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Writers are particularly susceptible to burnout. I’ve always thought of burnout in the same way I think of the morning after a particularly strenuous session in the gym. Have you ever gone to the gym and put in every kilo joule of energy that you have available to you? Have you ever worked out so much that after a while, you can barely stand up straight? The morning after is a killer too. You’re stiff and sore, and everything feels like more effort than it’s worth.

Much like the muscles on your arms and legs, your brain can become so overworked that it stops being effective. Concentration becomes hard, and everything becomes taxing. Eventually, the only thing you’re fit to do is sit in your desk and glare at your monitor. You’re mentally exhausted. You’re burned out.

Writers know the feeling. There’s so much pressure to deliver on time, and to meet deadlines. Some writing projects might not be especially exciting. If you write for a print or digital publication, you might have the added stress of the expectation that your articles will reach a certain amount of popularity. If you’re a freelancer, there’s the added adventure of whether your clients will pay you on time, or whether you’re going to spend the next month dodging phone calls from your landlord and eating stale bread and beans.

All this adds up, and eventually the stress becomes unbearable. You’re no longer on the top of your game, and everything becomes a challenge. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to have some strategies to avoid burning out. Here are some that work for me:

Change your scenery

As a writer, you’ve got a lot of freedom to work from wherever you want. All you need is a laptop and an internet connection, and you’re good to go. Despite this, a lot of writers I’ve spoken to tend to work from within the same four walls, every day.

I find that working from a hackerspace Four Reasons Why You Should Visit Your Local Hackerspace Four Reasons Why You Should Visit Your Local Hackerspace Read More , coffee shop or library makes me less distracted, and when I’ve spent a day working away from home, I’m less exhausted. It also means that once I’ve finished working, I can pretty much immediately do something fun like catch a movie or meet up with friends for a drink.

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Get some sleep

man-sleeping

If you’ve got a heavy workload, you might find that you’re getting less sleep than you’d like. Sleep isn’t an unproductive waste of eight hours each night. It allows you to recharge your batteries, and to approach anything thrown at you with vigor. Here’s what the NIH has to say about the importance of sleep.

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. … The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash), or it can harm you over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.

No matter what your schedule looks like, you should always make time for rest. An added bonus of being well rested is that you’ve got more energy to approach your work, meaning that things get done quicker.

Change How You Write

The Write Life is a popular writing blog, and earlier this year they published an article that attracted a lot of attention in the blogosphere. It was titled ‘Microsoft Word – Just Say No’ and the author, Will Moyer, argued that word processors such as Microsoft Office do not lend themselves favorably to the creative process of writing.

… word processors, especially ones like Microsoft Word, aren’t actually good tools for composition. The act of composing is about ordering and structuring thoughts. It’s not about setting your margins or choosing fonts or italicizing phrases. But word processors are notoriously bad at letting you just compose.

This is something I’m inclined to agree with. Word is horrible. It’s cluttered. Writing anything in it feels like a chore. Consider using a lightweight word processor like iA Writer iA Writer for Mac & iOS: The Best Word Processor You've Never Used iA Writer for Mac & iOS: The Best Word Processor You've Never Used Be it a school paper or a blog post, all of us at some point find ourselves in the position of having to dump a bunch of characters into a text file. While cell phone... Read More or Pages. This makes it easy to focus on the task at hand, and makes it easier for you to get your work done quicker.

Make Writing Fun Again

You probably became a writer because at one point in your life there was nothing else you thought you would want to do. But, somewhere along the line, your passion ebbed. Writing became less about escapism and creativity, and more about a paycheck. You spent less time working on your novels and poetry, and more on what your client demands.

burnout-writing

Take some time out to write for fun. Stretch yourself by writing for a genre which is entirely new to you. Perhaps even take the time to write an essay or some poetry. Rediscover what made writing fun for you in the first place.

Conclusion

Burnout happens to all of us eventually. Have you ever experienced it? How did you move past it? Let me know in the comments.

Image Credits: PiutusTony Halllowjumpingfrog, Tired Businessman

  1. Guest
    January 24, 2014 at 3:35 am

    You forgot trying to make time for projects you want to do when you're a university student and term paper deadlines take precedent. I wish I could quit college and just cop out and be a drifter or off-the-grid recluse (seeing as whether or not I finish college has no bearing on whether I'll get hired or not -- nobody hires non-grads but nobody hires liberal arts majors either -- except maybe Starbucks or Wal-Mart), but I have no choice as I'm still underage and my parents won't let me just drop out of life.

    Also, the biggest beef I have with college, in fact school in general (besides the unjustifiable price tag -- $20,000 to read Camus and listen to some nerd blather on about ancient Rome?) is that it KILLS READING. Writers need to be readers, and I've actually got book burnout. Well, not exactly book burnout, but no time (or eye strength) to read the things I enjoy because I have to read such-and-such page range in some boring textbook or "Great Book" rather than, say, Hitchhiker's Guide or even Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Add to that the social pressure of getting sh* upon by your hardcore feminist professor if you dare say you think Jane Austen is boring or Germaine Greer is gross. I don't want to analyze crucial subtexts or learn Kate Turabian citation format. I just want to find the answer to life, the universe, and everything and say hi to Greg Heffley along the way.

