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4 Effective Ways to Beat Writer’s Burnout

It goes beyond mere writer’s block. It doesn’t care about deadlines, and can stopper your writing voice for months at a time. It’s deep, it’s baffling and it’s not often talked about in writing circles.

It’s writer’s burnout.

And whether you’re published or not, prolific or not, writer’s burnout is coming for you. In fact, I’m sure you’ve already experienced it, and perhaps you’re even battling it right now. Are you ready to beat it?

Writing Burnout

What’s Writer’s Burnout?

Unlike writer’s block, in which your writing voice gets tangled in a web of competing thoughts and objectives, writer’s burnout carries a tinge of resignation. You’re not just temporarily silenced, you’re sick of the entire process of getting your voice unstuck.

Not caring as deeply as you did just moments ago can be a profoundly disconcerting experience, and as a result, not many writers talk about how burnout saps your will to do creative work.

Ultimately, you just get tired of writing. You’re suddenly, totally over this whole writing business. And because all your writer friends are chirping “#amwriting! Word count done for today!” on Twitter and in your writing groups, you wonder if something’s actually wrong with you.

Don’t worry; nothing’s wrong with you.

But writer’s burnout won’t go away on its own. Here are four strategies to help clear it out and get you back to the business at hand.

Beating Writer’s Burnout

4. Re-route your creative energy.

Even on the best of days, writing can be a slog. If you’ve exhausted your mental resources and no longer have the “fight” left in you, give yourself permission to walk away. Without guilt, without nervously wondering when you’ll next get butt-in-chair time.

Pull your creativity in a different direction. Rearrange a bookshelf. Stop by a local library and check out the local art and historical exhibits it houses. Borrow a CD by an artist you’ve never heard of. Sit in a chair and listen to it.

3. Deliberately leave the writing, and reconnect with a loved one.

The spouses and family members of writers are in a privileged and often thankless position. Think about it. They tolerate those moments when you simply vanish inside your own mind, working out plot points or connecting dots no one else can see. They have you get used to you writing in their vicinity, seeming so available yet so completely far away.

Go back to them. Concentrate all your energy on making sure they know how much they matter to you, how interested you really are in their lives, and just relax in their company for some time. You’ll recharge more than just your creative batteries.

2. Give your busy mind a vacation.

A truth universally acknowledged of writers and other creative: Our minds are very busy. Annoyingly busy. We can’t shut them off. They’re always running, talking, connecting, deconstruction, rebuilding, wondering, and worrying.

However, it’s also truth that where the body goes, the mind follows. For a few days or weeks, throw yourself into your day job (if you have one). Lose yourself in physical activity (and no, it doesn’t have to be exercise, though that helps). Clean out a gutter. Split some wood. Walk one station farther down the subway line before you hop onboard. Fix your old mountain bike and take it for a spin.

Extra credit: If you don’t have children of your own, offer to babysit your cousins, nieces, nephews, or close friends’ kids for a few hours. Being around kids has a way of re-routing your stuck thought processes. They also wear you out, which can be a good thing.

1. Permit yourself to be sick of writing for a while.

Writers don’t like to talk about when they’re sick of words and writing and their characters. They isolate themselves, freezing their frustration in time. With no way to let their feelings out, the writer’s burnout doesn’t run its course.

When you’re feeling a bout of burnout coming on, try strategies 2-4, but remember that you’ll get over it faster if you’re open about feeling more #notwriting than #amwriting. (And I bet you’ll find some voices out their willing to commiserate. Misery loves company.)

And before you know it, your burnout will fade. You will want to start writing again. It’ll take some time, but the words will be back. I promise!

Have you suffered from writer’s burnout? Have any tips to offer your fellow writers? Share your experiences with us in the comments.

This post is by Shanan Haislip.

About Shanan Haislip

I'm a full-time business writer, an essayist, and webmaster at The Procrastiwriter, a blog about ways to fit writing in around a full-time life (without going insane). I'm also a regular contributor on PositiveWriter.com. Join me on Twitter at @Write_Tomorrow.

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  • http://www.adelaidewritewritewrite.blogspot.com/ Adelaide Shaw

    I have not had a complete burn-out during which I stopped writing, but I’ve been burned-out with a particular story or a novel. This particular novel took 12 years to write becauce I would stop with disgust when I couldn’t think of a way to continue the plot. Over a 12 year period I would look at the novel and write a page or two, delete half of what I wrote, revise parts of the beginning, get disgusted and walk away for several months or even years. However, I kept writing short stories and haiku. A little over a year ago I got an idea (who knows how these ideas are born?) and went back to the novel and finished it. I’m now looking for a publisher.

    My only advice is to try writing in some form which you usually don’t write. Write poetry if you only write fiction; write an essay if you write poetry; write a long letter (not-e-mail) to someone. Write your memoirs.

    Adelaide

    • http://www.annepeterson.com/ Anne Peterson

      I like your suggestion Adelaide.

      • http://maryjanemusic.com Maryjane Leahy

        I am a musician but alot of what I read here is very helpful. I am
        about to embark on writing my second album. Most of my music is inspired
        by personal experience but I still need an edge of technique and
        creativity which I struggle to find. I have set aside a time period next
        year where I have rented a studio to get my album done but obviously am
        writing music now as prep. I have a huge issue with guilt about not
        writing, let alone not playing (I play cello and guitar).
        I’m not really sure how to deal with the guilt.

        I
        like the idea of doing something else creative like reading or writing
        poetry, for me I paint. I do music therapy with people with mental
        health issues so I also use some of the techniques on myself such as
        visual arts with music playing in the background. Alot of people have
        told me background music inspires their creativity, just an idea. So I
        will maybe try and use your stories to inspire my music!

