Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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February 23, 2022

Writer Warnings: Steps to Avoid the Dreaded Burnout

by Kris Maze

Do you have the same energy and enthusiasm you had when your idea was just a kernel? Are you in a creative slump?  What you could be experiencing is either Writing Block or Burnout.  Both are difficult when you work in a creative field, but when considering the impact each has on your ability to write, one is much harder to overcome.

Today, let’s check in with our writerly selves.  Are you in that honeymoon period of starting a project you just love to pieces?  Are you on the top of your audience engagement game with fans galore? Are you racking up writer accolades or mastering the algorithms to market your best-seller?

Maybe not.

Maybe you relate more to grinding out each page or tiptoeing through the edits on your first draft. Painful paragraph by paragraph. Being aware of how you feel at each stage of your writing journey can help writers avoid creative lulls or worse, a dreaded burnout.

So, how are you doing with your WIP? 

Writer’s Block Versus Burnout

There is a difference between Writer’s Block and Burnout, and we are going to dig into each in this 3-part series.  Read on to identify key aspects of each, signs you may be experiencing one, and what to do to remedy each situation.

It has been said that knowledge is power, and this knowledge, dear writer, could keep you out of a difficult place where writing is not an option. We at WITS want you to keep your writing enthusiasm intact.

Read on to find out how you can avoid losing your writing mojo.

To keep the writing life healthy and balanced, we need to stay aware of how we feel about writing.  Taking time to check on their relationship with their creative work can save us long recover times associated with Writer Burnout and to getting back into the writing groove. 

Let’s begin with a few definitions of each term.  According to Mayo Clinic, Burnout isn’t a medical condition, but it affects our health.

Burnout:

Job burnout is a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.

And according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary writer’s block is a psychological condition.

Writer’s Block:

 a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece.

Writer’s Block is more associated with temporary inability to write on a specific piece.  We have all gotten ‘stuck’ on a project. And we can usually work our way around this difficulty.  Writers are great analysts and can diagnosis the issues that hold us back on a project.

One reason for Writer’s Block

Often our Writer’s Block stems from a flaw in the story.  We look into the characterizations or world building.  We drive the stakes higher and add compelling details to build our interest in the story. We will delineate more ideas to work through a writer’s block in a later post.

Another more challenging issue facing writers is Burnout. 

This serious condition goes far deeper than not writing the ending to a complex chapter. Burnout derails your writing ability all together.  The desire, the energy, the whole lifestyle is challenging and affects your work, relationships, and even personality. This is exceptionally stressful if your income is dependent on writing, but all aspects of the writer’s life can be miserable due to Burnout. 

The good news is that Burnout can be avoided.  It can be monitored and reversed. If you are on a trajectory towards burning yourself out, take steps to avoid this debilitating condition. Burnout takes much longer to return to writing than simple Writer’s Block. See the following list of behaviors and feelings associated with Burnout.

How to Know If You’re Heading Towards Burnout?

Look at this list from the NY Book Editors Blog. If you can relate to several of these over a long period of time, you may be in a stage of Burnout.

  1. You wake up exhausted
  2. You don’t feel motivated to get out of bed
  3. You snack more during your writing sessions
  4. You think about your writing “to do” list while attempting to relax
  5. You can't relax
  6. You don’t sleep well
  7. You don't enjoy writing anymore
  8. Everything you write sounds the same
  9. Everything (including writing) seems pointless
  10. You procrastinate
  11. You’re isolated and don’t socialize as much as you once did
  12. Your work isn't as good as it once was
  13. You have trouble locating your creative self
  14. You fantasize about running away from it all
  15. You're moody and negative
  16. You're depressed
  17. You're lethargic
  18. You're forgetful
  19. You're constantly fending off a cold (burnout stress often leads to physical stress)

Signs of Writer Burnout

Look for the signs!  One copywriter describes his experience in a blog post here.

As he took on writing as a full-time job, Jon Meitner found that his plan to ghostwrite a novel a month was not realistic for his life. He was confident he could accomplish this because the math worked and because his strength was to easily write 4 thousand words a day. But he quickly found that he didn’t plan for the toll that daily grind would take on his overall health. 

Here are takeaways from his article on how to handle writing burnout.

Don’t overestimate your abilities

You may be able to write thousands of words, but how long can you sustain that?  And at what cost?  Not all of us can produce like Stephen King, and we shouldn’t need to  be successful. Examine your goals and be sure they won’t put too much pressure on you.

