Beware writer burnout

Another one bites the dust. Beware writer burnout. Image courtesy of Phaitoon /
Another one bites the dust. Beware writer burnout. Image courtesy of Phaitoon /

I always get a bit on edge when I’m between projects. My current manuscript is with my beta-readers, my previous manuscript is under consideration with publishers and I’m in that awkward place where I don’t quite know what to do next.

Given my manuscripts usually sit at around 100k words, a finished project can take me anywhere from 8 – 12 months.

This is why I’ve found I deliberate for several weeks (or months) before I commit to my next writing project. In Aussie slang, we’d refer to it as stuffing around I hate stuffing around. I’m not good at it, and I always prefer to be doing something.

It’s during this time I usually realise that I have a problem. I’m addicted. To writing. Sure, it means one of my beta-readers recently referred to me as a ‘writing machine’ but I’m actually not. I’m a person. And occasionally people need rest and time out.

So to help you identify whether, like me, your addiction has gone too far, here are some of the telltale signs of writer burnout you should be on the look out for:

The symptoms of writer burnout

  • You can’t stop thinking about what you’re writing or what you should be writing. This may occur at any time of the day, and includes the following (but is not restricted to): meal times, whilst cooking, when exercising, when you’re supposed to be working, when you’re having a conversation with your spouse, when your child is trying to tell you something, when your mother calls, whilst in the bathroom, and the list goes on.
  • You feel guilty when you’re not writing. I’ve had days where I’ve written over 2,000 words, yet when I finally sit down at night to relax and maybe watch a half hour of mindless television or waste time on the internet, I feel guilty. Aah, the power of guilt.
  • You’re very tired and/or a little tense. Or a lot. It depends on how your body deals with stress and exhaustion. Mine thrives on stress like a vampire lusts for blood. It loves the adrenalin rush. In general it makes me very productive, but it’s not a healthy way to live. Did I mention I’m productive? I know, I know, it’s not sustainable. And as for sleep? You can sleep when you’re dead, except you soon will be if you keep this up.
  • What happened to your life? Oh, that’s right. You don’t have one. Between work, family and squeezing in your passion for writing, you’re actually very boring and very, very reclusive. Your close friends and family are pretty sympathetic to this when your in the middle of a project, but it can only go on so long. Every now and then it’s important to come up for air and socialise a bit. After all, you need to get your next story idea from somewhere…

If any of the symptoms above sound like you, enough already! It’s time to try something different, and below are a few things I’ve found helpful.

How to ease writer fatigue

  • Do something else creative other than writing. For me, that’s music. Perhaps you’re into art or something crafty. Whatever it is, it’s important to take the time occasionally to do something just because it’s fun. No pressure. Just because you can and you enjoy it.
  • Take time out. Sounds obvious, but how many of us don’t allow time for ourselves on a regular basis? Try going for a walk, doing some exercise, taking a few days off, meditation–anything to get you away from that story and potential burn out.
  • Distraction. Procrastinators are shaking their heads at me right now, but it’s true: occasionally distraction has its place for us on the edge, near to burnout writing folk. The other night, in an attempt not to think about my next project, I watched rather a lot of Downtown Abbey (I’d been saving them up, because–you guessed it–I’d been too busy writing). I find there’s nothing like distracting yourself with another story to forget your own. So long as you’re not secretly using it as an excuse to do writing research, that is.
  • Take a break from social media. Now, I’m a huge supporter of social media. But when you find yourself itching to turn on Twitter or Facebook because you’re not used to just sitting still and enjoying the serenity, it could be time to break the habit. Or limit it at the very least.

Relax. Get to it…

With Easter coming up, I’m on a mission to experience some serious down time. I’ve made it a major priority.

I’ve also decided no writing for a week, and this includes no thinking about my next project. It’s only a week and it can wait.

I might be experiencing a cold sweat at the mere thought of it, but I know I can do it. Besides, there’s always reading…

How about you? Have you ever exhibited any of the symptoms of writer burnout? And if so, what have you done about it?


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