice cream…
    girls dancing with ice cream…
    Whoa! Eyes don’t fail me now!
    Girls dancing with ice cream?
    I got this. Quiet! I can DO THIS!
    hills trees girls Girls dancing with ice cream
    The trees are blooming like….
    Dang it!
    The trees are blooming like…
    I told you so!
    Fine! I’ll call it for the night. But what am I supposed to do with this mumbo jumbo.
    What can you do with it? You know you won’t even understand it in the morning
    Alright. I’ll skim it for usefulness, otherwise I’ll toss it and hope I still got the time and desire to write in the morning.
    If you would just listen to me a little more often
    Yeah-yeah. Let’s get some sleep.

    • Sandra D

      This looks familiar! I feel like this is me, lol. Duking it out with myself to get some work done.

    • James Hall

      Unfortunately, I usually end up writing and falling asleep mid sentence. Yet, if I start writing before I am tired, I can stay up to the wee hours of the morning writing away if I’m into it.

    • Dawn Atkin

      Madness 🙂
      My favourite state of mind.
      And the gem… Girls dancing with ice-cream.
      Seriously what more could you ask for. Sounds like a good story idea to me.
      Thanks for sharing.

    • Writer75

      This made me smile. I can relate. 🙂
      Thank you.

  3. Sandra D

    The funny thing is I am super tired right now. I actually have been pretty much too tired to write, so this is like perfect timing for me. I asked my mind what it wanted to write and basically went with this troubled guy.

    He stood up from the chair. The lights were off and so it was dark, difficult to navigate the room. The kitchen light was on. He saw her. His wife chopping something in the kitchen and smiling. She is always happy and busy. So different from me. But she doesn’t know that. She knows nothing about me, what I really am like. I doubt she’d have married me if she knew. I stand there, staring at her from in the darkness. I think about coming in but I don’t want to disturb her. I drift into the bedroom, and fall into dreams. Dreams keep you alive. He had read an article about how men died in horrendous ways from lack of sleep in a war experiment once. Sleep to him was a luxary, and he wanted to stay up just because he could. How many ways do we choose what’s comfortable instead of face something? But he fell asleep before he could work out the thought.

    He woke in the morning to his wife laying next to him, lying peacefully by his side. He wanted to reach out and grab her, press his mouth into her soft lips, stroke her warm hip as just the warm up. He moved his hand towards her, wondering himself if he would. But then he hand grazed her back and he tenderly folded his arm over her. A smile curled on her face as she nuzzled into his arm. She let out a large yawn. And turned over and gave him a peck on the lips. “How are you sweetie?” she asked. You look so beautiful he thought. The light coming through thin white curtains made her look warm like she had soaked in warm pools of sunshine all night and came back just to share it with him.

    “I’m good. I love you.” he whispered. He returned her kiss with another one. She moved in the kiss, and waited for more. But he got up abruptly and started pulling pants on his legs. “Okay I’m heading to work. I’ll see you tonight, k love.”

    “Alright, see you then.” she said, her voice let down.

  4. Marcy Mason McKay

    This is TERRIFIC, Joe! I will have to connect to my inner shadow the next time fatigue hits, but I still have to write. I coax myself with “10 minutes.” I tell myself I only have to write for 10 minutes and I can stop after that, no problem. Plus, it’s okay if it sucks. More times than not, I keep going after 10 minutes.

    • Dawn Atkin

      Yes. The good old 10 minute trick. It works for me too. 😉

    • Marcy Mason McKay

      Oops, sorry, Dawn. I called you Joe. Thanks again for the great tip, and for responding.

  5. Dawn Atkin

    What d o you want to write about? How are you feeling about this?

    Really? Why?
    Because it was nice.

    In fact it was sheer pleasure. He was here. He was here chatting and eager to engage. He was back home enjoying our company. And he had so much to say. He’s grown up so much, realised so much. Yes, yes I know he’s anxious about not having work. And regretful that he’s burned so many bridges. But he’s young. It is the age for impatience, nervousness, overwhelm mistake making and mayhem.

    He shared some of his life with us. The fishing story was my favourite. Remember it? Traipsing out to Mageeries Point, scrambling over smooth granite boulders and and through the gnarly coastal scrub. Showing his friends the ‘secret spot’ and delighting in their surprise and appreciation.

    I can imagine the winter sun reluctant to disappear, hanging on to the edge of its low arc and peeling wisps of violet into it’s melting mouth. What a beautiful picture. The voracity of youth shadowed in creamy gold and the invitation of winters twilight. Venus rising to the east. Her full silver skirt studding the way for the misty galaxy to follow her across the sky.

    Imagine the silky luminescent pink of the first salmon they caught. The biggest one he’s ever seen. That’s what he said. And her tail flicking salty water in to specks of glitter and splaying her belly on the end of the line like a mermaid jiving.

    Did you see the pride on his face when he described the small fire they built from twigs collected from the shrub and small grey smooth drift wood nestled above the high tide line. How they made embers hot enough to steam the fresh salmon they’d wrapped in a skerrick of old tin foil. Like hunters. Proud young men fending for themselves. Surviving on the edge of the world with fire at their feet, the galaxy of their home waking above them and the freshest food on the planet in their hungry bellies.

