What Happens When A Writer Burns Out?

What happens when a writer burns out?

No, really, I’m asking. What happens when a writer burns out?

I may be about to find out because lately I’ve been feeling like my foot is hanging off that precipice. I’ve been in a constant state of “go” for the past year, with very little down time, and I’m starting to feel the effects of it.

It’s not even a matter of how much stuff I have going on, but it’s more a matter of how much stuff I take on and not feeling like I’m getting anywhere. It’s kind of like I’m on this journey and along the way, I stop to pick up different things that I think will help me when I get to my destination. But I keep walking and walking, picking up more and more stuff, and it’s getting heavier and harder to walk. I’m starting to get tired.Angelo_Trezzini_-_A_Tired_Seamstress

I guess burn-out is a combination of physical and mental fatigue, but it’s the mental fatigue that concerns me more. Physical fatigue is easier to fix.

Here’s why it concerns me: I was thinking about what I could do to regroup and regenerate (aside from spending a week on the beach in Oahu or Punta Cana with a coconut mojito in my hands), and I thought to myself, maybe after I’ve completed the projects that I’m currently working on, I’ll take a break from writing short stories and just focus on my longer works.

And that sent me into a little bit of a panic. I mean, when stress drives me to not create, that’s bad. And so I decided that I was not going to allow outside stresses to do that to me. Writing is essential to my being and if I choose to cut that out of my life—to any degree—to accommodate the dreadfulness, then I’m doing myself a serious disservice.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to have to do to rebalance, but cutting out my writing isn’t it. It can’t be. Rather, I’m looking to my writing as way to get to that place of purposefulness, productivity, and accomplishment.

Burn-out is a terrible thing, but the solution is not to dump a bucket of water on yourself to smother the smoke and tamp down the ashes. The solution is to add sticks to the pile, stoke it, and get your flame burning strong and bright again. I want to be strong, I want to be bright, and I want to be hot. (You can take that last one any way you want. 🙂 )

18 comments

  1. This seems to be hitting several writers because yours is the second or third post I’ve read in the past week on the subject. Here the link to one of the others which may have some suggestions for you. And while I would certainly never say to stop writing — that would be like to stop breathing — but you can slow down, get off the deadlines and projects and just write some for yourself. But here’s the link that might have some suggestions for you. http://writerunboxed.com/2014/03/26/when-the-thrill-is-gone/

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    • Hey, nagolmai. Thanks for the link. Yes, I think it’s going around a bit. Unfortunately, the illness spreads more easily than does the cure. Hopefully, many writers will seek out the cure. I’m doing my best with it.

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  2. That was a good link at Writer Unboxed. I hadn’t seen that one and I follow that blog. Huh.

    Part of the problem, I think (as WU points out), is that a lot of writers have day jobs (myself included), and that brings its own issues to the table. It limits the time you have to write and makes you feel even more stressed as you try to build up your backlist with the limited time you have and you don’t have much free time because of that day job. Plus, you have the business of living to attend to. Running errands, cooking, doing laundry, taking care of kids (if applicable), animals (if applicable), and taking care of yourself (i.e. vacation/time off/recreation/whatever). I haven’t had an official vacation in almost 7 years. There are stretches of time where I don’t write anything, but I know when I have to get back into it because I’ll start getting cranky. Writing helps regiment my day, even if I’m not working on a specific project. So I try to use it as a way to recharge after my day job, but some days I’m so tired after a day working that I just can’t write effectively. And the older I get, the harder it is to maintain a pace like that.

    So yes, burnout is real. I think all writers go through it. The suggestions at that link are good ones. So writers, pay attention to yourselves and if you feel this coming on, don’t ignore it. Take some time to reconnect with the world around you, at the very least. The time you would’ve used writing? Go to a movie. Read a book. Take a walk. Go to an art show or a museum. If possible, go hiking in some open space. Spend a day volunteering at an event. Spend time with loved ones, whether animal or human. And your mojo will return. 🙂

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    • Agreed, Andi. Making time for yourself is vitally important. However, if other writers are like me (and I know that many are), actually pushing themselves to carve out that time that is the difficult part. There are so many excuses we use. And fear plays a part in it, too. Fear that we won’t finish this or that on time, or perhaps at all. But, in the end, if we crash and burn, nothing will get done.

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  3. I’ve had writing burnout. Last year, actually. It sucks. So I try to find other things that stretch my perspectives and get me out of the house. I try, too, to let go of OMG I HAVE TO FINISH THIS HAVE TO WRITE THIS HOLY CRAP IF I DON’T I’LL BE STUCK IN A VORTEX OF FAIL. Because that’s just not effective. I’m more forgiving of myself these days, but I still have my moments.

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  4. It might sound counterproductive, but finish your current projects and then stop for a week or two. No writing at all. It’s like music, the “rest” in the score is as important as the notes.

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  5. I employ that strategy all the time. But sometimes, you can’t do that. So for those who can, do it. If you’re like me and you did something stupid this last time and bit off a bit more than you can chew, organize your projects by importance (schedule, too) and hammer away at the first one while telling yourself that once you finish the last, you’ll take a break. Then take a couple of days off and hammer away at the second. Remind yourself that once you finish the last project, you’ll take a break. Then take a couple of days off and hammer away at the third. Keep telling yourself that when you finish the last one on your list, you’ll take a break. Until you’re caught up. When you’ve finished that last project, then take more than a couple of days off, and for future reference — don’t bite off more than you can chew.

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  6. I totally understand the burnout. I couldn’t imagine having to hold a full-time job (with commute) on top of that! I am fortunate enough to NOT work outside the home – and I STILL have problems with it. Actually – that makes me feel even worse and like I don’t DESERVE to have burn out! OMG – see how my head works? LOL
    Myself, I would take time to dance when you can RG and replenish your exhausted spirit by doing something that makes YOU happy! I certainly wouldn’t want to imagine not reading any more of your words 🙂

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  7. I highly recommend meditation, if you don’t already. A good guided meditation group is the best, but even self-meditation on a daily basis is preferable to none. If you feel too busy to take 15 minutes to meditate, you need it even more. 🙂

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