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How to Avoid Writer’s Burnout

The struggle of balancing writing, life, and all the other things that come with it can be exhausting. Writer’s burnout is a real thing and if you’re feeling like your creativity has been on hiatus for too long, this post is for you. Read on to learn about different ways to stay motivated as a writer, and overcome burnout.

Differentiating Between Burnout and Block

How to avoid writers burnout?

Although some writers claim that Writer’s Block is a myth, most writers hit it at some point. The difference between writer’s block and burnout is that writer’s block is a mental roadblock, but Burnout is a physical and mental creative block.

It’s a form of creative burnout.

With a block, you may have the desire to write, but the words just don’t flow. With writer burnout, you can’t even summon the will.

Spotting the Symptoms of Writer’s Burnout

The symptoms of true burnout break down into physical and emotional.

Some of the physical symptoms include seeing little to no improvement in your work, you get frustrated easily, and you get sick frequently. Emotional symptoms include feeling lost, overwhelmed, and exhausted.

You might get more frequent headaches, jaw clenching, and/or tightness in the stomach. You might also experience feelings of anxiety, and even depression.

One of the worst aspects is when you feel a lack of passion and engagement for the work. The idea of writing just isn’t appealing.

It cuts at the creative core of what it is to be a writer.

You Got This!

Before we dig into the source and solutions for writer’s burnout, it’s very important to realize one thing:

You CAN get past this! It is not set in stone, nor is it the end of the line.

The first thing you need to do is acknowledge that you are experiencing burnout.

This will be an ongoing process. Writer’s burnout is a temporary state of being, but you must acknowledge that it exists first.

You just need to take the right steps to get back to the writing life you love.

It may not be easy, but it WILL be worth it.

Why Writer’s Burnout Happens

One of the main causes of burnout is simply being stressed and overworked for too long at a time. The constant grind of obligations, responsibilities, and engagements take a toll on your mental energy.

Whether as a freelance writer, a professional writer in a staff job, on a writing assignment..whether it’s your day job, or you are writing fiction in the evenings for a hobby.

If you’re not careful, burnout can sneak up on you. Prolonged stress will do that to anyone.

Another cause of writer’s burnout is when you don’t make time for yourself. There’s a reason why people say you need to take “me time.”

Staying in the same environment every day, with little to no change in your lifestyle wears on you.

There’s so much to juggle in this generation of writing, and it’s hard to keep up. It’s not just the writing itself, but the marketing, networking, and finding time for everything.

With social media, it becomes increasingly harder to just focus on the writing. You want to be on every platform, especially when they’re free, but it’s hard to be on all of them at once.

It can become overwhelming.

How to Overcome Burnout

There are a lot of ways to deal with writer’s burnout, and I’m going to set out what I believe to be some of the most helpful, and why they work.

Take Breaks

You need to give yourself a break! This is the number one thing you can do to solve burnout.

I know, I know. You’re an independent contractor. You don’t get paid when you don’t work, but you also don’t need to be chained to the desk when you aren’t feeling it. That next blog post can wait for an hour! The world won’t stop turning because of it!

You need to give yourself permission to take a break when you feel like you’ve hit a brick wall.

One of the things that will help you take breaks is a Pomodoro-style timer on your laptop or desktop.

I’m on a Mac, and I find that the Session app is really good; it stays out of the way when I need it, and pops up when a writing session is done.

It helps me greatly to reduce distraction (in itself a major source of burnout) and gets me to take real breaks.

session app
session app

Personally, I find that the standard 25-minutes is a bit short; I bump my sessions up to 45-minutes each, with a 5 minute stretch between each one.

Before starting to use it, I found myself writing for hours on end, without taking breaks. Not a healthy writing routine!

The other great thing about the app is that it tracks my overall workload – these past few days I’ve had to devote most of my attention to business development, but the awareness of how much writing I’ve done in any given period really helps.

session app statistics
session app analytics

Scheduling

Alongside and closely related to writing sessions and mini-breaks is the practice of blocking out your writing time each day.

Committing in a planned way to daily writing helps because it reduces the angst of ‘should I write?’. It kills inertia dead and puts you back in the driving seat.

Personally, I find those mornings are my productive writing time. Don’t get me wrong – I do a ton of stuff in the afternoons and sometimes evenings, but not a lot of writing happens for me after lunch.

Given that my optimum writing is around four hours worth in the mornings, I make sure that I prioritize that first in my day; otherwise, I’ve found that trying to catch up on writing in the afternoons works badly, causes stress, and contributes to burnout.

I use a very simple ToDo app – Things 3 for Mac – and put my latest writing goal in the ‘Today’ bit, and every other task in the ‘Evening’. That way, I mentally make a deal with myself to get the writing done first in the day before other stuff starts to crowd in.

It has the added benefit of keeping a kind of writing diary in the completed tasks Log. I can easily filter using tags.

Things 3 log
Things 3 Log

Reconnect with Yourself

If you’re up against deadlines (imposed or self-imposed), it’s easy to get submerged in the work and lose your own creative identity.

