How To Deal With Writing Burnout
It was another tough year, so chances are you may be dealing with writing burnout. I burned out HARD in both 2020 and 2021, perhaps you did too? You may be suffering from writing burnout if you …
- feel like you no longer care about your screenplay, novel or writing in general
- are increasingly forgetful, or have trouble concentrating
- feel like you’ve lost sight of yourself and your goals
- have difficulty maintaining relationships / being present with loved ones
- express frustration and irritability more than normal
- experience somatic pain, muscle tension, headaches or nausea
Writing burnout can have a far-reaching impact. Writers may …
- default on project deadlines or contracts and get fired
- have social media meltdowns
- feel like they have ‘no time’ to enjoy with loved ones
- abandon spec projects or even quit writing altogether
- In extreme cases, burnout can lead to psychotic episodes, nervous breakdowns and even suicide
Avoid Writing Burnout This Year
With a brand new year off the starting blocks, now’s the time to resolve to break bad habits!
I have been a workaholic my entire life, so in 2021 I decided to tackle this. I was tired of feeling put-upon and freaked out about work … whilst also panicking about NOT working and earning money.
I’ve made great strides so far, but there’s still more I can do. One of those things I need to do is ensure I don’t get burnt out again. I didn’t allow myself enough time to heal and this has affected my mental health massively.
If you feel the same, here’s B2W’s top 10 tips that can help you get started on the road to recovery. See you on the other side!
1) Talk to those you can trust
It can be hard to find someone who ‘gets it’ when you’re a burnt out writer. Many people believe writers have it good because they think we are just doing what we want all day. Those laypeople don’t understand it’s a job like any other, only with terrible pay and zero security!
Similarly, it’s not worth posting you’re burned out, or you hate writing on social media. New writers will queue up round the block to chastise you. They’ll say they WISH they could feel burned out … How ungrateful!
All of this just adds to your burnout, of course.
One of the best things I ever did was confiding in my fellow writer friends how I was suffering from writing burnout. Unlike many laypeople or new writers, they get that writing ISN’T just having fun 24/7. It’s draining, hard work that’s rife with rejection. Their advice – following next – was priceless to me.
2) Find the source of the burnout
Sometimes the source is obvious, ie. a BIG contract or project deadline that’s had you up to the early hours for months.
Other times, it’s more of a cumulative thing and you haven’t taken enough breaks.
Whatever it is, you need to pin it down. It will help you work out what to do next.
3) Identify immediate changes you can make
I discovered one of the biggest issues I had was I was writing seven days a week. I kidded myself saying it wasn’t that much, but EVERYONE needs time off. Even me! As soon as I started refusing to let myself write at weekends, things improved.
Other things I realised: I had way too much going on in the B2W platform. I needed to cut back drastically to my posting schedule, which I did.
In addition, I cut down on the blogging. Though I post most weeks, if it ‘falls off’ my TO DO list because of other pressing matters I don’t stay up to the wee hours writing blogs like I used to.
I don’t always send the B2W newsletter either. Rather than be perfectionist and freak myself out, I can let it slide.
It was weird at first but I’m getting used to it. At first I worried the Bangers would reckon I was abandoning them … Nope! Barely any of you noticed. Those that did, contacted me and wished me well. Phew!
Just a few tiny things … but the relief was incredible. You can do similar.
4) Make sure you take your time off
It comes down to this … There’s that old saying, ‘no one on their death bed ever wishes they spent more time at work.’
Protect your writing time, sure. But ALSO protect your time off, whenever that is: your evenings. Your weekends. Your lunch breaks. Gawd for OVER A DECADE I ate sandwiches at my desk … if I remembered to eat at all. That’s not good!
I became a total martyr to writing at one point. I’d get up in the middle of the night to scrawl on the backs of envelopes. I was crazed. One time Mr C threatened to divorce me if I didn’t stop texting myself ideas for blog posts during a family dinner. Another time I couldn’t find a piece of paper and scrawled an idea on the back of the baby’s nappy!
The mad thing was, I didn’t even want to do any of this … I was resentful of writing, I hated it. I wished I had just about every other job in the history of the workplace.
But I was so afraid of NOT providing for my kids I worked non stop … and never saw my kids. Go figure.
5) Get enough sleep
This can be tough for those of us who suffer insomnia, I get it. I haven’t slept the night through in decades. At this rate, I don’t think I ever will.
