Writers Burnout

Note: I do not have burnout. This is only information I’m sharing after researching the topic.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a psychological term for the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest, usually coming immediately after an extended period of overwork.

Many people can suffer burnout, but I’m only interested (at this stage) with writers burnout. It is more common than you might think for a writer to just put down their pen and call it quits. For those who have never suffered burnout, this scenario is hard to imagine but even you could one day come face to face with this dreaded monster.

Why does it happen?

A writer usually has a multitude of ideas running around in their head. It’s only natural to try and put those ideas on paper. However, most writers have other responsibilities too. They might work full time, or even part time. They may have families to look after, as well as homes and pets. There’s always chores to do, places to go and people to meet. There are sporting events to attend, social evenings and children to play with. And then there’s the writing that person wants (or needs) to do to fulfil their creative side, or just because they have a wonderful story to tell.

All these things are important, yet there are only so many hours in a day for our use. Many writers are tapping away at their keyboards while their family is peacefully asleep. They plot stories while doing the washing, or go over dialogue while cooking the family dinner. They jot down a scene while waiting for a bus, or when sitting in the doctor’s waiting room. More ideas jump out of the TV or from the pages of the novels they read. It’s a never ending stream of scenes, characters and plots. It’s exciting and the rush of each chapter being finished drives them on.

They pressure themselves to write more and believe their writing should be better. Family and friends in their belief of being supportive, can place even more pressure and demands on the writer’s shoulders. Or, they can pour doubt in the writers direction, leaving them determined to prove themselves, which means they work harder.

The writer neglects their health. They sleep less because night time is the only time they get to write, and when they do go to bed their mind will not stop churning over and over and over. They push themselves to the limit and then…they break.

What are the warning signs?

1. Physical, Mental and Emotional Exhaustion.

2. Shame and Doubt.

3. Cynicism and Callousness

4. Failure, Helplessness and Crisis.

I’d be surprised if anyone hasn’t suffered at least the first stage of burnout. I have. In fact, I’m quite sure that I was close to stage three (but not quite, after doing NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago). It took me almost a year to turn that exhaustion and doubt around. That’s almost a year wasted! I didn’t know what was happening to me and without help I pulled myself out of the pit and continued on.

If you suspect that you’re suffering from writers burnout then you need to do something before it’s too late. Don’t continue on as you have been because that will only make matters worse. Stop! Now do something about it. Do it today.

Firstly, take a holiday. Even if you don’t go away (but it’s better if you do), take some time off work and break the everyday routine. Go out to new places on day trips, spend time doing something different. It’s all right to be selfish once in a while. Take yourself off to a spa, or a facial, or a massage. And don’t forget to spend time doing absolutely nothing. Let your body relax and recharge.

That’s a great start, but it’s not a long term solution. Next you need to find out about yourself. Often burnout is related to stress, and you need to work on the issues that have been and will probably continue to cause you stress (unless you deal with them). Start a private journal, write down your problems instead of letting them ferment in your mind, which will only poison your body. Identify the problems and then deal with them. By making yourself emotionally healthier, you will be helping yourself be mentally happier and more able to cope.

Next, you need to know how to deal with criticism. As writers we receive criticism on, almost, a daily basis. This can drain our energy emotionally and mentally. You cannot turn your back on criticism because by doing this, you’re turning your back on valuable feedback. However, you do need to recognise good and bad comments, and be able to reject the useless comments without it effecting you or your creativity. Once you learn to do this, you’ll discover your energy levels will remain higher for longer. One tip is never show anyone the first draft of your work. This is just asking for bad feedback.

Accept that you’re not perfect and that your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, and learn to experiment and take risks with your writing. Writing, like life, can become humdrum and routine. Break habits and do something different.

Finally, relax. We are busy people, with busy lives, but we all have to learn to relax on a regular basis. Allow your body the sleep and nouishment it needs and deserves. Take walks in the sunshine. Smile and laugh. Read books and watch movies.

