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Burnout

At first, I was reluctant to write about this topic during the Winter Writing Festival, when so many people are motivated and rocketing toward the finish line to meet their goals. However, burnout is something that hits many creative people (right where it hurts!) at the most inconvenient times—not that it’s ever convenient to be mentally exhausted—and I suspect some of us out there are feeling the burn. 

I had my first episode of burnout at the tail-end of 2015, and feel like I’m just coming out of that brain-fog-like state. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t get motivated, and had little energy to put toward my everyday tasks, let alone creative endeavors. I first blogged about it on February 1st at Not Your Usual Suspects, and am reposting here, in the hope that someone out there doesn’t feel so alone…

 

BURNOUT

 burnout-self-care

Burnout. Such a short, simple word, but with such a high impact. When it happens, it can derail even the most dedicated artists. For people who thrive on exploring their creative selves, mental exhaustion hits hard, but we only have so much energy—mental or physical.

So what does one do when one hits that invisible wall?

Survive, revive, and thrive.

 

Survive

I blogged about “The Write Balance” a few years back. As a counselor (in a former life), I’m aware how important finding balance is to maintaining health and happiness…and as a human with people and projects pulling at me from all directions, I’m just as aware how difficult that balance is to achieve and maintain on a daily basis.

This time, when my turn to blog came around, the only writing craft or career-related topic I could think of right now was the one thing that has consumed me for the past several weeks: Recovering my lost mojo. My motivation. My sense of balance. Whatever you want to call that need, that drive to create, I had lost track of it sometime back in early December. It’s possible I misplaced it earlier than that and was just going through the motions for many weeks, meeting deadlines but feeling no joy in the process.

It wasn’t until my health started suffering (both physically and depression) that I had to admit to myself that I’d hit a wall. Whether it was the current work-in-progress that threw that wall in my path or the holidays and a couple family emergencies combined with deadline after deadline throughout 2015, or just my inner two-year-old coming out to throw a tantrum, I just. Didn’t. Wanna. Anymore.

 

burn-out

Image from: http://www.pauladavislaack.com/burnout/

 

When my physical health started to fail and I wasn’t enjoying time with my kids during the holiday season, I knew these were signs I needed to slow the heck down. I had to focus on survival, making the holidays as bright for my kids as possible, and rest my poor, tired brain.

I worked on nothing but enjoying each moment, especially with my family. I read as much as I could. I communed with nature and binge-watched movies, trying to reabsorb any and all forms of creativity and storytelling while not having to work on my own stories. My only job became to nurture and restore myself.

 

Revive

I was convinced (and more than a little worried) that I was done with writing. Kaput. For about two weeks, until the holidays passed and the kids were back in school, I focused on family stuff. During that time, I hung out with family, played mindless online games where I grew crops and entire towns populated by imaginary people who didn’t care if I finished my book. I also jumped into several household projects that had been bugging me—such as repainting and reorganizing my pantry.

And I tried not to think about the manuscript that I’d already put weeks of hard work into, that already had a beautiful cover and two-thirds of a rough draft and was now languishing on my computer.

And I assessed what I wanted. Was this career still my goal? Was I simply tired? Did I need to try something new, even if it was simply switching to a new genre of writing?

Emailing with friends (writer friends who’ve been there, in particular) was helpful at this time. And I think the self-preservation part of me was trying to keep one foot in those writing waters. I wasn’t ready to give up the career I’d fought so hard for.

Except…
My friends kept asking me “can you really walk away from this?” And, “what would you do if you didn’t write?” The tone suggested that, as a writer, I couldn’t NOT write. But I thought that maybe I could walk away and not look back. After years of working toward this career. (This was scary.)

So, analyzing why you’re pursuing a goal—Money? Passion? Fame?—can help you discover whether the pursuit is still worth it for you.

For me, I need to finish a project I’ve started. I’ve always been that way. So I’ll get back to it and finish. And I enjoy being a writer. At least, I’m discovering that I can revive that joy, now that I’ve had a break from the deadlines. It also helped to remember I could take a step back and it didn’t mean I was quitting. I just needed perspective.

 

Thrive

zen

Photo from: http://wemagazineforwomen.com/ finding-zen-easy-ways-to-cultivate-more-inner-peace/

The answers didn’t come easy. In fact, I’m still working on finding that inner “zen.” I’m not sure where this path is taking me, or whether a different path might be better. But after about four weeks of regrouping, of doing other “writerly” things other than working on the book I’d stuck in the corner, and totally non-writerly things like finally working on getting my youngest’s baby book together (he’ll be 6 in a couple weeks!), I decided to reopen the work-in-progress and take a peek. It wasn’t so bad. I know it went off the rails somewhere, otherwise I wouldn’t have stopped. And when my brain’s rested, I’ll find the answers. Despite my recent struggles, I have faith in this process.

Slowly, I’m getting back into the groove. (After all, I’ve already got that beautiful cover and don’t want to waste it!) I’m learning that I need to pace myself, and part of that was setting time limits and reassessing goals. Instead of having a daily word count or page count goal, I’ve switched to a time goal. I know that, if I put two hours a day into this manuscript, eventually it’ll get done. And I’ll probably build up my stamina again in the process.

When committing to a word count or page goal seems daunting, or exhausting, I know I can still manage a time goal. One or two hours seems manageable.

And one day, that energy will be back and I’ll thrive again.

 

Have you suffered burnout in your job? Have you had to take a step back and reassess? Do you have any tips or tricks of the trade for recovering from burnout and/or maintaining balance? If so, please share!

 

14 responses to “Burnout”

  1. Thanks so much for this post, Anne Marie! I’m sorry you’ve suffered through burnout. Glad to hear you’re working on regaining balance. I really like the idea of a time goal rather than a word count goal.