    Did you see the twinkle in his eye. The deep connection buried there. Beyond his iPhone. Beyond his confusion. Beyond the nagging concerns of just starting out into the world of grown men. It was the twinkle of aeons. The knowing of fathers and forefathers. It was the call and the gift of the wild. Dinner on the edge of the beginning.

    Sheer pleasure.

    • Sandra D

      I liked this because it expressed what makes going out in the wild really enjoyable. How everything can be emotionally enhanced. I liked the line, “It was the twinkle of the aeons. The knowing of fathers and forefathers.”

  6. Reagan

    When I don’t want to write, and I ask myself that very question, “What do you want to write,” it’s usually a song or a poem. Sometimes it’ll be a plot line for a new novel, even though I’m working on one already! I’ve got notebooks FULL of things I wrote when I “didn’t want to write.” Breaking away from the pattern of the same plot, characters, setting, that you write about every day helps you regain focus (plus come up with a lot of new writings in the process!) And it gives you back the desire to WRITE!

    In all you do, do unto the glory of God

  7. Michael Follen

    I am really just starting to get into story writing, I randomly came up with this story that i could continue on. This is all i could get out in 15.

    It felt like there was crude oil in her jean pockets, dried crazy glue in mixed up in her long dirty blond hair and mud underneath her paint cracked nails. It was unbearable, She wanted to run as far as she could but all she could do was sit still and dwell on the approaching verdict. There was nowhere to go, no escape, this could be with her forever. She found herself sitting in a chair elbows to knees staring at the lines, and veins on her palms as if they were tools in this mistake and reminded her it was all too real. The “what ifs” and “buts” clouded her thoughts and she was lost.

    Unstuck in time she throughly sifted through her past mistakes and to the future predictions. She dreaded the whole thing. It was like rolling dice but the outcome effected your life and the dice bounced around for days rolling around back and forth. panic and dread sat on her should like a hot iron. She waited in scorn and sat and thought as the dice dance around. What will become of me and how will I continue? she thought.

  8. Avril

    I just signed up for thewritepractice a few days ago, and just read the comments here. I think I might be hanging out with some good writers! Thank you for sharing the samples of writing, they are all good and interesting, and I hope to read more. I do have a reaction to the post about writing when you’re tired and finding the shadow.

    What a coincidence to read about “The Shadow” this morning. For the last two
    days, I’ve started to feel that I finally understand why I am never pleased with anything I write. Even if other people tell me it’s really good, I read it and wonder, “who wrote this?” I don’t recognize the voice. Lately I started to connect some dots….that when I have an idea or some dialogue in my head, that sounds to me like it’s going to work out on paper, consistently I am disappointed and even angry with what I put on the page. I had started to really listen to those ideas in my head, and in that last 48 hours, understood that it’s not so much the actual ideas that are important, as the tone and manner of speaking that I can distinctly comprehend.

    I started reviewing material I’d recently written, and have tried to figure out what voice is speaking when I write/type. Oh no, (loud groans), I do know that voice. That is the writing style I came up with in 8th grade, when I started having to write book reviews, journals, etc. I had to fill a set number of pages, I had to make my teacher think I was really smart and had read the whole book (Great Expectations? Hell No!), and of course, my opinions had to be politically correct, expressed inoffensively, and carefully calibrated to not give the teacher the slightest hint that I might be totally off-my-rocker.

    I do have a shadow, though I never thought of her as quite that. I can see her, and now I know it is her that has been running the scripts in my brain. I think in pop psychology, she is my inner child. I have kept her under wraps, because I think she might really be my inner asshole. Well, wasn’t it Allen Ginsberg who said something about not being afraid to howl at the moon? Ok…I’ll give it a try.

    • Dawn Atkin

      Looking forward to hearing some of that hoooowwwling Avril.

  9. Jenny Bravo

    This is such a great post! Now that I have a full-time job, I’m starting to realize how crucial every extra bit of time is. There are days where I just want to lie on my couch and pretend my novel isn’t there. For me, I have to get off of the couch. I need to stand up and write at the counter. I make a cup of tea. I try to kickstart my brain again. Exercise helps, too! It gives me that extra bit of energy that I need.

    Thanks for your advice!

  10. Godotful

    I seem to only write when I’m tired actually. I suppose it shows:

    And even though that is a fairly shameless plug for this new blog, I appreciated this post. The idea of shadow is an interesting one. Sometimes, though, I find that what I have written in a moment of tired pique is worth exploring more. Am I naive for not wanting to touch that spontaneity? Or am I just too lazy to change my routine?

  11. Vicki

    I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired / bored / uninterested that the best alternative was to eat Elmer’s glue.

    Should I consider myself lucky?

  12. darkocean

    wrong blog i guess, i’ve got ‘I biked two miles up painful hills to get my son some food to eat before he gets home day tried + tired from a bad sinus head later that day. (I don’t own a car.) Blea forget it I’m going to sleep anything writing right now would in sad state. Still I liked reading this.



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