And then write!

Have you suffered burnout?

Rejected!

I remember my first rejection letter. It was quite a number of years ago now, when my boys were young. I went and hid in the bedroom to open the “all important” parcel.

Trembling, I carefully opened the envelope and pulled out my manuscript. Without reading a word, I already knew what was in the brief letter attached because I assumed that if they were interested in my work then I’d be pulling a contract out of the envelope instead of my manuscript. I was right!

Rejected!

After many tears, I put the manuscript, and the letter, away and didn’t write another word for several years. The reason? I’d been rejected, which meant I couldn’t write. (I was young, and it was long before the internet existed, and I had no support–so you’ll have to forgive my way of thinking back then.)

About five years ago I started writing again. Maturity allowed me to read that rejection letter and realise that it wasn’t personal, it was a standard wording. This allowed me to pull the pieces together and find a new confidence.

Since then, I’ve received a number of rejections. All standard letters, but I never allowed myself to make the same mistake as I did with that first one. Naturally, finding the internet and a support base helped too.

If you’re a serious writer, you need to be thick skinned. You can’t afford to cry in a corner. There isn’t time for that. Besides, time is precious so why waste it feeling sorry for yourself. Get the work back “out there” and do it immediately!

Today, I received another rejection letter. It started with Dear Writer which means that it was a standard letter too. Whilst it was nicely worded and encouraging, I skimmed over it and dismissed it. They don’t want my story, fine, who’s next on my list? The story will be in the post, to the next publisher, by the end of the week.

Getting Back On Track

The end of the month is fast approaching, and it’s time for me to make a decision. I listed my options on 12th May. They were:

1) Work on my Sam novel. This is a young adult fantasy novel.

2) Continue with the collaborative novel. Chapter 20 has been completed, which is a stones throw from the climax.

3) Plot out Book 2 in the trilogy. I know what the story will be about and several chapters have been written but it needs a thorough overhaul.

4) Write some more short stories until the edited verson of Book 1 comes back.

However, I have another option to add to this list.

5) Continue on with a romance manuscript that I started a few years ago.

Here are my thoughts on the above. It’s always encouraging to have options, it means I won’t be drying up (running out of things to do) any time soon. However, there are only so many hours in a day and since I work full time and do have a family, my time is limited. I want to use my time wisely.

Options 1, 4 and 5 can wait. Besides, with number 4 I might find time at work to write a short story.

Option 2 is so close to being finished that I feel I should take this option but the climax of this story is a huge battle scene that I’m actually fearful of writing (my collaborative partner was going to write this scene but has since decided to give up writing). I should tackle it but I know I will procrastinate in a big way with this one.

Option 3 is my preference but I really would prefer to wait for the comments from the editor on book 1 before I move on to the second installment.

So…this shows clearly which option I should take. Am I able to write that battle scene? That’s the big question!

Editorial Process

As I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this yet, I turned to Australian author, Sara Douglass, to find out about The Editorial Process.

Reading the procedure brings up a few emotions–excitement and fear being among them. Why the fear? Simply put, can I handle the pressure? Can I meet the deadlines, and in doing so…can I produce the goods? I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

Now to go slightly off topic. I feel writing is like stepping stones across a pool of water (I’m sure I read that somewhere once). As we progress across the pool, we are learning all the things we need for when we reach the other side.

Personally, I feel that I’ve passed the half way mark. My thinking has changed, my knowledge is growing, and mentally I’m ready to step across the uncertain water to a stone that is closer to the finish.

My advice to those who are standing on stepping stones at the beginning of the journey, is to not doubt yourself, to listen when someone is willing to talk about your work, and not to take those comments personally. The only way to learn and grow, is to find out what is wrong with your stories. Hearing “I like it” is good but not helpful. Hearing “I like it but if the characters were developed more it would be better” is harder to hear, but is showing you the way to the next stepping stone. Listen and learn, it’s a necessity if you plan to reach the other side.

