Why is writing so tiring?

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Does the mere thought of writing make you feel exhausted? There are some good scientific reasons explaining why writing is so tiring…

Do you spend most of your day sitting?

And does it astonish you that you’re exhausted by the time the day ends? 

Our class-conscious society usually divides work into two categories: white collar and blue collar. We expect blue collar workers — plumbers, builders, brick layers and others — to be physically tired at the end of a long working day. After all, they’re carrying heavy equipment, moving around job sites and working with their hands and bodies. We all expect that physical exertion eventually leads to physical exhaustion.

But white collar workers — doctors, lawyers, accountants and, yes, writers — who don’t need to move much and don’t have to lift anything heavy, get a pass in that department. Don’t they?


The perhaps surprising news is that the mental work of writing also has physical consequences. Think about it: if you’re struggling to submit a story, essay, paper or report on deadline you’re facing some of the same phenomena a builder struggles with trying to manoeuvre a joist into place.

This is because of the way our bodies work. Our hearts will beat rapidly, we’ll produce adrenaline and sweat may roll down our backs whether the cause of the stress is mental or physical. Our bodies don’t know the difference.

Think of these examples of the kinds of writing stress you may face:

  • You have hundreds of pages of notes but no idea how to begin your work.
  • You’ve left your writing until absolutely the last minute, and you’re beginning to doubt that you’ll be able to finish your 1,500 required words in the minuscule amount of time you have remaining.
  • Your colleagues think you’re not very good at writing and you’re concerned that this latest work you need to submit will cement that negative idea in their minds.
  • Your boss is a jerk who mocks you at every opportunity, and this latest piece is only going to give him another chance.
  • You’re a freelancer who really needs to land this next contract to pay your rent.

All of these stresses can wear us out, just as thoroughly as if we’d been doing demanding physical work.

And there’s yet another reason that mental work is just as taxing as the physical stuff. It’s shockingly simple: Our brains use a disproportionate amount of oxygen. They require about 20 percent of the body’s total demand. Muscles that are moving always require oxygen but if we can see the muscles working (quick, do a few squats) we expect that demand. But if we can’t see any muscles moving (quick, what’s the square root of 5,694?), it surprises us. I know the brain is an organ, not a muscle, but the point still holds.

So, the next time you spend a day doing significant writing, don’t be surprised when you feel exhausted. You’ve earned that exhaustion legitimately with the stress you’ve faced and the oxygen your brain has demanded.

BUT — and this is a big but — don’t necessarily expect to fall asleep quickly. Your friend, the builder is probably going to catch more ZZZZs because of his physical activity. So be sure to work some of that into your day, too, as a balance to all the tiring thinking you’re doing. Bonus: movement will also help you think more clearly. Here are a few suggestions, going from easy to extreme:

  • https://jawbone.comSet an alarm to get up and stretch at least once an hour. If you’re feeling energetic, you could even do a few knee bends or some shoulder circles. The distraction of this kind of break will also serve to help make you more productive, too.
  • Walk partway to work. Get off the bus or train early or park your car further away. A ten-minute stroll to (and from) your office may not feel like much, but it will add to your daily exercise total.
  • Go for a walk after lunch and/or dinner. This will not only help your digestion and improve your blood sugar, but it will also get your feet moving. (If you’re super enthusiastic about this concept, get a device to measure your steps. I like the UPmove but the Fitbit and others, including many cell phones, do exactly the same thing.)
  • Take up a sporttennis, golf, swimming. Something that’s fun, but that also gets you moving.
  • Join a gym and work out three times a week. Start small (say, with five minutes) and build up to 30 minutes or more.

I would never describe writing as an easy job. It’s demanding and tiring. And it forces our brains to work hard. Just make sure you use some other muscles in your body as well, so that when you feel exhaustion, it’s the kind of exhaustion that allows you to sleep.https://jawbone.com


If you want advice on how to hire a writer for your website, see my video on the question or read the transcript. And please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.


How do you make sure you get enough physical exercise? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by August 31/17, will be put in a draw for a copy of The Email Warrior by Ann Gomez. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here** to learn how to post as a guest.

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