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?