  2. Robyn LaRue
    December 5, 2013 at 4:45 am

    Some years are lived perpetually on the edge of burnout. :)

    What works for me is the library or solitude in a public place (like the middle of the mall). I'm bad about sleep, too. One recent trick that works is to take the laptop out to the patio when it is dark and quiet. I get a lot done then. :)

  3. Taylor Church
    November 19, 2013 at 7:07 am

    Loved this. I am a bit of a neophyte in the writing sphere of things. But I love it, and am focusing on my blog and a few other projects. I love the idea of changing venues. I usually type at my desk or on my bed, close to a Coke and some sunflower seeds. But new places inspire us in different ways. Love it. Check out my blog!!! http://billymoney.blogspot.com/

    • Matthew H
      November 21, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      Too true! Thank you for your comment.

  4. Joel L
    November 15, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    I struggle a lot with writing motivation (a cursory Google search reveals that I am not even close to being the only one!) but I've learned that motivation has a natural ebb and flow to it. I've tried every tip and trick under the sun over the years but the only one that has truly worked 100% of the time is to POWER THROUGH. The moment you stop writing is the moment you've lost.

    • Matthew H
      November 21, 2013 at 1:31 pm

      You know what I've noticed? I can crank out so much work when I'm on a train or a plane, but when I'm at home I find that the work I produce isn't as good and comes a lot slower. Strange.

      How do you bring yourself to power through the ennui?

  5. Adrian Sanabria
    November 15, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Good advice! I’ve discovered a few of these on my own - I definitely endorse the coffice (Coffee Shop + Office), to the point that I’ve written rules for using a coffee shop as an office so you don’t become a menace to the proprietors or other customers (I still need to write up that blog post though). I also took it upon myself to find a better, less distracting method of writing: plain text. On a Mac, if you create a plain text file, and open it with TextEdit, it won’t show you any of the formatting options. You are left to focus on the writing. As for formatting, I use AsciiDoc to mark up my writing, and can then choose to run my plain text file through the asciidoc processor, which can turn it into a beautiful HTML or DOC file. The reason I like AsciiDoc is because it looks nice as plain text also. It looks a bit like this:

    Title
    ———
    Author

    == Heading
    Text text blah blah text

    === Subheading
    - Bullet
    - points
    - tab for indentation
    - etc

    No more screaming at Word when I should be focused on writing :)

    Another thing that I’ve found to help me is creating outlines, whether digital or on paper or on my whiteboard. This process really helps me to get started. Maybe I don’t know what to write in the introduction, but I already know what my witty conclusion is going to be (hilariously, this happens quite often to me). So, I put in the headers for the whole piece, which acts as a framework, and makes it easy for me to see how much I intend to write. Then I write the conclusion - or any other bits that come to me. Even notes and ideas get thrown into the areas they pertain to. I don’t see any reason I need to write from beginning to end, so I don’t. I just write what I’m inspired to write at the time, because that’s easier than forcing myself to start with an introduction.

    One last thing I’ll mention - advice from Edward Tufte tweeted by Selena Kyle: “Do not ever begin a day of creative work by reading the NYT, email or Twitter. Start with the work. Avoid the mental clutter."

    • Matthew H
      November 21, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      That's amazing. Thanks Adrian! I really love that quote. I really like your workflow, and I'm almost certainly going to adopt ideas from it in my own!

  6. Guy M
    November 15, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    I wish there was a decent coffee shop for me to work in here.

    Sometimes I just need to do something mindless like the dishes or clean the garage for a bit. Then things just pop into my head while my body is working and my mind is resting.

    Sometimes I just tell my wife I'm blocked and she kickstarts my ass verbally.

    I find using Scrivener can really help my writing process as well. Normally, I do it the old fashioned way in Notepad, but if my thoughts get cluttered I switch to Scrivener.

    • Matthew H
      November 21, 2013 at 1:32 pm

      Are there not any hackerspaces near where you live? I often find that a good workout helps focus the mind. Also, I've been trying to eat less carbohydrates. That's also really helpful.

      I'll check out Scrivener!

    • Guy M
      November 21, 2013 at 4:03 pm

      There might be one about 300 km west of me. The next likely place is about 1000 km west of me. LOL! I'm in the boondocks, Matt. They don't call me the Hi-Tech Redneck for nothing!

      I hear what you're saying about carbs clouding the mind. I find I can take in carbs well, as long as I avoid food made from normal flour. Almost a gluten issue.

      Getting over-coffee'd messes me up too. I'm trying to stick to green tea now. But damn, I love a good coffee!

      I also find that if I come here, read some articles by our best and brightest (yourself included), then I get motivated by a little bit of competitive instinct.

      Adrian Sanabria is right about just writing and not worrying about editing until after. I usually edit as I go, but if I'm stuck I just crank out a vomit draft, and then clean it up later.

    • Matthew H
      November 21, 2013 at 11:20 pm

      Haha. To say I'm curious about Nova Scotia is an understatement. I should visit at some point! I know it isn't NS, but I'd love to live in St Johns for a bit!

    • Guy M
      November 22, 2013 at 3:06 pm

      Newfoundland does have Canada's least expensive university. And a high quality one at that!

  7. Christian C
    November 15, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Coffee shops definitely work for me. That's where the majority of my research gets done, as well as the occasional post.

    However, they're bad for the waist line...

    • Matthew H
      November 21, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      And the wallet!

      As an aside, I'm really digging the festive menu at Starbucks, but I can't bring myself to drink a 600 calorie drink.

  8. Alex
    November 14, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Booze! There's nothing like whisky for fueling creativity...

    • Matthew H
      November 21, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      Haha. I believe that's called the Balmer Peak. ;)

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