I just wanted to devote a bit more time to that here because if I look at the #writingcommunity on Twitter, it seems like either:
Every writer is burnout
Every writer hates writing.
That’s not a cool way to live.
And I know! I know! Sometimes it seems more cool to whine or hate on things, but you know what’s really cool?
Enjoying your damn life.
Enjoying writing if it’s your hobby, outlet, or job.
Herbert Freudenberger wrote Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. Back then he defined it as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”
So here are some questions to ask yourself if you are burnt out.
Are you super cynical about writing?
Are you super critical of your own writing?
Of everyone else’s?
Are you spending more time hating than even being apathetic? God forbid, loving?
Are you so totally apathetic about writing?
Is it really hard to start writing? Not in a writing block way, but in a consistent and longterm way?
Are you cranky with everyone?
Are you so worn out that you can’t even imagine lifting up your fingers, curling them over the keyboard and typing?
When you look at the blank page do you look away?
Can you not concentrate?
When good things happen in your writing world are you like, “Yeah. Whatever. Cool. Fine. Sure. NYT bestseller list. Okay. Whatevs.”
Do you think, “There is not a single damn good thing in the entire writing community? Or is it single good damn thing? Ugh! Whatever.”
Are you sleeping a lot all of a sudden?
Are you sleeping never all of a sudden?
Instead of writing are you drinking or eating or getting high? Um, in a way that’s different than before?
A key risk of job burnout is when you really identify with your work, when you get your identity from it and that? Well, that’s pretty hard for writers not to do.
We’re writing because we want to communicate. We’re writing because we want to change the world. We’re writing because we want to tell our stories.
It’s hard not to identify with your work when you are exposing your soul on the page, right?
Yesterday on the podcast we talked a bit about what you can do to deal with burnout. The thing is that burnout? It doesn’t have to last forever.
There’s an old article in Psychology Today that has great ideas about overcoming burnout. I hope you’ll check it out! And take care of yourself. You’ve got to love yourself through it and you’re worthy of love, okay?
What if it’s more than burnout?
Then you need to really take care of yourself. This world needs you and your stories in it.
Untreated burnout can lead to serious depression. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 is a place you can call (in the U.S.) for help from a trained counselor.
If the danger is immediate you can call 911.
It’s my book! It came out June 1! Boo-yah! Another one comes out July 1.
It’s 2021 and people are burnt out. There’s COVID-19. There’s political strife. Systemic bigotries and biases. There’s meanies at the grocery store and there’s that never-ending effort for some of us to pay for food, shelter, and health care, right?
On Carrie’s blog, http://www.carriejonesbooks.blog, she talked about how you can burnout on self care even, but also how writers seem super susceptible to burnout and why she was a bit burnt out for awhile.
First, let’s put some definitions out there.
Writer’s block is when you can’t figure out what to write.
Writer’s burnout is when you are super stressed and completely mentally and physically exhausted. You have zero motivation.
And surprise surprise this pandemic has burnt out a lot of people–not just writers.
Not feeling attached to anything, especially your work
In Valcour’s article, she pulls out four things you can do to combat burnout.
Shift your perspective.
Reduce exposure to job stressors.
Seek out connections.
Easier said than done, right?
Over on the blog, TOO MUCH ON HER PLATE, Dr. Melissa writes
Taking care of YOU is not a luxury.
Which makes sense because if you don’t take care of yourself and your basic needs, you die.
But I think she’s talking a bit beyond those basic needs and writes what happens when you don’t take care of yourself! Yes, we’re talking to you!
You have less energy and motivation to follow through on your goals
You are more easily distracted and less focused
Many people tend to turn to “vices” to fill in the gaps that aren’t being filled with in quality ways. Stress eating and other kinds of emotional eating, smoking, drinking too much, wasting time surfing the internet—these are a few things that tend to show up, waste more of your time and energy, distract you, and contribute to a vicious cycle of decreased happiness and less effectiveness.
Stress levels are higher
Sleep is often impaired (or sacrificed)
It’s common to feel deprived, irritable, more easily frustrated, or impatient
Creativity suffers and life usually includes less play and fun
Health is negatively affected
So how do you take care of yourself without burning out on taking care of yourself?
Spoiler: Carrie is burnt out on daily five-minute arm exercise videos.
Spoiler: Shaun is burnt out listening to Carrie do those five-minute arm exercise videos.
Anyway, how do you take care of you? Again, Dr. Melissa has some lovely advice:
Start claiming 10-15 minutes a day for yourself. Use this time to connect with yourself and to pay attention to how you feel and what you need. Journal, walk, meditate, soak in the tub. Try not to save this for the end of the day when you are too tired to move and your brain has stopped working. Pay yourself first or, if necessary, take a break during your day.
Adopt the following mantras: “I’m doing my best,” and “I can’t do it all.” They are true. Put them where you can see them and remind yourself of them frequently.
Create effectiveness in do-able steps. Each evening, identify your top three personal action items for the next day and decide when you will accomplish them. Think do-able. If these daily goals seem overwhelming, make them smaller. A fifteen minute walk that you take is better than the 45 minute one you couldn’t fit in. If possible, knock out your personal priorities early in the day.