Australian Authors

The Australian Literature website has a listing of Australian authors and a bit of a bio on each person.

Going through the list, I discovered that I know only a few of them–the rest are unknown to me, yet some of them have an impressive list of published works. Why haven’t I heard of them then?

If you are Australian and writing what might loosely be termed serious modern fiction then you might as well not exist.

It’s sad, but true. This is how it has been for many years, but I hope that is changing now. And if it is, I believe the internet has had something to do with that.

A thought: I would hate my name to appear in a list of unknowns, so it’s time to start building an internet presence–for the day I become published. 🙂

Having an Opinion

Everyone has an opinion. No one can take that away but why do some people insist on attacking a person because they have an opinion. It’s usually because the opinion is different to their own.

I was brought up believing “kids should be seen and not heard”. My opinions were not nurtured until late in life because of my upbringing. I had no opinions except what I overheard but at some stage in life I discovered that I didn’t always believe the same thing as the next person. However, I still have trouble expressing those opinions, and when I do it really peevs me when someone (anyone) tries to squash me. What gives another person the right to tell me that what I believe is wrong? Nothing and no-one has that right!

Yesterday, I made a statement on the message board. I said something that was my opinion and by the comments made by other people I was made to feel that I had to defend myself. The thing is, the comment was just a simple thought that I had while browsing some reviews of my favourite author – Paula Volsky. I discovered that she has written several books using the same world, but only one of them used a character from Illusion (my all time favourite book). All the others were set in the same world but used completely new, unknown characters. My comment was that I wouldn’t like to read books like that because I’d feel disappointed when the characters I loved didn’t turn up. I’d turn the pages looking for them, waiting for their arrival and that would distract me from the novel at hand. The second part of my comment was that I believe an author who writes lots of books using the same setting is lazy.

That is my opinion. That’s how I feel. I’m not wrong, because this isn’t a thing of right or wrong — it’s me! I’m not forcing that onto other people. I don’t care if another reader loves the same setting with different characters. That is up to them. I don’t care if they write a dozen books in the same world. That’s their choice too.

A Horse as Transport

Source: “Der Wanderreiter und sein Pferd” by Sadko G. Solinski; and courtesy of Firlefanz, who actually wrote this in reply to a question on the message board

Gaits

Basically it depends on horse, rider and terrain. At any rate it is not possible to gallop long distances. Generally a mix of gaits is preferable, although a steady trot is the best way to eat up miles, if necessary. Unfortunately it is also the least enjoyable gait.

Gait most often used is the walk, which may seem surprising. All gaits are never ridden at full speed, so you’d see a comfortable fox trot or a gentle canter, rather than any running.

Walk: 5-6 km / hour

Trot: 10-12 km / hour

Canter: 20-24 km / hour

A typical 2-hour schedule according to my book:

40 min walk – 20 min trot – 20 min walk – 20 min trot – 10 min walk – 10 min break. (This will get you about 15 km in two hours.)

Note that with this schedule you’ll reach the 30 km daily distance in four hours, and 45 km in six hours. This would be the limit for the average horse. (In effect, that leaves your travelling heroes time for sword practice, reading, cleaning tack, foraging … )

The book also suggests having a whole day of rest every three to five days, so the horses can regain their strength.

Travel times (in regions with seasons):

Summer: sunrise until noon

Spring and fall: morning till noon and mid-afternoon till early evening

Winter: mid-morning till mid-afternoon

Distance

My handbook is in German, so I have km as unit.

Generally, for a ride of several days, and with the same horse, you can expect to get 30 – 40 km without straining the horse.

Very good horses can go 50 km per day, and exceptional ones can reach up to 70 km per day. However, for such a feat they need perfect training, food and conditions.

In addition, it’s good to remember that horses are rather inefficient eaters of grass and need long foraging times or good, additional grain fodder.