Do you find your creativity dwindling? Have you lost the passion to write or create stories for your readers? If so, it might be time to read this article.
As someone who has experienced severe burnout in the past, I will discuss signs of burnout and provide tips to recover from and prevent it in the future.
I will also discuss how writers can maintain their sanity by taking care of themselves in order to avoid burning out.
- What burnout is
- The signs and symptoms of burnout
- The difference between burnout and writer's block
- How to recover from burnout
- How to prevent burnout in the first place
Table of contents
- What is Burnout?
- The Signs of Burnout
- Writer's Burnout vs. Writer's Block
- Why is Writing Mentally Exhausting?
- How to Recover From Burnout
- How to Prevent Burnout
- You Can Overcome Burnout
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a form of mental exhaustion, usually caused by a variety of conditions and stressors taking place in the workplace, in your family life, in your health, or in your social life.
Burnout is the result of all these stressors combining to make you feel overwhelmed, emotionally fatigued, depressed, and like you just can't keep up with everything.
It is particularly harmful for writers, who rely on their writing to make a living. Writing is one of the most brain-intensive things that we can do, so burnout can be common among authors.
Common causes include:
- Taking on too many responsibilities
- A disorganized work environment
- Excessive or prolonged stress
- Having work that is not in alignment with your values
- Feeling undervalued at work
- A lack of success
- A lack of sleep
- A lack of support from friends, family, and coworkers
Burnout affects all types of writers, from the online content writer, to the novelist, to the freelance writer. Thankfully, the tactics to improve true burnout are applicable to all.
The Signs of Burnout
It's important to recognize the signs of burnout if you want a chance at recovering or preventing it. Sometimes, when we are in a burnt out state, we don't even realize that there is a problem, and so we can't correct it.
Generally, these signs can be categorized in three ways: physical, emotional, and behavioral. Let's look at all three of these.
We may take this for granted a lot of the time, but the body and the mind are actually two parts of the same thing. Here are some physical signs of burnout that you might want to look out for.
- Physical fatigue
- Feeling sick without a clear source
- You wake up feeling exhausted
Emotional signs are some of the most common signals that you are experiencing burnout. Here are a few to watch out for:
- A feeling of hopelessness
- Feeling detached from your work or from others
- A lack of motivation
- A feeling of pointlessness regarding your writing
- You can't relax
- You don't enjoy writing
- You're moody and negative
- You forget things easily
Lastly, are the behavioral signs. These are things you might do or say that indicate you have writer’s burnout. Here are just a few.
- You no longer have a social life and isolate yourself a lot
- You abuse alcohol or food
- Your ability to keep commitments worsens
- You procrastinate
- You keep thinking about what you have to do even when you're supposed to relax
- You snack a lot
Do any of these sound familiar? If so, then you may be experiencing burnout. And you don't have to have all the symptoms either. If you're a busy person, or write a lot, you are at risk of experiencing these symptoms if you're not careful.
Writer's Burnout vs. Writer's Block
It's easy to think that writer's block and writer burnout are the same thing. But in fact, the two are quite different.
With writer's block, you usually want to write, but the creativity is simply not flowing. This can be from a problem with the writing itself, with your outline, or just a simple lack of knowledge of what comes next.
With writer burnout, or creative burnout in general, it results in a complete lack of desire to write in the first place, even when you know what to write down.
Why is Writing Mentally Exhausting?
Writing is known to be one of the most thought-intensive acts that we can do. When it comes to work, it can be very hard. And even when the words are flowing, this still puts a large load on our brain.
Why is that?
The truth is that mental exertion can cause many of the same symptoms as physical exertion, which is why we can be tired at the end of a full day of content writing, even if we sat in the chair all day.
Writing (and any form of creativity, really) also requires a lot of decision-making, which is known to break down our limited source of willpower over the day.
This is why you will often see a lot of authors, even authors who write for a living, only writing for 2 to 3 hours a day, and spending the remaining time doing other tasks that are less creatively draining.
How to Recover From Burnout
so if you read everything up to this point, you may have an idea of whether you have writing burnout or not. If you decide that you do, don't beat yourself up about it. Almost every author has experienced creative burnout at least once, if not multiple times. You are in good company.
Recovery, however, can be a rough road, and it can be different for everyone. So here is a list of tips that you can apply to recover from burnout. Not all will be relevant for you, but these are great places to start in your recovery process.
1. Take Time Off
Some people will tell you that you should not stop writing if you are experiencing burnout, I respectfully disagree.
While you shouldn't put off writing for too long, and in some cases you may have to continue writing for whatever reason, I recommend you take at least a little time off.
This can be in the form of a vacation, an extended weekend, or simply a week or two where you are not writing, but focusing on other forms of creative work instead.
