We've all been there at least once in our writing careers. The dirty word: burnout. It looms over our subconscious and halts our writing progress for weeks, sometimes months. What was once a healthy, vivacious desire to scribble down our shiny ideas and type out our stories with voracious tenacity has since dried up and become a game of avoidance. Writing doesn't bring joy, it may even feel frustrating, discouraging, and exhausting. The mere thought of trying to put words on the page can feel like staring into the abyss and wondering if we'll ever find our way out. While there might feel like there's no hope, burnout is only temporary.
There are ways to recognize the signs and to recover so you can get back to writing, faster.
In this post we'll be specifying the signs and sharing 7 tips for how to recover.
What Is Writer’s Burnout?
Let's start with the basics. What is writer's burnout and what are the effects?
Burnout is a state of fatigue that strips the joy from the writing process and creates a lasting impression of exhaustion, irritability, lack of focus, motivation, and interest, and emotional and mental fog. Depending on severity, it can make it difficult or even impossible to accomplish writing, planning, or other creative tasks. It can lead to questioning your identity as a creative, being unable to meet writing deadlines, and a halt in creative communion with the muse. Though it's not the same as writer's block, certain symptoms are shared and thus it can be mistaken for a block when the issue runs deeper. Another form comes from the repeating cycle of burnout known as chronic burnout. This occurs when the cycle of burnout endlessly repeats, gradually becoming longer and harder to recover from.
What causes burnout?
Common contributors include stress, fatigue, the dark side of hustle culture, work pressure (especially from freelancing or being self-employed). Writers in particular are susceptible to burnout, though any artist, creative, or even business owner can experience it. Putting this into perspective, writers often fall victim because they often have irregular schedules, are bound by rigid (often self-imposed) writing routines and deadlines, and struggle with other factors such as imposter syndrome, marginalization, low income, and a highly competitive publishing industry. It can also take an emotional toll, as writing work can be isolating and lead to loneliness, lack of support, and fewer opportunities to socialize. If there is a poor work/life balance it can often leave a writer with inadequate time for healthy, non-work-related hobbies such as exercise and other household pursuits such as chores, family time, and time to socialize with friends. All of this adds up to burnout and chronic burnout if not properly addressed and re-balanced.
Why is this a problem?
Writing burnout, whether a small bout or chronic, can become a hindrance with long-lasting consequences. Being incapable of completing tasks whether that's plotting your next outline or typing your next novel can spell the end of a writing career. While this might sound dramatic, for a writer whose income comes from being able to consistently churn out page-turners- whether to meet self-published deadlines or traditional publishing demands- can lead to disaster. On an emotional level, being unable to write can impact mental health, and can feel heart-breaking to the writer. On a base level, figuring out how to deal with burnout can feel overwhelming, which is why the best way to heal is to understand the signs so that one can shift towards prevention and recovery practices as soon as possible.
The 11 Signs Of Writing Burnout
Recognizing the signs of writing burnout is the first step of not only prevention, but of healing. Begin by asking yourself the following questions:
Are you constantly feeling fatigued and exhausted?
Are you struggling with motivation?
Is your mindset increasingly negative, or are you often irritable/impatient?
Are you having issues with short term memory loss?
Do you feel anxious and overwhelmed?
Has your productivity slowed down, and the quality of your work suffered?
Do you feel rundown and in a general state of ill health?
Has writing lost all its joy for you?
Are you self-medicating using alcohol, drugs or other stimulants?
Do you have trouble sleeping?
Are you withdrawing from the world and self-isolating?
If you answered "yes" to several or all of these, it's time to stop and recognize that what you're suffering from is serious and requires immediate changes to solve. It's time to stop working and start taking care of yourself. Acknowledging that you're struggling with burnout is the first step to solving the problem but following through with the tips and exercises below can help you recover and get back to writing.
7 Tips For Burnout Recovery
Once you've accepted that you're burnt out, it's time to take a deep breath and focus on recovery. Remind yourself that it's okay to put down the pen for a while and take the time you need for yourself. This is easier said than done, but necessary in order to get back to writing. Here are 7 tips to help you start your recovery journey.
Get Plenty Of Rest And Sleep
The first step to addressing burnout is to even out your sleep cycle. Often burnout makes it harder to rest and fall into a deep sleep, which impacts cognitive functions used for writing. Adequate rest can address mood, strengthen emotional control, lower stress levels, improve overall health, and eliminate brain fog. If you're having trouble regulating your sleep there are many options to help promote a healthier sleep routine. Removing your tech devices from your bedroom an hour before bed and keeping it as a no-work zone, listening to noise machines or apps that play white noise, soothing music, or read to you, meditation, taking melatonin, taking a lavender bath before bed, and creating a calm, soothing bedroom environment can all help you to achieve the level of rest your body needs. You may find that you need even more sleep during this time, whether that's extending the hours you get each night or by supplementing with naps during the day. In some cases, cognitive behavioral therapy may help you create better nighttime habits and routines.
Try This: Pick one or more of the methods above to try for two weeks. After two weeks, re-evaluate how you slept and whether the methods you chose helped or not. Shuffle through the list until you find what works best for you, continuing to re-evaluate every two weeks.