But I no longer tell myself ‘I might as well’ go and do some work since I am awake. Instead I lie back and relax and do my meditations or whatever. I might not be asleep but I will MFing relax dammit.
6) Try to finish work on time
In this post-Covid era, many of us work from home. We’ve got Zoom fatigue; worries about lockdowns or homeschooling; concerns about earning or losing our jobs.
That’s all BEFORE dealing with work OR actual sickness, or worries about elderly, disabled or immunocompromised friends and relatives. FML!!
We often tell ourselves it’s ‘easier’ to work late into the evening to try and get everything done.
For many of us writers, it’s the ONLY time we get to work on our projects. That’s okay, but don’t grind yourself into the ground. If you’re doing a writing sprint keep it to the time you set yourself. DO NOT keep going over.
7) Schedule in time for pleasant activities
Whatever you like doing that’s NOT writing? Do it.
Do not stop yourself from doing it because ‘you don’t have time’.
I spent years literally running from the school gates and home to get stuff done. I’d pound out words until I had to pick the kids up again … and literally run all the way back to the school gates. It was a miserable existence.
Now, I go for a walk with a friend most mornings. One morning a week I go to yoga. Occasionally I will go for coffee in the middle of the day.
Sure, it was tough to retrain my brain … I was a super-deluxe workaholic. If I didn’t write for hours and hours and hours I would have a literal panic attack.
But guess what … Now I have FORCED myself to relax??
I have written more, faster than I ever have before. This is because I no longer feel like I am trudging uphill, through treacle. Funny, that!
8) Practice self-compassion
At one point, I was not my friend. In fact, I hated myself. It didn’t matter to me that my peers respected me, or how much they loved my writing. It didn’t matter that my career was going great guns … Or that I started making decent money at last.
My self-worth was so in the toilet I didn’t really feel anything much anymore. It all seemed rather pointless. I was living only to work.
Surprised? A lot of people are when I admit this.
After all, I present as someone who is very confident. In lots of ways, I AM confident. Trolls don’t bother me, no matter what they say … why would I care what a bunch of randos online think?? Also whilst the writing world has been shaky of late, I feel comfortable trusting to fortune. I know I am a good writer and no one can take that away from me.
But self-worth and self-esteem are not the same thing.
To increase my self-worth, I realised I had to practice self-compassion.
Put simply, I had to stop treating myself like shit. So I did. You can too! My journey began with Marc & Angel Chernoff’s Getting Back To Happy. I’m still a work in progress, but life is so much better than it used to be.
9) Take Back Control
One reason I burned out so hard is because I was a control freak as well as a workaholic. I had to learn the following …
- Priorities, priorities. I like to plan and set long-term goals and this is good … BUT don’t terrorise yourself with your TO DO list. I did this and it doesn’t lead anywhere good.
- Learn to delegate. I told myself for years I ‘couldn’t’ delegate because I had no money to pay anyone. Then when people OFFERED to help me, I declined. Why? Because I told myself it was less hassle to do it myself. LE DUH. Take the help, people offer, for crying out loud.
- Get a better work/life balance. Finish on time and focus on relaxing and recharging for the next day.
- Be firm about your needs. Talk to others involved so everyone is on the same page. Don’t be a martyr!
10) Learn to say ‘No’!
Setting limits on the time you give to others can help you manage stress while recovering from burnout.
I had to realise I was spending way too much time helping others online, for example. I couldn’t help everyone and that lead to guilt. It also lead to irritation and upset, because too many didn’t say ‘thank you’. Others even wrote shitty messages telling me I didn’t help them ‘enough’ or in the ‘right’ way.
The reason I’d struggled was because I’d been taught my only worth was as ‘helper’. This meant that when I didn’t help people, I felt lazy, guilty and selfish.
But part of boundary setting involves learning to say no … but because I’d been taught I was only worth something as a ‘helper’, I didn’t know HOW to say no!!!
Then I was offered the following advice that really opened my eyes …
- Take a moment to think about WHY you feel the need to do **whatever it is**
- Now consider what could happen if you DO it
- Then what could happen if you DON’T
- Ask yourself if you really have the time and energy?
- Consider whether doing the thing offers value to you
This was the most effective description of ‘setting boundaries’ I’d ever heard. I realised I was not lazy, selfish, or mean for declining a request.
My time is limited and my mental health is already fragile. I have to be SELECTIVE about accepting commitments or helping others. That’s just the way of it.
What’s more, it proactively helps avoid writing burnout. What’s not to like!
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