The point is to give yourself a hard reset, a palate cleanser, so you can come back fully refreshed and focused.
2. Improve Your Sleep
In today's society, most of us do not get enough sleep. Sleep is essential for our management of stress, and renewing your mind and body.
If you are experiencing burnout, this is one of the first things I would look at. Are you getting at least seven hours of sleep per night? If not, move things around, eliminate some items on your to-do list, do whatever it takes to get that extra bit of sleep.
Because you are not going to have success recovering from burnout if your sleep still suffers.
3. Pick Up A Hobby
For many of us, writing was our hobby. When it becomes a job, that can often lead to writer burnout, because something that used to be your creative escape has now become work.
So for some, you might find it beneficial to find a new creative outlet for expression. Maybe you could start painting a picture, or playing chess, or learning a martial art.
The point is that you expose yourself to something new that will refresh your brain.
4. Write Something Else for a While
Perhaps you are simply tired of what you're currently writing. You've been in the same world or the same genre for too long.
If this is the case, then it can help to have something to switch to when you are tired of one thing. For example, I personally like to switch between fiction and nonfiction writing as a kind of palate cleanser for my brain.
You'll need to be careful with this one however, because switching between two different things can often result in a feeling that you have too much to do. Proceed with caution.
5. Find Inspirational Stories
I find that when I hear the inspirational stories of others, it can often help me get the motivation I need to continue one.
Find other authors that have also gone through burnout, and learn what they did to get out of it. One great resource I recommend for most authors are the books by Becca Syme, they go into great depth on this subject.
Reading other books by authors like yourself is another great way to get that fire of inspiration going again. Tell yourself that if they could do it, you are capable of doing it too.
6. Reduce, Reduce, Reduce
By far the biggest problem leading to burnout is that you are doing far too much. You are trying to write that book, work a full-time job, take care of a family, run a business, manage employees, etc.
All that can build up.
Sometimes it can be difficult to find things to eliminate, but this is an essential step if you want to reduce your symptoms of burnout.
You want to focus on what you do best. So find someone like a virtual assistant that can help take a load off for you, particularly with those tasks that you don't like.
Or you can simply eliminate them. I think you will be surprised at how many things we think are urgent and necessary, but that we can give up in favor of focusing on that which is more important, like the writing.
I also like to tweak my processes to see if I can find new ways of doing things that are more efficient: that old adage of working smarter, not harder.
Reducing that stress has definitely helped me recover and prevent burnout.
Let's say you need to write anyway, even with burnout. One great way to do this is to freewrite.
Freewriting is where you simply start putting words down on the page, without even thinking about what they should be about, or where to start.
You just write.
Incidentally, this is also a great cure for writer's block. It helps you get past certain barriers in your head, and helps to put you into flow, which is kind of the opposite of burnout.
8. Spend Quality Time With Loved Ones
If you have a special friend, a spouse, other family members, or someone you deeply respect, it can be a great idea to spend some time with those people.
Doing so will increase your feeling of self-worth, and it literally causes physical changes to the body that help refresh and renew it.
If you can combine this with tip #1, that is the ideal way to do it. But bear in mind that you need to spend time with people that will not get you down.
Spend time with people that are supportive and encouraging of your goals, who won't bring you down further by unfairly criticizing your choices. Because this can actually worsen burnout if that love and encouragement is not there.
9. Identify Your “Why”
If you haven't already, you need to identify the “why” of your writing. Why are you choosing to spend this time writing? Is it for work? And if so, why did you choose to take that job?
If you are writing a book, what made you want to write it? Why do you want to start a business? Is it for the financial freedom, the creative expression, to fulfill a lifelong dream?
The answers to these questions will be very revealing, and I encourage you to review your answers anytime you feel burnt out. It can help to keep you motivated, keep your eye on the ball, and give you the extra push you need to overcome burnout.
10. Change Your Scenery
Another great way to reduce and prevent burnout is to get out of your current location.
This can be taking a vacation, as I mentioned above, but it can also be simply getting out and writing in a place where you don't usually write, such as a coffee shop or a library.
This can help you see things in new ways, and it also gives you some mental distance from the problems that are causing burnout.
How to Prevent Burnout
Okay, so we have covered what to do if you have burnout, but burnout is something that is better prevented than healed. If you don't take certain precautions, that burnout will come right back before you know it.
So what are some steps that we can do to prevent burnout from happening in the first place? Here are a few:
1. Establish A Regular Writing Routine
My first step would be to establish a regular writing routine. Studies show that when you establish a habit, it takes less willpower to perform that task.
How much you write is up to you. It can be as little as 15 minutes a day, to several hours in a day. It can be only on weekdays, or every single day.