Explore Other Creative Outlets And Experiences
Burnout tends to occur when writing as a hobby becomes a writer's main form of work. When what was formerly a main source of relaxation suddenly changes, it can trigger burnout because writers find themselves lacking a proper alternative. Adopting a new hobby unrelated to writing is key to keeping the work/life balance. Gardening, cooking, yoga, art, music, gaming, sewing, or spending time in nature are all excellent creative hobbies. Finding another outlet to express yourself creatively that doesn't involve deadlines, pay checks or client interactions can help you emerge out of burn out and help prevent it in the future. Another pitfall that writers tend to fall into is staying fixed to your work space whether that's a desk, an office, the same cafe, etc. If there's too much repetition in scenery it can also stunt inspiration. Going elsewhere to explore can help bring back the muse, inspire your creative heart, and open the door to experiences and new people that can lead to a story.
Try This: Pick one activity that you've always wanted to try and make it happen. Fostering a new hobby will give you an alternative method for relaxation and creativity that will help take the pressure off your writing. Remember, it's okay to pick up new pursuits. It doesn't mean you're giving up your love of writing.
Relax And Socialize
Sometimes what we need more than anything is good old-fashioned human interaction. Writers tend to spend a lot of time with their imaginary friends, neglecting our need for socialization and relaxation outside of our writing lairs. Letting ourselves emerge from long periods of isolation to enjoy our family and friends can help ease the discomforts of the writing journey and reverse its negative effects. It can be a night out to the bar, a trip to the cafe and bookstore, a family function, a girls' night out, or a game night. On the other side is the urge to relax alone. Downtime is just as crucial for restoration. Entertaining activities such as a hot bath, a long walk, yoga, meditation, a massage, or even reading can help revitalize. Establishing a balance between the two is key to pulling out of burnout, as these activities refresh and re-inspire creative energies.
Try This: Spend an hour relaxing by yourself and another with friends or family each week. Blow off steam and then blow off some more! Do as much as feels good for your energy levels, but be careful not to overdo it. The trick is to give yourself permission to have a life outside of your writing for a while.
De-clutter The Mundane
When mental tasks become too much, it's a good time to step back and handle the menial house chores, the ones that have piled up and only require busy hands to accomplish. This kind of break offers two-fold advantages. One, it gives the hands occupation and allows the mind to rest. Two, cleaning a space, reorganizing, and handling what's been piling up can often clear the stress that may be keeping a writer from writing. There's a sense of forward movement that can be both de-stressing and stimulating, making room for creativity that was blocked prior.
Try This: Spring clean your home and take the time to invite your hands to do the work while your mind wanders. Sort through your mail, implement that new budgeting technique- any mundane task that you've been putting off will do. Tackling some of the clutter will help clear the way for mental clarity, so don't feel guilty about spending time handling what needs to be dealt with now.
Write In A New Location
Never underestimate the powers of a fresh environment. As creatures of habit, writers tend to do their work from the same spaces whether that's an office, a desk, or even the same cafe. This is especially true for those who work from home. When there's a lack of variety, it can further aggravate burnout because of the lack of stimulation. As humans we naturally crave new things and giving in to the desire to switch things up can prove useful here. Taking your work to a new place such as outside during good weather, or even switching the layout of your office and adding in new decor that inspires can make a huge difference when it comes to mood and mental well-being.
Try This: Switch to the opposite place of where you usually write. If you typically write in an office, switch to writing in the bedroom. If you're usually indoors, take your work outside. Allow yourself to work rebelliously and break those restrictive habits. Your muse will reward you!
Identify Stress Triggers
Re-evaluating your schedule and setting new boundaries, identifying what works and doesn't can also clear out the negative effects of burnout. Often when we burn out, it's the result of too much pressure, not enough structure, too many deadlines, or other stressors in our life that are hindering our workflow in ways we might not even fully understand. Asking ourselves what's bothering us and why helps to address the issue. If we can narrow down what the issues are then they can be fixed. Schedules can be reworked, boundaries can be enforced, and excess pressure can be taken off the writing process, making way for new ideas and the muse to return. Tackling issues can also help regain a sense of control which can instantly boost confidence.
Try This: Start by asking yourself where you feel the most stress or pressure. It may take time to figure it out, but once it becomes clear actively take steps to reduce or limit each stress-maker. you may find more than one and that's okay. You can rinse and repeat.
Take A Vacation
When all else fails, it might be time for a vacation. While this might not be possible for everyone, it's the idea here that counts. Even if you can't jet off to a new location, you can disengage from everything completely. Going to a new-to-you location in your hometown, turning off your phone, ignoring your emails and kicking back with a frothy beverage- you get the drift. Keeping a notebook nearby to capture wandering thoughts or new sparks of ideas can be exactly what the doctor ordered to help clear mental fog and re-ignite a passion for writing. Remember, this isn't a work practice so keep whatever you jot down simple and don't push yourself to write the next great novel. Just let your mind wander and soak up what's around you.
Try This: Spend a day just for "you". Challenge yourself to go to a new place you've always wanted to go to and see what happens! Let yourself disengage, have fun, and let spontaneity reign.
The Road To Recovery
If you're currently struggling with burnout or chronic burnout, don't beat yourself up. Anyone can suffer from this affliction and it's not the end of your writing career. With proper care and some time away from writing stress you'll become a stronger, better writer. Learning about the signs and implementing recovery techniques will ensure that you'll be able to prevent and pull yourself out of the cycle of burnout if you encounter it again during your journey.