This one poses a real dilemma for me. On the one hand, fatigue is your body’s way of telling you it needs to rest and renew. However, one of the best ways to counter fatigue is to do something creative. The dilemma is that you can both fight and get fatigue, by doing your art.
When you have had a hard week at your day job and you are so very fatigued from that sustained effort, then even attempting to do some creative work is doomed to failure. The work you do doesn’t seem to be your best. Your tiredness seems to compromise your artistic faculties. It is definitely time to rest and let your mind and body recover.
But what happens to me is that the longer I go without creating anything, no matter how fatigued I feel, the more frustrated and hemmed in I feel. That feeling leads me to feel even more fatigued than I already was. I become a mess of contradictions. That makes me grumpy and fatigued.
My solution is to do some recreational artistic creation, to combat fatigue. I do something that doesn’t require a high standard of finish or anything like an artistic struggle. I do something relatively facile, that I know I can more or less do on autopilot, without trying too hard. That is not to say I set out to produce garbage. It’s just that I leave the really hard stuff for another day, when I don’t feel quite as spent.
I’ve taken on some artistic projects which, while enormously satisfying, turn out to be marathon tasks. At some point in that process, the work begins to suffer as your mind and body get too tired to maintain standards. I find that doing some alternative kind of work at that moment can refresh and revive and it guarantees you don’t make mistakes in your master work that will either permanently mar it or else involve you in even more hours of rework. Judging your fatigue levels is vital in guitar building (luthiery), for example, where one slip can mean discarding hours of work and starting again, with expensive, rare and precious materials.
It actually matters enormously in software development too, though the entire industry seems to be in total denial on the subject of programmer fatigue. The belief is that all failing software projects can be remedied by simply working longer hours and weekends. It happens to not be true.
I don’t find blogging as demanding as other artistic pursuits, so this is a good outlet for me. Sometimes, the rest periods and fallow periods actually turn out to be the incubators of your next great artistic work. Fatigue is perverse like that.
As Gertrude Stein once said: “It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much doing nothing; really doing nothing.”
So respect your fatigue. Let your body get the sleep and rest it needs. Let your mind recover and recreate itself. Let those periods of time reawaken your artistic powers. Let your first creative acts after any great fatigue be nourishing little works that help you rediscover your passion and power. Give yourself time to reach your creative peaks and don’t try to squeeze too much creativity out of yourself in too short a time. There are times when you are on fire and cannot stop and other times where it’s really hard to start. Just be aware of your feelings and try to organise yourself into a regime where you get the right amount of sleep and rest to let you maintain your peak performance for as much of the time as you can. That’s the sweet spot.
Fatigue is no more your enemy than hunger is.
So, I apologize if this post lacks coherence and clarity. I’m fatigued.
EDIT: As my friend John quite rightly pointed out, in response to this post, physical activity or exercise is another brilliant way of overcoming the fatigue you get from constant cerebral activity. Take a walk. Breathe in the fresh air. Run around with your kids. They all serve to recharge your creative energies!
EDIT #2: My friend Sharon also pointed out that optimising your nutrition is another excellent way to combat fatigue. When it comes to getting the most creativity out of your mind and body, it really is a case of “garbage in, garbage out”.