Signs of Writers Burnout

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.”

Earlier this week, I talked about writing burnout and we did a monster podcast about it yesterday and we quickly spoke about the symptoms.

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:

  1. Every writer is burnout
  2. 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?

  1. Enjoying your damn life.
  2. 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. 

The Places We Hide by Carrie Jones
The Places We Hide by Carrie Jones

Are You Burning Out?

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?

Ah. Burnout.

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:

  1. I didn’t have any traditionally published books coming out that year.
  2. Our main outside source of income (renting our houses) couldn’t happen because COVID.
  3. 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:

  1. Be outside and exercise.
  2. Write my own stories or paint something.
  3. Sing loudly.
  4. Dance around the kitchen like a total goofball.
  5. Help other people.
  6. 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.”

I gasped, horrified. “Not me!”

“Even you.” She smiled.

Back in 2016, the Harvard Business Review had an article by Monique Valcour about beating burnout.

In the summary of her article, she wrote:

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.

  • Prioritize self-care.
  • Shift your perspective.
  • Reduce exposure to job stressors.
  • Seek out connections

Easier said than done, right? Tomorrow on the podcast, we’re going to talk about those three things





If you like what you read, please heart it below or share it, it means the world to this writer. x0- Carrie