In our sister post in this series The 11 Signs Of Writing Burnout & How To Recover, we covered the what creative burnout is, the symptoms, and how to recover. In today's post we'll be sharing 5 life-changing tips to help you prevent writing burnout period.
Avoiding writing burnout may sound like a pipe dream, but with mindful practice and routinely checking in with yourself, you'll be able to prevent exhaustion, brain fog, and lack of motivation and keep writing. Just think about how much more productive you'll be once you overcome this hurdle!
Burnout Prevention For Authors
Prevention by definition means to stop something before it starts happening. That's the goal of these tips- to utilize them when you know you're entering a season of exhaustion and turning things around before you completely fizzle out. To do this, it means choosing habits that are different from your norm. While challenging, practice, being proactive, and being in-tune with your body's signals can help you learn how to prevent burnout altogether.
Here are the tools you can use to help defeat burnout once and for all:
#1 Set Firm Boundaries
Why does it seem so easy to overextend yourself as a writer? While all art and creative processes require a vast amount of creativity, energy, and ingenuity, writing is like running a cross-country marathon. Like Forest Gump when he runs from one end of the country to the other and doesn't know why, often writers enter their storytelling phases full of enthusiasm and not a lot of foresight. This is especially true when transitioning from hobby writing to writing for income. Because we love the process, we're willing to spend more energy on writing than we may have in the moment. With that exuberance comes the consequences: a lack of boundaries around our writing leads to the inevitable crash of burnout.
Why are boundaries important in burnout prevention for authors?
Here's the thing, like with any other aspect of life, if you don't have boundaries you're probably not feeling at the top of your game. It could be low energy, lack of motivation, feelings of confusion and feeling at a loss for what to do next. It could be that you're sick of working so hard and not seeing the level of growth you'd assumed you'd have, or the amount of recognition you expected to earn. Whatever the case may be, if you're writing without boundaries (and trying to make it your main source of income), you're letting your writing business run you, rather than being the diligent CEO you need to be.
Boundaries provide two important things: structure and clarity. Having a clear idea of your preferred daily working hours, your writing routine, how you prefer to be communicated with, the number of deadlines and projects you are comfortable with, and who you want to work with are all examples of boundaries necessary to increase productivity and limit our time in burnout. They are important because it is "you" holding yourself accountable for your own time, based on how much energy/time you have to devote to each aspect of your author business. When we lose sight of our boundaries, we find ourselves trying- and failing- to write from an empty inkwell.
Not sure where to start?
Time to pause and try a self-audit. A "self-audit" is a practice you can do today that can help you re-evaluate your priorities as a writer and how far away you've drifted from your purpose.
For example, if you had a goal to write a novel in two months but found that you couldn't get it done, what about this goal prevented you from achieving it? If you can narrow it down, you'll begin to see where your habits come into play.
Perhaps it was doable based on your current writing habits, but not realistic because of your lifestyle. Continuing the example, you can consistently sit down to write for forty-five minutes when your kids nap, but your kids actually napping and staying asleep for that long is not guaranteed. For this reason, the goal of writing a novel in two months therefore isn't realistic. But, if you narrow down the goal to finishing half a novel in two months, it may be more reachable. On the flip side, if you had the same goal but your writing habits don't support writing consistently under a tight time frame, you should adjust your goal to better suit what you know your writing process actually looks like. This guarantees you reach your goals and feel good about achieving them versus setting yourself up for disappointment and burnout.
Preventing burnout as a writer can be as simple as asking yourself what's wrong.
#2 Give Yourself Grace
The act of giving yourself grace means to allow space for your imperfections.
It's time to chuck all the negative self-talk, self-doubt, perfectionism, imposter syndrome, insecurities, inadequacies, and comparison games out the window. Seriously, get rid of them. They're not doing you any favors and in some cases may be contributing to your burnout cycle more than you think.
As writers, not only are we prone to poor mental health, but taking care of ourselves mentally is vital to a long and successful writing career. After all, our brain is the genius behind our stories and without it functioning properly, we're limiting our chances of writing productively.
If you know you struggle with any of the mental pitfalls of writing, it's time to be proactive. Start by identifying which you specifically struggle with. For instance, if you struggle with negative self-talk your assignment is to begin to change that narrative. Keep a running tally of how many times per day you find yourself thinking, saying, or doing something that is self-deprecating when it comes to being an author. You may be surprised by the number. Next, it's time to flip that negative thinking on it's head. Now that you're aware of how much you do it, try to become aware of the situations you find yourself reaching for it. Do you make a self-deprecating joke when someone asks about how your writing is going? Do you scan your reviews and agree with every one star review? Are you staring at your manuscript and finding yet again another minor reason it can't be published?
Being your own cheerleader may be a challenge, but it can help keep you from the pit of burnout in the long run. We all know writing is an uncertain profession. There will be great sales days, and periods where our books might not sell at all. To prepare for this, we need to be willing to pep talk ourselves out of our own slumps. Remember, you are your own worst enemy, but you're also the person who has the most to gain from believing in yourself!
Give in to the urge to celebrate your bookish wins! Shout your achievements from the rooftops! Reaffirm that your voice, your perspective, and your story is not only necessary, but a vital part of the creative consciousness.
The better you get at celebrating your own abilities, boosting your own confidence, and showing the world your authentic self, the more the universe will respond by convincing others to celebrate with you. This ultimately leads to positivity, motivation, and joy- all excellent burnout fighters.
