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, 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.
If you feel that working from Starbucks isn’t quite your bag, you can always pick up and work from another country. British writer Paul Carr did just that, and detailed it in his book The Upgrade. If you’re thinking that a slightly more exotic change of scenery is your thing, you’d be well advised to have a look.
Get some sleep
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 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.
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.
Burnout happens to all of us eventually. Have you ever experienced it? How did you move past it? Let me know in the comments.