        • http://www.adelaidewritewritewrite.blogspot.com/ Adelaide Shaw

          Yes, music in the background while writing can be soothing and helpful. Personally, I like something classical, especially piano or guitar.

    • http://maryjanemusic.com Maryjane Leahy

      I am a musician but alot of what I read here is very helpful. I am about to embark on writing my second album. Most of my music is inspired by personal experience but I still need an edge of technique and creativity which I struggle to find. I have set aside a time period next year where I have rented a studio to get my album done but obviously am writing music now as prep. I have a huge issue with guilt about not writing, let alone not playing (I play cello and guitar).
      I’m not really sure how to deal with the guilt.

      I like the idea of doing something else creative like reading or writing poetry, for me I paint. I do music therapy with people with mental health issues so I also use some of the techniques on myself such as visual arts with music playing in the background. Alot of people have told me background music inspires their creativity, just an idea. So I will maybe try and use your stories to inspire my music!

    • http://www.theprocrastiwriter.com/ Shan

      That’s a great piece of advice, Adelaide! Thanks for sharing. I do wonder, though, what was the trigger for a 12-years overdue cascade of inspiration.

      If you figure it out, let me know! :-)

      • http://www.adelaidewritewritewrite.blogspot.com/ Adelaide Shaw

        i changed from one main point of view to two, giving each equal time. Instead of having both characteres POV in the same chapter I gave each separate chapters. It helped me concentrate the thoughts of one character at a time instead of going from one to the other. Also, I switched from first person to 3rd person, feeling that I wanted some authorial authority to inject some historical background which would have been strange to have from a first person narrative.
        I finished the novel rather quickly after that and am now hoping a publisher thinks it’s worth publishing.
        Adelaide

  • http://www.annepeterson.com/ Anne Peterson

    Great post Shanon,
    I think we’re all different and so we will discover what “it” is that will help us when we’re tired. For me, the technological stuff will tire me faster than anything. But, maybe when I am just wanting to never hit another key I push myself just a little to get to a stopping point. Okay sometimes my family need to physically pull me out of my office. But anyway, I sit and watch a favorite movie. “Music and Lyrics,” “Leap Year,” and I just become a passenger in someone else’s train for a while. Then once I feel like I can get back to it, maybe the next day, maybe longer, I find putting that space between me and my project was helpful.

    For those times when I feel I need refreshment, I’m sad to say I just stop one part I’m doing. And unfortunately, it’s the blogging part. It’s like I leave for a while and then I can come back to the party. I think I would be a great candidate for having a stockpile of posts and automatic posting.

    • http://www.theprocrastiwriter.com/ Shan

      Anne, blogging is often the first thing to leave my list when the writing gets hard or the schedule gets too busy. Sometimes, I worry that means I’m not as real a writer as many of my author friends out there; most of the time, I accept there’s not a huge amount of control that I have over these things.

      The will to keep returning to it… That’s the key.

  • Marcy Mason McKay

    I’ve both suffered from writer’s burnout, from losing two different agents for two differnt novels (one retired; the other, we parted ways). Mine burnout came from working so long and so hard, without the payoff I want — publication. I’ve also watched the opposite extreme: friends who are traditionally published and have to crank out a novel every year (at LEAST). We all just crashed and burned. Time is the best healer for burnout. Time and giving myself space to step away from writing as long as needed. It’s not fun, but the break is the only thing that helped me.

    • http://www.theprocrastiwriter.com/ Shan

      Marcy, it seems like rejection burnout is a common theme here. And you’re right, time is a very powerful healer.

      • Marcy Mason McKay

        Exactly. Thanks for responding.

  • Pat Marinelli

    I’m going through writer’s burnout right now…and I hate it. I’ve tried a few of the suggestions here all ready. I see some new ones to try. I got burned out over too many rejections and no publications. I write short stories and have tried essays and other genre other than romance and mystery. Those stories and essays seemed great but I still haven’t published any of them. Seeing here that other writers have this problem at least makes me not feel alone. Thanks all of you for the suggestions to help.

    • http://www.theprocrastiwriter.com/ Shan

      You’re welcome, Pat. Rejection burnout is the toughest burnout of all and is a bear to cope with, week after week.

      Keep doing what you’re doing, even though it’s really hard. You’ll get there!

  • http://speculationsimpressed.wordpress.com/ Glynis Jolly

    I guess I’ve been lucky so far. There are times when I feel burned out but not for more that 3 or 4 days. I find time to write on most days, so when I’ve invited to a friend’s house or a relative’s house I don’t feel guilty about going and usually have a good time. I’m sure there will come a time when the burnout will be bad though, and I’ll just have to deal with it. I do think you viewpoint is the only way to go. Just let it all happen with the idea that the love of writing will return.

    • http://www.theprocrastiwriter.com/ Shan

      Agreed. Sometimes you really just have to trust that time will heal your tired brain. Best of luck!

  • http://www.mahriegreid.com Mahrie G Reid

    I’ve been writing since I was in middle school. Some years life just was busy and no writing happened. But other times, times when I could write, my brain and soul shut down. They threw up the hands and said, “Ah to heck with it, it’s too much work.” Without realizing it, I did a few of the things suggested in this article and low and behold, back came my writer brain brewing new stories. Sometimes, timeout is just what the writer needs.

    • http://www.theprocrastiwriter.com/ Shan

      Mahrie, that’s great to hear that these techniques really do work for other writers! And I completely identify with that rebellion of brain and soul you describe. This summer has been one of those times for me.

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