The most important thing is that you remain consistent. Doing this over a period of time will eventually help you become automatic in your writing, reducing the amount of mental work that it takes to get started, and thereby avoiding burnout.
2. Eat A Healthy Diet And Exercise
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor is this medical advice. That said, there is a wealth of evidence that improving your diet, and having regular exercise, greatly improves your mood, your productivity, and lowers your stress.
As a personal example, a few years ago I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes. As I started improving my diet to lower my blood sugar, I found that I was able to write a lot more, and with a lot more efficiency, than I had before. I suddenly discovered that the brain fog that I was feeling was not normal, and could be prevented.
This is often the most overlooked area, because we don't necessarily put together the mind and the body as being part of the same thing.
But they are the same thing, so by fixing one we fix the other.
If you can only pick one thing from this list to improve, I highly recommend that you work on your diet and exercise.
3. Explore A Meditation Practice
Meditation and mindfulness are other areas, related to diet and exercise, that can have a huge effect on your overall health. Plus, they focus primarily on the mind, which is huge if you want to master burnout.
Once you get into it, what I have found is that meditation allows me to see my thought patterns more clearly, giving me greater awareness on how they affect me throughout the day.
This can help us discover ways in which we can improve our writing life by making changes to how we think and what we focus on.
You don't have to meditate for hours to get the benefits, just a few minutes every day will help you immensely if you do it regularly over time (which is key).
Sometimes, just cleaning up your workspace is enough to help you get back on track.
This could be clearing off your desk, or fully reorganizing your house to be more Feng Shui.
This is another way to improve mental clarity by making your physical space more manageable and less cluttered, and it can definitely help avoid burnout.
Just make sure that you are not cleaning and organizing as an excuse to not write, because it can become a huge procrastination tactic. That said, a cluttered workspace can be detrimental to your mental health, so it's good to take care of.
5. Focus on the “One Thing”
One step I should mention is to focus on the “one thing.”
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it takes about ten thousand hours of practice to become a master at something.
What this means is that you have to be very focused and deliberate in how you spend your time if you want to become the best at something.
Additionally, having too many things on your plate can be a huge contributor to burnout. So eliminating those things and focusing on just one thing is a great way to avoid it.
Find the thing that generates the most results for you, which I assume in this case is your writing, and focus on that for a while.
I think you will find it to be very liberating.
6. Learn to Say “No”
One skill that is very important is learning to set healthy boundaries with other people.
A lot of the time, we feel guilty saying no, so we end up doing things that don't make us happy or use our unique talents and abilities.
This can be really detrimental in your creative endeavors if you are constantly taking on more than you can accomplish.
7. Take Regular Breaks
One tip is to take regular breaks from what you are doing.
It's good for your mind and prevents burnout.
There are multiple layers of break-taking.
- You can take a vacation: I recommend this at least once a year
- You can take an extended weekend: I recommend this at least once per quarter
- You can take a least one day off per week: I use Sundays as my day when I don't write a word
- You can take short breaks throughout the day: I recommend the Pomodoro technique
Taken altogether, these breaks can really help refresh your mind and spirit, which will prevent burnout.
8. Try New Things and Never Stop Learning
Another great way to prevent burnout is simply trying new things.
Whether that's different writing styles, or just exploring techniques and methods you haven't tried before, you can turn burnout into an exciting time for your career.
For example, if you are burned out on blogging, it's a good idea to try podcasting.
Or if your style is too rigid and confining for you, try writing poetry or some other form of creative expression which does not require so many rules.
We need to challenge ourselves as writers by trying new things in order to continue growing and improving our craft.
As I mentioned above, dictation was one of these things that really helped me to reinvigorate my writing, and I'm sure there are many things like this that you can try to both prevent and recover from burnout.
9. Treat Yourself Now and Then
Finally, and this is a big one, treat yourself now and then.
It's good to be disciplined with how we work, but it's also important that we reward ourselves for working well, otherwise we have no sense of success, and therefore no motivation.
This can be as simple as taking a day off when you finish a book, or going out to dinner on Friday night after you have accomplished everything you set out to do during the week.
Or it can be as big as going to the spa and getting a massage.
Just make sure that you don't choose rewards that are detrimental to your health, as this can increase your burnout. Examples would be too much drinking, or rewarding yourself with sugary snacks.
You Can Overcome Burnout
If you are experiencing burnout, don’t fret.
There is hope for you. Many authors have been in your situation and have overcome it.
You can do that too.
Start by applying some of the principles that I’ve outlined in this post, and I think you will already begin to see a difference.
The most important thing you can do as a writer is to take care of yourself. If you can always remember that, the writing will eventually take care of itself.