Plan for food that fuels you—especially when time is tight. Don’t skip breakfast, have a plan for lunch, and don’t starve yourself before dinner. Make sure you have the groceries that you need. Choose foods that are appealing. No starvation diets.
Cut the multitasking. It stresses us out and makes us less effective. Practice focusing on doing one thing at a time. You won’t get it perfect, but that’s okay, remember step number two.
Take emotional eating seriously. It’s often a signal that life is out of balance and your personal priorities need more attention. Emotional eating happens when our spirit or our life isn’t getting fed the non-food things we need or crave. If you wonder about how to stop emotional eating, it starts with paying attention and developing ways of caring for ourselves instead of turning to food.
All pretty cool stuff, right?
A few years ago, Kellie McGann on The Write Practice blog talked about how to overcome writing burnout specifically. She said she had writer’s burnout because “I started thinking that my words didn’t matter and no one needed to hear what I had to say.”
That feeling is so common especially for pre-published writers or writers who are from oppressed groups and identities.
So how do you deal with it?
How to deal with Writing Burnout according to McGann
Recognize the Problem
Don’t Stop Writing
Find Yourself (again)
Don’t Try to Explain Yourself
What does that mean?
It means that you have to keep being persistent and putting words down even when you never want to write again if it’s your job and your dream to be a writer/author/novelist.
It means you’re allowed to be open about being burnt out, but you don’t owe other people explanations about the why of your burnout. But you don’t have to tell anyone why you aren’t putting your words out there. You get to do you.
It means you have to take the time to remember or re-remember, why you’re a writer, who you are, what your message is, what you want to say. You get to go back to the core of who you are, the real you, and your message to the world.
And it does matter. You matter. Your words matter. We need them out there.
WRITING TIP OF THE POD
Burnout is real. Take care of yourself.
DOG TIP FOR LIFE
Make your own mantra. Find your joy, don’t worry about that outside validation. Know your purpose and go after it. Sparty’s purpose is food. He goes after it. Even if it’s a bacon crumb under a coffee table, that dog is all in.
You’ve got this. Be like Sparty. Find people that support you and your voice.
For writers, that feeling of lack of achievement and incompetence is pretty easy to get. It’s a subjective business and other writers’ successes are often right in your face, right?
As a traditionally published novelist, I have always had a weird instability in my income and that got only worse during the COVID-19 pandemic when a bunch of factors happened:
I didn’t have any traditionally published books coming out that year.
Our main outside source of income (renting our houses) couldn’t happen because COVID.
We became the only and primary residence of a super cool eleven-year-old with some deep anxiety, oppositional defiance disorder, and autism. And because of risk factors she was being remotely schooled for the pandemic and still is.
This meant I had to pivot and pivot hard. Suddenly, I was really the major and only wage owner. I created a couple of classes (You can check them out) on Patreon, self-published a book and a novella of my heart. And began editing and writing coaching a lot.
And when I say ‘a lot,’ I mean I work from 6 or 7 a.m. until 5 or 7 p.m. on other people’s amazing and beautiful and fun stories.
I love it.
But by dinner, I’m tired of being in front of my computer and I long to be outside. I’m an outside person.
And the schedule hasn’t given me as much time as I’m used to writing my own stories.
And I’m super lucky and I know myself pretty well and there’s a few things I have to do in order to not feel burnt out and those things are:
Be outside and exercise.
Write my own stories or paint something.
Dance around the kitchen like a total goofball.
Help other people.
Hug on dogs and cats and dream about manatees. I have a thing for manatees.
A long time ago, in the cold hills of Vermont, amazing author and human Rita Williams Garcia warned me about burnout. “It’s going to happen to you,” she said. “It happens to all of us.”
Three symptoms characterize burnout: exhaustion; cynicism, or distancing oneself from work; and inefficacy, or feelings of incompetence and lack of achievement. Research has linked burnout to many health problems, including hypertension, sleep disturbances, depression, and substance abuse. Moreover, it can ruin relationships and jeopardize career prospects.
For writers, that feeling of lack of achievement and incompetence is pretty easy to get. It’s a subjective business and other writers’ successes are often right in your face, right? There’s a whole thing called Imposter Syndrome that even super famous and accomplished authors get.
She also writes:
… you can also take steps toward recovery and prevention on your own: Prioritize your health, shift your perspective to determine which aspects of your situation are fixed and which can be changed, reduce exposure to the most stressful activities and relationships, and seek out helpful interpersonal connections.
Bethany Hegedus, my friend and writer and founder of the Writing Barn sent out a newsletter this week where she bravely talked about how she felt burnt out with her self-care, creating checklists almost (or maybe really) of how to take care of herself. Did she exercise? Did she meditate? Did she hydrate?
The self-care list can go on and on, can’t it? It sure can for those of us who are lucky enough to have the time, financial stability and privilege to even have those moments.
Basically, you can burn out trying not to burn out. I know! Totally unfair, right?
Bethany turns to tiny moments of deep rest where she’s hanging out with her husband, resting in his arms, or when she’s reading (sometimes).
In Valcour’s article, she pulls out four things you can do to combat burnout.