    Burnout is something I’m all too familiar with as well. My day job requires me to write scripts all day, and by the time I get home to work on my stories, sometimes there just aren’t any words left. So I have to accept that and refill the well—usually by watching TV or baking up a storm.

    1+
    • I can’t imagine having to be creative all day on other projects, and then having anything left for your own. I can see where that would be tiring.

      And baking! Great idea. I think being “artistic” with your hands would be very fulfilling. And baking qualifies as art. Yummy art! 😀

      1+
  2. What a great post, Anne Marie, and so timely.
    I had a similar experience myself, and replenishing the well of creativity is a full-time job in our world.

    I found out my Vitamin D level was dangerously low. We writers don’t get out in the sunshine enough and that can seriously impact our health, and contribute to depression. Once I supplemented, things got better. Everyone should schedule a check-up.

    The one thing I love about Winterfest is this community lets us set our own goals. There’s so much we do around writing. Learning to take credit for those tasks, not just for the word count, seems to make sense to me.

    Thanks for showing us how you replenished your well.

    1+
    • Thanks for commenting, Paula. Our family had its own realization about the importance of Vitamin D just a couple months ago. (It’s no coincidence that this happened during the beginning of my burnout phase!) My son apparently had a profound deficiency, and he’d had all kinds of issues sleeping, focusing, mood shifts, etc. My husband and I were worn out trying to help him. It was a mess, and things are SO much better now that he’s been on supplements.

      Take care of yourselves, everyone! Physical health impacts everything else.

      And yes, this festival, with it’s flexible goals, emphasizes how so many other pieces of our lives, other than time in front of the computer, are important to our writing success. That’s why I love it, too. 😀

      1+
  3. Vivi Andrews says:

    This is an incredible post, Anne Marie. Thank you! I burned myself out when I first quit my day job because I felt like I needed to be writing 24/7 in order to justify it as my career. I really needed to find that work/life balance. Needed to give myself a break. Now I’ve learned to be much more tuned in with my own limits. I still love my word count goals, but I’ve learned better how to recognize that tipping point when I’m not going to be able to produce any more in a day and pushing onward will just be banging my head against a wall (and need to be redone later anyway).

    Yesterday that meant going to see Trumbo in the afternoon (which definitely acknowledges burnout) and then binge reading Eloisa James. Today I’m ready to work again (and trying to ignore the little voice in my head that calls me lazy for taking the time I needed to recharge yesterday…grrrrr).

    1+
    • Thank you, Vivi — and you’re welcome. 🙂

      I hesitated to post this for so many reasons. It’s hard for me to admit struggle or failure in any area of my life (stupid perfectionistic tendencies), but I know we all go through it, and it’s normal.

      Ignoring that critical, guilt-producing voice is so important! Listen to your body instead. 😉

      3+
  4. Tamara Hogan says:

    Thanks so much for this post, Anne Marie. I’m recovering from Round Two of job-related burnout at this very moment. After a lot of thinking, and a lot of financial planning, I finally listened to the tiny voice in my head telling me to quit. Yep, after 25 years working in the technology industry, I tapped out just before Christmas.

    And it is glorious. Though I’m still decompressing, I’m already sleeping through the night again. My health has taken a distinct turn for the better. Though I miss my team – AWESOME people – I no longer worry about corporate politics, influencing whiny engineers, overdue PowerPoint decks, or writing status reports.

    Even though I’m not working for The Man anymore, I still get up early and start each day writing at my local coffee shop. Right now I’m spending 3-4 hours each morning working on a new book, and a few hours each afternoon preparing older books for indie publishing. And I’m taking a lot of baths, and reading more. And then there’s cable TV, and Netflix… #research

    At some point, finances will become a more urgent issue, and at that time I plan to pick up some editing work. But for now, I’m letting myself recover, and enjoying my time cocooned in my writing cave. 😉

    3+
    • There’s so much awesomeness in your comment, Tamara. 🙂 Quitting the job to follow your dream, sleeping better (sleep is so, so important!), improving your health… I love to hear how you’re doing.

      Now and then, we all need/deserve cocoon time to recover. 😉

      1+
  5. Rita Henuber says:

    Hugs and thanks for sharing.
    I range from chilling and the Scarlett O’Hara syndrome, you know, I’ll think about it tomorrow, to getting out the chainsaw and cutting something in the back 40 for dealing. Don’t think about not writing. I think about writing what I want. Different things. I completed a short story written in 1st person present in the POV of a 79 year old man. I love it!
    Best thing IMO is know what YOU need, do it and take care of yourself.

    0
    • Chainsaw therapy sounds awesome. Destruction can be such a release. 😉

      And I love that you’re trying new things. That’s one solution I toyed with. I thought about writing a contemporary, or working on a novella. Something to mix it up. In the end, I felt I had to finish this story I’d gotten stuck on, since it completes the trilogy and allows me some promo opportunities I’d been planning this summer. But I hope to “play” with other formats and subgenres once this one is done!

      1+
  6. Laurie Kellogg says:

    I can’t say I’ve actually had a ‘burnout’ but I’ve had definite ‘slumps’ in my writing. I’m just coming out of one. Sometimes life gets in the way, and I’ve learned not to stress over it. It’s one of the joys of being an indie author–I set my own schedule, and if I have to delay a release, I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself. My grandson is home sick today and is coming to hang out with me so my DIL can go to work. There goes my writing this afternoon, but he’s a lot more important than the words I would’ve written.

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    • “Slump” is a good way to look at it, too. Life can be a rollercoaster, so there will be dips, just as there will be highs. If I’ve learned anything in this business, it’s the importance of being flexible.

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