How to Kill Burn Out before it Kills your Writing

Writing

Overwhelmed?

Feeling as if there are just too many things taking up too many hours?

Thinking of quitting work to write – or worse, quitting writing to work?

Before you do something drastic, read this!

Burn Out happens when we over-estimate our capacity to work, write, and maintain the general aspects of life that require our attention. Symptoms of Burn Out include frustration, over-reaction towards increasing demands, and ignored schedules or goals. Burn Out is sometimes confused for Writer’s Block, since the two tend to share the same inability to focus and overall annoyance, but they are two separate types of attacks.

There is nothing more detrimental to a Working Writer than Burn Out. Today, I am going to share my tools for dealing with this terrible syndrome.

Willpower

The first tool you have to beat Burn out is your own bullheadedness. Before anyone objects:  if you are trying to fit writing into an already busy life, you are stubborn. Let’s not play word games. Accept it, wear it as a badge, and let’s continue.

In order to best use this tool against Burn Out, you need to ask yourself what you really want. If you could only have one title attached to your name, would it be parent, server/corporate drone/CEO/etc., or writer? Ignore money, schedule, and responsibility when you ask yourself this.

Choosing writing over being a parent or working isn’t negative. You aren’t a bad person for wanting something for yourself. Making that choice doesn’t mean you abandon your kids at an amusement park in hopes they’ll join the carnies, or that you quit your job. It just means that you’ve decided what is the defining thing about you.

If you do choose working or being a parent over writing, that’s fine. Good, even. Because it means you can stop trying so hard to be a writer. You can have writing as a hobby without making it your defining thing. (And yes, I’m aware that many female writers do the stay-at-home mom thing.)

Not everything we want in life can be accomplished. How badly do you want to be a writer, and what are you willing to sacrifice for it?

Re-Evaluate

The second tool in your arsenal is the ability to re-evaluate your goals. Humans have this awesome thing called free will. While we legally need to maintain some things (such as paying bills, or taking care of children), we have the option of cutting things from our schedules that aren’t helping us. Do you really need to run that book group? How about the baking club that constantly stresses you out? Is being a raid leader for two raid groups really that important?

So. Take your schedule (if you don’t have one, use mine! Time Tracking – Down Time) and seriously look at everything on it. Is it really important? Does it add to what you want out of life? Does it cause un-needed stress without giving you something in return? Anything not important or overly stressful needs to be removed.

In addition, writers tend to be emotionally sensitive (which isn’t a bad thing!) and can get overwhelmed quickly. If you find yourself overwhelmed even after culling the unimportant or stressful, perhaps you need to add more ‘me’ time or fun to your schedule. If baking makes you happy (but the group drives you insane), could you instead bake and then donate the baked goods to a local homeless shelter? Instead of meticulously tending your own garden, why not tend a community one? There is always an alternate that allows you to enjoy the activity without having the added stress.

In addition to culling things from your over packed schedule, make sure you evaluate your goals. If goals aren’t obtainable, you are more susceptible to Burn Out since things will seem frustrating and impossible.

Meditation

I hate meditating. I always feel like a tool, even after doing it for fifteen years. Semicolon however comma it is the one thing I do that works every time.

I have two meditation type activities that work best for me.

Just Breathe

The first one I can do in my chair – at work, at home, even on the bus.

Close your eyes and focus on breathing in and out. Don’t worry about the noises around you, the voices in your head (I know I’m not the only one!), and the pressures that actual meditation brings to you. Reign in wandering thoughts by just focusing on breathing.

Breathe in slow, hold it, count to two – breathe out slow, hold, count to two. Repeat.

If you can’t close your eyes (don’t get fired because someone thinks you are sleeping on the job!) focus your eyes on a single, unmoving object. And just breathe.

If you find yourself with wandering thoughts in spite of trying, return to whatever you were doing and try again in a minute or two.

There’s no amount of time you need to do this for; just focus on your breathing until you don’t feel so overwhelmed.

The Tree

The second meditation type activity is the Tree. This looks pretty silly, so don’t do it mid-meeting. Go somewhere private and give it a shot.

Stand with your feet shoulder length apart and lock your knees. Spread your arms out over your head, as if your arms were branches, lock your elbows, and let your hands fall limp. Head up, shoulders back, etc, etc. Good posture is kind of key for this.

Focus on your breathing (breathe in slow, hold it, count to two – breathe out slow, hold, count to two. Repeat.) for a few seconds. After that, use this mantra:

I am an unmovable tree. My roots dig deep into the earth. I cannot be toppled. I am a useful tree. My branches provide for others. I am useful. (Repeat until you feel calm and confident.)

I promise, it works.

Last Resort

If nothing else works, cut back on your expectations of what you can accomplish. Instead of two hours of writing, cut it back to one. Is 1,000 words a day too much? What about 800? 500? As long as you are still writing, you aren’t giving up on your goals. And that’s what avoiding burn out is all about.

Conclusion

So, that’s it. Be stubborn, re-evaluate your schedule, meditate, and be willing to cut back. My tools for avoiding Burn Out.

By the by, I just had to say… this post was requested from, and dedicated to, the wonderful Sonia Medeiros!

What do you do to avoid Burn Out? Do you have any tools or tricks to share?

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9 thoughts on “How to Kill Burn Out before it Kills your Writing

  1. You forgot an important one. I suffered from serious burnout from too much writing, which lasted for two years. I was trying to break into Hollywood, so I produced a script a week. I’d finish one and launch into the next one. The thing I didn’t do was take breaks from the writing. Breaks are very important to recharge the creativity and help prevent burnout. Bob Mayer also mentions changing the type of writing. A non-fiction piece is very different from a novel, as is a blog. It uses different creative muscles.

    • Hi Linda, thanks for stopping by!

      Switching up the writing outlet is a good idea! Thank you for sharing it. Now that I think about it, I guess I do switch it up from time to time without realizing it. I usually write flash or short when I’m feeling a bit worn out with a big novel-like project.

      Breaks are very important, but someone like a single parent wouldn’t be able to take a break from their children… or from work. The only other option they might have is cutting back on writing time. Giving up completely shouldn’t be an option (unless they decide that’s what they want from life) but cutting back is okay.

    • Hi Annie!

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels ridiculous meditating. If it weren’t so darn useful, I most likely would have stopped years ago. I always make myself feel a little better by saying “at least I’m not doing yoga.” I don’t care *how* good for you yoga is; I always look like the uncoordinated geek.

      Mountain instead of tree… interesting! Might give it a shot to mix things up.

  2. Pingback: Neat Post About Handling Burnout « The Cuckoo Club Archives

    • Hi Jayrod! Thanks for stopping by!

      Camp NaNo is coming ever faster… did you check out your cabin settings yet? I just realized I’d been assigned to a cabin for a few days now and didn’t know! My cabin mates all think I’m some terrible slacker (which I am).

      Good luck to you!

  3. Sometimes just reading (which is vital as a writer) will be enough to rejuvenate your writing. It’s actually always worked for me.

    It’s the ebb and the flow… there are phases of input, phases of processing, and phases of output. The tripod being the first truly balanced structure even beyond its religious significance.

    We live in a society that tries to pretend that there are just two ways to be: lazy or productive, but I call that a false dichotomy.

    ooh… Blog post coming up!

    • Good point, Eden. I forget to mention things like reading because they are just so natural for me. I read about a book a month (on a bad month) and so I’m always keeping up on this one.

      I’d like to read that blog post; I always love to see what people have to say about the stop and go mentality of modern society!

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