More posts you might enjoy:
Everything Authors Need To Know About Developmental Editing
The True Power of Rejection: Advice To Change Your Perspective And Promote Growth
30 Fresh Post/Reel Ideas For Authors On Instagram
#3 Less Chaos More Structure
What in your writing life do you feel brings you the most stress? Often the answer to this question has to do more with the environment you're writing in, rather than your actual writing. If this applies to you, it's time to bring more structure into your every day workspace. Having a calm, peaceful writing space allows you to be distracted less, helps relieve stress, and maintain focus. When your writing space is messy, cluttered, shared with other activities, or generally stresses you out it's not a leap to assume that that may be contributing to your lack of writing. Feelings of burnout tend to manifest themselves physically in other areas of our lives too. Lack of cleanliness, household chores piling up, and avoiding mundane tasks are all signs that burnout may be at play.
One strategy to re-ignite your motivation is to mix work with play. The mind likes to be entertained, and if you're prone to multi-tasking (as most writers are), you'll enjoy using the pomodoro method. For those unfamiliar, you set a timer for 25 minutes of work, then break for 10 minutes. Repeat three times and then break for a longer period of time such as 25-30 minutes. Repeat as needed. It works for writing, and cleaning. Trust us. It's a great way to ease into tasks you don't want to do during burnout. It's also a great way to accomplish tasks on days when you feel that exhaustion creeping in.
Another tip is to create a calmer mindset by de-cluttering your workspace as well as your workflow. When writing itself becomes strenuous, switch to a writing-related activity such as character development, edits, or research. If that gets tedious, switch to blogging or checking your emails. Handle a few administrative tasks. Dust your keyboard. Jot down your latest book idea. All of these menial tasks may feel like tiny specks, but they all add up to progress and move your author career forward in one way or another.
Last but not least, give yourself a break. Literally. Go for walks and get lost in nature. Wander over to the coffee pot and gaze out the window with a steaming mug in your hands. Listen to a podcast while you vacuum and treat yourself to lunch at your favorite restaurant. These moments aren't stalling your progress, but rather helping to prevent burnout. It's important to allow creative energy to refuel and mingle with other aspects of your life. Even with looming deadlines, the path away from burnout is often tied to allowing yourself some play time.
Burnout in writers often looks like irritability, exhaustion, lack of focus, inability to write.
#4 Both Self-Maintenance and Self-Care Matter
Not to be mistaken for self-care, self-maintenance refers to the act of maintaining oneself. It's the daily, necessary tasks such as showering, eating, brushing your teeth, etc. that helps keep us functioning. While it may seem self-explanatory, these every day tasks can easily be forgotten about when a writer is in the middle of a month-long writing binge or if the writer in question is also a parent who puts the needs of their children above their own. When other things take priority, our health can be ignored, and thus burnout can occur.
A healthier body leads to a healthier mind. With the added stress of dealing with today's world it's all the more important to make sure we're taking care of both our minds as well as our bodies. Part of preventing burnout comes from ensuring that our daily necessary needs are met and that we're not neglecting ourselves on a core level. It's more than just exercising and getting fresh air. It means getting enough sleep at night, spending time with friends that uplift you, family who loves you, other writers who inspire you. It's tending to your hygiene and dressing in a way that is both comfortable and expressive. Letting yourself enjoy healthy, nutritious food and to experience your emotions. When you maintain yourself, you clear the path for a healthy muse.
On the other hand, self-care goes beyond a bubble bath and yoga. Meditation practice has been proven to strengthen the mind and can have a huge impact of steadying the pen. Self-soothing practices such as a weighted blanket, a hot bath, reading a comforting novel, listening to music, and drinking a hot beverage can help your body and mind recuperate from hard days of writer's doubt. Refreshing your creativity with inspiring activities such as exploring a new area, viewing art, putting yourself outside of your comfort zone, and trying new foods are all forms of self-care that help shake up the mundane and keep us from falling into the despair and indifference that burnout brings.
#5 Slow Down And Stay Flexible
Accepting that a valid part of writing includes periods of not writing is the healthiest attitude you can adopt as a writer. Sooner or later, you're going to experience a lull in your written works, whether that's during the creation of a novel or after publishing several pieces of work. It's always inconvenient when it happens- and that's okay. It's an indicator that something in your process needs changing, whether it's a better sleep schedule, a refresh of your inspiration, or that your life requires higher priority at the moment.
Ernest Hemingway once said, 'You shouldn't write if you can't write'. This is especially true when it comes to burnout. Continuing to push when you're feeling extreme mental and physical fatigue can be more harmful than stopping for a while or adjusting to a less rigorous schedule.
Pushing will exacerbate the issue and can cause chronic burnout, a cycle of repetition which is even harder to recover from than regular burnout. Simply put, the more you push, the deeper you're digging yourself into a hole.
The fastest way out of burnout is to adjust to a more flexible writing schedule and to rest as needed. Ask for more time on deadlines, push self-imposed ones back. Adjust your daily word count to a less intensive number, or take a break entirely. While stopping work completely may not be an option, there are tasks that can be made more efficient or ones that can be outsourced. Working at a slower pace is plausible, if you allow it to be. Introducing breaks into your work day and limiting your screen time may also help you recover faster.
When push comes to shove, burnout is every writer's worst nightmare. But if you're willing to look after yourself properly and patient with your journey you can learn how to take better care of your author self so it happens less often and with less of an impact. Learning to stay firm in your boundaries, to give yourself grace when needed, to add structure, to meet all your self-maintenance and self-care needs, and to slow down and stay flexible are all tools that every writer can learn to prevent writing burnout in the future.