Surviving Your Creative Hangover - Craft Your Content

Surviving Your Creative Hangover

As I lay on the couch in the pitch black room sipping soda water and mindlessly watching terrible television reruns, I wondered how I had landed myself here.

I’ve had hangovers in the past. As a girl who likes red wine from Trader Joe’s and delicious artisanal microbrew beers (sometimes over the course of a single night), the fuzzy headed dead-inside feeling of dehydration and alcohol withdrawal is certainly no stranger.

In fact, I used to joke that my hangovers were a result of too much blood entering my alcohol stream.

Since I’ve been so sick over the past year, I’ve cut back my crazy partying days a fair bit. I’m sure turning 35 and recognizing that I can’t drink like I used to, or – more appropriately – perhaps I don’t need to.

But this article isn’t about drinking and hangovers. Though, I’m guessing this New Year’s weekend many folks will be nursing themselves through some sluggish days as a result of excessive consumption.

This is about a totally different type of hangover that afflicts the artists and entrepreneurs of the world.

The Creative Hangover

This particular soda water sipping bad TV binging hangover was brought on not by vodka, but by a burst of creativity that sapped all my energy and brain space and, on the following day, left me a feeble lump of humanity from the moment I woke to the time my head hit the pillow again.

What do I mean by burst of creativity?

Per my Toggl time tracking, my day looked like this:

  • 7:48 AM – 8:52 AM : Email, Systems, Admin
  • 8:53 AM – 12:24 PM : Onboarding and Content Strategy Docs for New Client
  • 12:54 PM – 3:37 PM : Editing Client Manuscript
  • 3:53 PM – 6:17 PM : Writing new copy for Client website and materials
  • 6:22 PM – 8:55 PM : Writing new article for
  • 8:55 PM – 11:08 PM : Writing new material for WMC course

Now, I know what you’re thinking. That’s a long day for ANYONE.

But I’m in the throes of the first 1000 days of opening an agency – 10-12 hour days are par for the course, with a few breaks for selfish things like eating and walking around my house or doing dishes.

This day was a little longer than normal, but I just couldn’t stop the work I was doing.

My brain was there…in that magical place…the zone.

Creativity just seemed to be flowing freely, faster than my fingers could type. As any creative person can attest, when your brain is in the zone, you run with that momentum until it is absolutely expended.

The unfortunate thing is, after you put all that brainpower out, you actually exhaust yourself.

The After Effects of Thinking Hard

In an article published in the March 2009 Journal of Applied Physiology, Samuele M. Marcora, a Professor of Exercise Physiology at the University of Kent, reported the results of an experiment he had conducted on participants regarding the correlation between mental fatigue and physical exertion.

The TL;DR of the experiment is that he had two test groups: one that he mentally fatigued through a 90 minute strenuous mental game, and the other that he controlled through a very boring documentary. He then hooked each participant up to a bunch of physiological monitoring machines, threw them on a treadmill, and had them run until , by clinical standards, they were exhausted.

The results confirmed what many already know — the mentally fatigued group felt far more incapable of completing the treadmill activity and reported perceptions of exhaustion earlier than the control group.

Interestingly, the physiological data for each group showed minimal differences between them.

So, while the mentally fatigued people felt more exhausted faster, they weren’t, physically. This of course, does not take into account the thousands (millions?) of other biological tests that were not conducted in this experiment, things like chemical levels or mental and physical acuity.

In other words, the participants may have been able to run hard on a treadmill, but out in the real world, who is to say they would not have been stumbling around in a haze?

How Fatigue Can Impair Your Mastery and Skills

Speaking of pop science studies, the popular television show Mythbusters tested the concept of “Drowsy Driving” in their episode Arrow Machine Gun, to see if fatigue really does have an effect on your reaction time and comprehension.

They conducted three tests on two different driving courses. One stone cold sober and rested to establish a baseline, one fatigued after staying up for 30 hours straight, and one tipsy after a few shots.

The results confirmed that driving fatigued yielded significantly worse results than even drunk driving, with one subject driving 10 times worse!

There’s a reason pilots and long-haul truck drivers are required to log a certain amount of rest time between trips.

Should You STOP Writing When Your Brain Has Had Too Much?

Now, now, not so fast.

I’m not giving you permission to walk away from your writing projects when you are feeling tired.

In fact, our brains are often more creative the more tired we get. Similar to how the drunk mouth says what the sober mind thinks, the exhausted mind ideates what the conscious mind pushes aside.

In a study published in the January 2015 volume of Science Direct, Rémi Radel, a professor of Behavioural Science and Cognitive Psychology at the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis, recorded participants creative language skills after exhausting a test group with a series of challenging cognitive attention trials.

In every case, the test group was able to come up with more creative (less common) word pairings and found nonconventional uses for simple objects, like using a paperclip as a compass (metal will pull due north due to Earth’s magnetism.)

This doesn’t mean that the things you create are necessarily ready for public display immediately after your dazed and confused output period.

It’s always a good idea to look over your brilliant exhausted ramblings before hitting publish. Or maybe even work with an editor, who can ask what you meant when you wrote “Gobbledy-gook metamorphosis complete with peanut butter and jelly?” and give you the chance to help your audience better follow your story.

‘Cause “gobbledy-gook metamorphosis complete with peanut butter and jelly” sounds like a pretty interesting concept, but I have absolutely no idea what it might mean in the context of a piece on creative hangovers.

I do want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich now, though.

This may be what Hemingway was referring to with his oft-misquoted statement “Write Drunk. Edit Sober.”

Navigating The Creatively Hungover Hours

Some hangovers are more easily navigated than others. There are times you feel better by 10 AM, others you still curse the gods at 4 PM.

Age seems to have an effect as well. At 22, I could down a bottle of Gatorade and have a McDonald’s hashbrown and be ready to jump into a day at the office by 8:30 AM. At 35, McDonald’s food makes my tummy turn, and I now know Gatorade has too much sugar to be good for you (or so the health and fitness gurus tell me.)

The point is, your body is desperately screaming for you to stop and refresh. To let you know that things aren’t “right,” and it is going to take some personal down time to get back to “right.”

Whether alcohol or creativity induced, hangovers are your body’s way of saying: “Hey brain, us cells just aren’t in it today. This jerk threw all our chemicals and reactions off last night with his/her total shenanigans. So we’re going to rebel and totally ignore any life functions that aren’t essential. You on board?”

Take the time. Rest. Hydrate. Restore your cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) messengers.

Come back to fight write another day.

And for anyone looking to survive an actual hangover this weekend, here are 19 of the world’s weirdest hangover remedies to try out. Hope you feel better soon!

About the Author Elisa Doucette

Elisa Doucette is a writer and editor who works with professional writers, entrepreneurs, and brands that want to make their own words even better. She is the Founder of Craft Your Content, and oversees Client Strategy and Writing Coaching. Her own writing has been featured in places like Forbes, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Yahoo! Small Business, and The Huffington Post, among others. She also hosts the Writers' Rough Drafts podcast here on CYC. When she isn't writing, editing, or reading words, she can usually be found at a local pub quiz, deep in a sun salutation, or binging TV shows for concept ideas and laughs.

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