How much recovery time do you need?  Writing takes a lot of focused energy and writing too much can tax your writing quality.  Plan how much time you need to stay away from writing. Savor the time you schedule to work on your WIP and honor your downtime as well.

Where are your energy levels?  Pushing through the tough times works when you have a Writer’s Block, but with Burnout, getting back to normal is a slow incline.  Pushing too hard can be counterproductive. Plan small breaks and reward yourself for the time you try to write.

Don’t overextend yourself

This topic is easier said than is exemplified in real life.  With effort and intention, you can regain your love of writing, through setting limits on your time and energy. Prioritize the important things in your life.  Perhaps these are parts of your life you ignored when power-writing in the past. Parts of your life that used to bring energy to your writing. You may not write as much as you once could, but it can be a time of writerly growth. Look for ways to find that writer fuel again.  Consider the following:

  • Reconnect with friends, writing buddies, family. Make a phone call. Have a stress-free coffee date.
  • Start up your neglected hobby.  Or try a new one.  It’s like a sneak attack on your creative block.  Your mind will appreciate the refreshing approach to creativity.
  • Check in with your mental health and get support.  Find a counselor or support group that can address underlying issues that may have contributed to your burnout.  There are many community resources that can help.  Do a simple search for your local area and find resources that can assist your mental healthy journey.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself

You need to get your groove back.  That is more important than your word count right now.  Celebrate your successes and keep coming back to the keyboard.

In my future post, we'll look at causes of Burnout and how to reverse them. Some are familiar in our hard-working writing lives, like dealing with deadlines and other pressures to produce. Pressure is the creative enemy, as we will soon see.  We can also become over critical or demand perfection from ourselves, but it won’t help. Pressure leads to writing paralysis in the case of Burnout.

Keeping a balance perspective is one important way to notice whether you are overextending yourself, but what can we look for to avoid it? Next up in this series, we will explore many examples and causes of Writerly Burnout. 

Until next time, take care of you and know that even a baby step forward is positive progress.

What creative methods do you use to keep your writing mojo fresh?  Share what writing fuel works for you with our readers.

* * * * * *

About Kris

Kris Maze is an author, writing coach, and teacher. She has worked in education for many years and writes for various publications including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and the award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host. You can find her YA sci-fi and horror stories and keep up with her author events at her website which is currently getting some new fun features!

A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors with her family.

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14 comments on “Writer Warnings: Steps to Avoid the Dreaded Burnout”

  1. I recently had to cut down my working hours so that I could have more time for family and life. My family likes to spend some time together each day, and I find that helps me recharge. Having experienced burnout a couple of times in my life, I know how important this is. People in my classes laugh at my "no stress" rule, but it is absolutely necessary for me because having put myself in the hospital more than once, I've learned to be gentler with myself.

    1. Hi Lisa,
      Creative people tend to be wired towards being productive--but it can be so damaging. It sounds like you've figured out the importance of taking care of yourself. (Put your oxygen mask on first kind of thing)

      I'm glad you found a balance, Lisa, because we want to keep you around as you make the updated website look amazing!

  2. I'm glad that you wrote this piece. Burnout is no joke, and takes much longer to recover from than Writer's Block. I burned out from teaching. It took me six months to recover.

    Balance is important and in some cases, a life saver.

    Great post, Kris!

    1. Thanks, Ellen. I'm sorry you had that experience with teaching. It is common in the caring professions, though. Medical and education fields are bombarded with stressors and we've added more in the last couple years. (Just a little more stess.)

      As my own experience in teaching still brings me joy, I do need to cultivate my classroom commitments carefully. We also watch a lot of comedy this time of year to counter balance the stress.

      I'm reading that with some wonderment about how much alliteration I packed in that last paragraph! Too much?

  3. Thank you for tackling this topic, Kris. It affects so many of us. I realized last year that I was at least a little burned out from several years of hard charging self-publishing efforts, and that after years spent workshopping, taking classes, and selling short fiction. Actually, I'm not sure one can be just "a little" burned out. Recently, I realized I was still struggling with deadlines and decided instead to go with internal goals and scheduling the time to follow them.

    I also think, at least in my case, that excessive expectations were a huge factor that pushed me into being "at least a little" burned out.

    Looking forward to the next installment!

    1. Thanks, Dale, for letting me know this topic resonates with writers. I saw many writers piling on stress, and in retrospect, I saw it in myself.