Related: Can You Lose Creativity

This in turn means that you can lose the flair and style that you bring to your writing work, and therefore the fun and enjoyment that accompanies them.

This is why it is important to find a practice that enables you to reconnect with yourself, daily. Even something as simple as stepping into the garden or a local park, and walk-meditating.

You’d be amazed at the impact this has to produce quality content and your writing skills.

The free Insight Timer website and app are brilliant, by the way, for all sorts of guided mindful experiences.

insight timer app
Insight Timer app

Perfectionism and Stress

As well as regular excursions into my Inner Geek, I tend to be a perfectionist. Which, as a writer, can be a mess and a big contributor to burnout.

Most of us know that ‘messy first drafts’ is the way forward; by lapsing into perfectionism (which somehow is closely aligned to procrastination) you can start burning yourself out in a quite insidious way.

One of the big lessons I’ve learned – especially for online articles is to Just. Publish.

The release you get as each piece hits the open market, and the accompanying sense of achievement, is a big stress balancer in my experience.

Getting Enough Sleep

We all have the image of the creative writer, sitting by the flickering light in the middle of the night, penning reams of wonderful prose.

The reality is that you create most of your work when you’re asleep. We all know that if you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll be tired, cranky, and lacking in motivation.

This is true of writing the same way it is true of everything else, but it is pervasive because you use your imagination in your writing.

If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your imagination/creative juices will be compromised.

Writing at the end of the day, when you are tired or are already sleep-deprived, is far from ideal.

Getting good sleep helps your body to recover, and is an essential part of being creative. You need to have the creative energy to create!

Too little sleep also increases your overall stress load, which only makes burnout worse.

So, if you’re not getting a solid 7-8 hours of sleep or more, then you need to start.

Recently, I’ve struggled to get more than 5-6 hours nightly; which has led me on a quest to find ways to improve it.

Some of the things that have helped are:

  • Early to bed. Usually around 10 PM.
  • Hydration. Especially in the evening.
  • Getting the room nice and dark. Dimming down the lights as bedtime approaches.
  • No alarm clock; that is stress I do not need!
  • No intensive computer stuff just before bed. Quite apart from anything else, the quality of a screen’s light is guaranteed to keep me awake.

Taking Inspiration All Around

Part of burnout is a lack of inspiration and motivation.

I find it helps to address those two head-on.

And separately.

Inspiration comes from many sources. It’s not just the act of writing, or thinking about writing, or reading other people’s writing, or analyzing your own.

  • It might be the sunset.
  • It might be your partner.
  • A writing group.
  • It might be watching a movie.
  • It might be the first time you eat a great meal.
  • A great podcast.
  • It might be the first time you taste a new drink.
  • It might be something as simple as the first time you hear a great song.
  • It might be the first time you hold your newborn baby.

Inspiration is all around you; you just need to find it.

Same with motivation.

  • It might be the odd little goal you set yourself, like writing the first two paragraphs of a new story.
  • It might be the sense of accomplishment you get from finishing a story.
  • It might be the small amount of money you generate from selling that story.
  • Music. I’ve been listening to The Next Episode (Dr Dre) and Dazz (Tujamo) a lot lately. Even lyrics from songs can be inspiring if you find the right phrase.
  • Poetry. Poetry is especially good for writers.

Mirror Your Mind on Your Desk

I don’t know about you, but my desk has a gravitational effect on almost everything around it.

Right now, I’d rank it around 6/10 on the Clutter Scale. Here’s what I’m talking about:

desk before
My desk before Tidy Up

Now although I know that Tolkein spoke about his writing emerging from the ‘leaf mold’ – somehow, I don’t think he had a messy desk in mind.

The analogy extends far beyond the desk, of course.

Taking a proactive approach to clutter, on the desk or away from it, definitely helps to clear the mind, reduce stress, and combat burnout.

Four minutes after that picture above, here is the new state of play:

desk after
My Desk after tidy up

And I feel better, more motivated, more aligned. In a better state for writing.

Get Off Yer Bum

(Said in a pronounced ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ accent).

The point about taking breaks, and micro breaks, is that it’s no good if you just remain slumped in front of the screen.

That blood needs to flow!

By the time you’ve been at the desk for hours, you’d be surprised at how little you need to move around to feel energized.

So head outside! Even just through an open window.

You’ll feel the benefit.

Stand up, walk around, stretch, smile, shake out the arms.

Any tiny movement will help. Get some exercise in!

One Little Word

No.

As in: ‘No. I am NOT going to kill myself to get this article written tonight.’

As in: ‘Yes. I will take the rest I need, to feel energized (and write a damn sight better) tomorrow morning.

Developing a kind of Little Inner No Radar can be really helpful when it comes to avoiding burnout.

Inner No Radar is when you learn to recognize the signs of when you are moving towards a burnout situation.

This means you can go ‘No’ to yourself, when you need to, in order to prevent it from happening.

The Only Competition is You

If you get yourself into a race with others, it’s a race you inexorably will lose. Because there is always someone out there who will have more resources, of one kind or another, to perform better than you.

