#219: Writer's Block 4/4: How a Lack of Energy, Not Time, Causes Writers to Stall and Crash


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One of the biggest hurdles in writing, has nothing to do with writing at all.

It doesn't have anything to do with time, either. Instead, it's an understanding of energy. Without a clear view of how energy works, we're likely to start off strong and then find ourselves stranded. Is there a way around this energy hurdle? What causes an energy loss? Let's find out in this episode.

Click here to read online: Writer's Block 4/4: How a Lack of Energy, Not Time, Causes Writers to Stall and Crash


If you take an hour to write an 800-word article, how long will it take to write 800 words for a book?

One hour, right?

After all, 800 words are 800 words, and why would it matter if the words are for a book or an article? Yet, if you're writing a book, you'll find that the very same 800 words might take three hours or even a couple of days. It's true even if you're very confident at writing and know your material inside out.

The reason for this strange phenomenon lies in the concept of energy management.

Writing 800 words for a book makes your brain go back and forth about how the whole piece sits in the document. The words are not a standalone unit. They have to fit with at least with the information that comes before and what is to follow. Therefore, a simple act of changing the medium will make a massive difference to your speed and efficiency. And of course, your energy.

Energy isn't something we think about when writing

Instead, we tend to worry about the time we have to do the assignment. However, we tend to run out of energy long before we run out of time. We get stuck, can't get out of our predicament and then we tend to believe we're bad writers, and that others are more talented than us.

This concept of talent is a perception, not a reality because most of us don't see how prolific writers tend to split up their writing tasks.

Let's take the Psychotactics podcast, for example

I have to think up the topic, outline the article, write it, edit it, grammar check, post it for feedback, discuss with Renuka or in 5000bc, record, edit, add music, upload and finally queue it.

If I miss or slow down on one stage, it's enough to set the whole sequence in disarray. However, think of the energy and planning required for any of the steps. There have been times when I will think up the topic, outline the article, write it, edit it, grammar check and then nothing happens.

I run out of energy because I've tried to do the task in a bunched up manner, hit a wall and can't go on. Of course, a few days later, or a week later, I will pick up the thread of publishing the article, but all of these energy peaks and crashes were driving me insane.

Which is why I decided to simply space out articles over a week, instead

I'd start the topic on Monday, then do nothing else. I'd outline on Tuesday, then nothing. It might be a week before I get to the point where I'm editing and uploading it.

However, I was taking a week anyway, so why not spread the activity over that week? Take this very article that I'm writing. I started this in the middle of last week. Several days later, we've crossed over to the weekend and beyond, and I'm still writing this article.

Tomorrow, it's likely that I'll still be writing it. When will it be published? Possibly a couple of weeks from now, when all the steps have been done, bit by bit.

If you're working on a single article, this kind of creative procrastination is frustrating

It seems like your article is always a work in progress. You don't get the exhilarating feeling of completion. Instead, it seems to drag on and on. Which is why you need to have two or three articles on the go.

It's 5:48 AM here on Monday, and I'm working on this article, but for 3:45 pm this evening, I will be inching ahead on yet another article. Tomorrow morning, I have a series on “how coaches grow their business”, which you can tell, is the third article.

All of them are work in progress, and as the week advances, there's a constant feeling of completion, as one article after the other gets to the finish line.

However, if you write a lot, it's also a good idea to get help

Energy is not just about playing a superhero. Despite some pretty robust planning and confidence in writing, you can still run out of energy on a constant basis.

This phenomenon plays itself out because we tend to take on more challenges all the time. When I first started out with my articles, 500-800 words were a massive challenge. I barely exceeded the 800 word limit for close to 14 years. Then in 2014, I decided to restart the podcast.

A person tends to speak at three words a second, which means a podcast of 30 minutes needs to have approximately 5400 words.

The exercise drove me crazy and burned me up for months, even years on end

The first problem was just the massive leap between 800 to 5000 words. That was over 500% additional work. Plus as we addressed earlier in this piece, it wasn't just a factor of words.

800 words as a standalone aren't 800 words that are part of the bigger picture. I was slowing down on all fronts, and there was still the issue of adding music, learning software, setting up recording systems etc. I needed help on almost every front, but I also realised that I couldn't do it all.

I had to give up one of the most coveted piece of my podcast production

I loved putting the music on the podcast, but I realised that I needed energy for conceptualising, writing, editing and recording. Which is why Joe Naughton now creates all of that magical music in the podcast. He also uploads it and queues it, which is a massive relief to me.

At this point in the article, you might be wondering why I'm telling you the story of the podcast

Whether you write an article for a podcast, or whether it's part of a course or book, the concept is the same. At first, it's pure madness because you're juggling so much all at once.

Writing, research, editing, style, formatting, uploading, finding a graphic, and queuing your article. They're all part of every single article progress. If you put it on your website and then in your newsletter as well, you've got even more work to do.

All of this energy that you put into getting the article out is the energy you're taking away from your writing and thought process. It's why you're too exhausted to read or listen—and this takes away all forms of input.

If you're running into Writer's Block, there's a pretty good reason

Planning the topics and fleshing them out is a logical system of going about things. But the emotion and the dread of the various steps involved in getting a single article out can drain you almost entirely. It's not all about skill, or preparation alone. It's also about managing your energy, and you might want to get some help. You might have a student body that is keen to pitch in. A client may want to help. Or even kids are more than capable of doing part of the task if you give them a bit of a monetary incentive.

It might seem like writing 800 words is just writing 800 words.

Logically your planning should take no more than 30 minutes, and the article should take no more than 90 minutes, from start to finish. That's not how it works in real life. You stagger, you fall, and you get stuck. A big chunk of that blame lies with the way we manage our energy and how we try to do every single step of the activity. Doing it all is unsustainable.

Here's what you need to do, instead;

—Plan your topics in advance —Get the outlines done on another day —Make sure your research has been stored away ready to use —Finally, write the article —Edit it on another day —If you can, give the rest of the work to a friend, client or someone else.

Energy sure matters

Outsourcing isn't just fobbing away the parts that are uninteresting. To me, the music was the most exciting bit of all, even more than the narration. However, Joe does a far superior job than I ever did and he keeps getting better all the time. And my writing has gotten better, and so has my narration.

You could say I have more energy.

And this brings us to the summary:

The lack of pre-work: If you don't put in the work in advance, everything becomes painful.

The scarcity of input: Input comes from many sources. Your own industry, general knowledge, and through different media as well that includes video, audio and text.

Understanding energy requirements of writing: Finally, writing 800 words for an article is not the same as writing 800 words for a book. And the more steps that are required, the more you're going to burn energy. It's important to plan out the steps and take them on bit by bit.

Next Step: Writer's Block Series 1/4 – Why the Lack of Outlines Even Stop Professional Writers In Their Tracks

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