      I write slowly and steadily, and not doing this adds stress because I feel the lack of attention-to-detail.

      Your comment about following your internal schedule is hard to do when we see patterns of success other writers have who produce more.

      But our own journey is just that - our own journey. I'm glad you can forge your own path, Dale. We are independent authors. We can make our own rules! Right? Such a great reminder. 🙂

  4. Like most parents, I spent the majority of the early pandemic COMPLETELY BURNED OUT. It was an eye-opener to see how fast I plummeted when I added "just one more thing" on. Yes, it was a big thing, but it was still an important lesson.

    For me, focusing on my writing and creativity and clearing my schedule out a bit were key. I still struggle, but it's better.

  5. Hi, Kris--

    With every fiber in my being, I thank you for this post.

    I recently read a post on another platform that basically said burnout and writer's block were not real, but a cop out. Get over it, he said. There was not an ounce of compassion in his post--and I wonder what his novels are like!

    I rarely reply with rebuttals, but in this case I did, expressing my opinion that he had obviously never experienced burnout or he would have compassion for those of us who have. Several other authors replied as well, offering their support for my comments, often citing experiences of their own.

    Burnout is very real. And it's extremely hard to move forward and get going again. After my last book was published Oct 2019, I was so burned out the thought of tackling Book 6 made me physically ill. I made a mental goal to market the book and take a break from actual writing. Then the guilt crept in. It made sleeping difficult. I baked and ate constantly. I didn't want to talk to other writers. I didn't want to talk writing, period. I was moody and anything writing related upset me. I gave up and decided I wasn't meant to be an author.

    By spring 2020 the pandemic was in full force and I found other outlets and enjoyed gardening, baking, and reading again. I spent a lot of time outdoors with my flowers and strawberries-they didn't make me feel guilty, or a failure (the strawberries were amazing!), or that I wasn't worthy. Long story short, this little burnout break has lasted two years now, and just as I had snippets of inspiration to "get back into it", we decided to sell our home and build new, thus sending every ounce of energy into this new adventure (the paperwork gave me nightmares). My She-Shed, where I did all my writing, is empty and will become the new owner's artist studio, and we'll be living in an RV until our house is finished sometime in the fall. I have notes. I have ideas popping into my head, and I sometimes envision myself in my brand new den pounding away on Book 6, and taking breaks with a swim in the pool that will be built along with our house. Other times I envision myself learning a new way of gardening in the desert.

    Since we're waiting for our house to be finished while living in the RV, perhaps this will give me the inspiration to get going again, give me the time to dive in. I'm not entirely sure. I still freak out mentally when I think of starting over, yet at other times that flutter of excitement swirls in my gut.

    I kept all my manuscript notebooks handy just in case.

    I thank you for this article, Kris, because now I know it's a very real thing and I'm not alone, and I also know I'm the only one who can determine when and if I decide to return to writing novels. If I decide to pursue other things, then I can say it was fun while it lasted and get on with my life. If I decide to write again, I'll know it was meant to be.

    BUT--anyone who says burnout isn't real is dead wrong.

    Thanks again,
    Susan

    1. Susan, I am sorry you're going through this, and I'm glad you said something to the author of that article. I think that people who do not stretch beyond their cozy routine probably really DON'T get it. But for those people who are raising children, caring for parents, working demanding jobs, renovating, or all of the above, burnout is very very real.

      1. Thanks so much for your gracious words, Jenny. I'm a firm believer that this too, shall pass. I've learned though, to be kinder to myself, allow myself to take one step at a time, and don't look back!

    2. Hi Susan,
      Thank you for your frank feedback and sharing your very stressful situation. It hits people hard. And usually when you are not expecting it. My hope is for my creative pals and writer friends to protect their creativity. It's so easy to just keep at the grindstone. But at what cost?

      You've given a highlight to how important it is to take care of ourselves. I wish the best in your continued writing as you regain your love of writing again. Taking a break is sometimes the best way to do that.
      Also, keep getting writer fuel from our site - there are more encouraging writer life articles on the way.
      Here's to getting into your new house soon!

      1. Thanks so much for your insight and encouraging words, Kris. I have faith it will all work out however it's supposed to! And I'm more than anxious to get settled into the new house...this in-between-homes isn't a whole lot of fun, but we keep thinking it's the first step to our new adventure!

        Stay safe and well,
        Susan

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