It’s not just the writing.

The constant requirement to engage in marketing – which many creative people find really tough – can be draining. When you see others achieving great success, seemingly with ease, it can be tough.

In turn, these feelings can lead to depression, anxiety, and burnout.

There are some things you can do immediately to start dealing with all this:

  1. Stop eyeing with an envious gaze the successes of others. It is good to visit the successes of others (for example, in the 20 Books to 50k Facebook group) and celebrate with the successful, learn and take heart from them; but be careful not to dwell in these forums!
  2. Build in effective habit formation in your writing. Good habits are formed through a combination of triggers – to remind you to do the habit, the habit itself, and rewards. The latter is important because you give back to yourself; you replenish the source.
  3. When it comes to the marketing side of writing, do your utmost to build in simple, repeatable processes that get the heavy lifting done. Look for templates, and model simple systems that work for others. Don’t attempt to reinvent the wheel! And, very importantly, take advantage of automation whenever you can; the new generation of AI tools is changing the game with content creation and digital marketing.
  4. Understand that results will not be immediate. While its good to keep aware of marketing and sales data, don’t become a slave to it! Trust in your writing process, and give it time to bear fruit. For example, while I can see the visits to this site growing daily, I make my main metric the number of good articles I publish weekly, not the site analytics.

Set Realistic Goals

As writers, we need to strike a balance between getting ‘crappy first drafts’ done at a fair clip, and taking enough time to preserve and replenish our energy.

Being unrealistic with your targets in creative work can be self-defeating. Achieving an unrealistic goal will make you feel good, but it will make you burn out in the long run.

Plan your time and effort realistically and it will help you to focus your mind and energy towards achieving your goals.

The balance is different for each of us, but I do feel it’s important to recognize that if you are always pushing to achieve more than you can handle, you will burn out.

Part of the problem is that it can be hard to judge what’s realistic with a writing project.

So here’s my suggestion:

  • Start by collecting your data. Keep a simple spreadsheet, or use one of the many free online tools.
  • Track your daily writing progress.
  • Average your daily writing over the month.
  • How many words do you need to average per day to hit your goal?
  • How many days do you need to reach the end of your project?
  • What steps do you need to take to reach this goal?
  • Is it realistic?

You can apply this to other goals.

If you are serious about writing, be serious about getting organized.

Keep the Fire Burning

At the root of what makes us writers, what drew us to the craft, is passion. Intertwined with a sense of the great mystery that lies embedded in every story.

As writers, we have the freedom to look at anything through the eyes of our imagination, to see the world with childlike wonder.

This is an important practice if you are to keep the fire burning.

By fostering side passions – which might be a sport, another craft, or a creative project, we can rejuvenate our spirits by interacting with some other aspect of the world.

There are so many aspects that writers can find inspiration in: writing, reading, music, art, history, politics, biography, nature, science, technology, video games.

All of these provide examples of stories that can be used to inspire your own.

It’s also good to start looking at the world again with fresh eyes.

Take time to observe the world around us, to look at examples of our own culture, to learn about the broad sweep of history, to view art – things that can feed our own creativity.

Nurture your own creativity.

Get a Grip on Your Inner Critic

The first thing to say is that our Inner Critic can be a valuable ally, essential in fact. It can keep us honest. It can keep us on task.

For one thing, it’s what stops us from publishing crap – by which I mean writing that is not good enough, that does not match the potential of the story. And it does that job very well!

It is the judge, the jury, and sometimes the necessary executioner (since by ‘killing our darlings’ often we improve a work.

It is the one who keeps us on our game. It is valuable.

But, there can come a time when the Critic becomes the Star Chamber, the Inner Circle, the Inquisition.

When it starts to act in an abusive, disruptive, demoralizing fashion.

It finds every flaw. It finds every mistake. It finds every excuse to put down your work.

This is when you need to reign it in.

Allow yourself to see your work as a first draft.

Now, first drafts are not meant to be perfect. They are meant to be written, to be tested, to be changed, to be fixed, to be given the time they need.

And this is the key: time.

By giving your work the time it needs, you can learn to view your work as a first draft, with all the flaws, hiccups, hollowness, and holes that come with it.

It keeps you focused on the task of fixing the problems, rather than being demoralized by them.

By balancing your writing with your Inner Critic, you’ll help inure yourself from writing burnout.

FAQ

How do you relieve writer’s block

The best way to relieve writer’s block is to take a break. Get your mind and body and soul and spirit and everything and anything else, to get your head back into the right place.

Is it normal to feel burned out?

Don’t accept that being burned out is a normal state. Put into action some of the steps above.

How to avoid burnout when you are a content writer?

If you are not careful, content writing (and content marketing) can become a mill. The way to avoid burnout is to have a clear goal, plan your work, and schedule it. Using the new generation of AI tools can help greatly to increase production while maintaining quality.

Related: How to Start Content Writing

What would you say to a fellow writer suffering from burnout?

The first thing I’d say is to know they can get past burnout, and relatively quickly. It is not a permanent state.