Burnout city – population – me?
This was a hard post to write. Not because I didn’t know what to write, and not because I couldn’t work out the slant, but because this week has been one of the hardest of my writing life.
And I’ve been writing for close to thirty years.
Burnout? What’s that?
First, I’d like to address a couple of misconceptions about burnout. It’s not ‘simply’ writers block, which, in itself is rarely simple. It’s not any more complicated though than the act of balking something you can’t cope with any more. Burnout isn’t ‘just’ when your brain says ‘enough’. It’s actually worse than that – it’s when your brain backs away gibbering from anything, at all, and you begin to feel like your world is out of control. And if you’re not careful, you can put yourself in that position for a very long time.
Many people don’t recognize burnout – in fact, it’s possible, especially in the world that indie writers inhabit, that burnout is something that many writers are designing themselves into – pushing up their schedules to meet what they believe is what is required of them. I think the wider issue here is the expectation of success that many indie authors carry – it’s unfortunate though.
What does it feel like?
Everyone is different, but it’s critical to understand that there are several key features of burnout:
- Lack of interest in writing, even if you *really want to* on one level or another. That disinterest could extend into editing your work, or releasing it, or finishing the draft. You can’t push past it – in most cases.
- Feeling emotionally overwhelmed
- Feeling physically sick when you sit down to write
- Making any excuse not to write – in my case, I started cleaning the house *much* more – probably more than I really need to. It was at the point where I’d do my copywriting last thing at night, and wouldn’t get to bed till really late. I’d sleep in, and then the cycle would start over.
- Making excuses over deadlines that – if you look at them – are serious enough that you should have noticed before now – or are making serious excuse after serious excuse. Or, though you’re having to postpone, deep down you’re kind of glad that something has happened to make you postpone.
- Not caring about anything other than sleeping.
Burnout *IS* a type of depression. Creatives with burnout are more prone to serious depression. But, conversely, depression can be mistaken for burnout, so here comes the obligatory warning – if you’re finding it difficult in *all* areas of your life, or have thoughts that you are worried about, you should talk to your doctor. Depression is manageable – and it doesn’t always mean medication – but it can destroy your creativity if left untreated. (writer’s note – I’m bipolar – and have a fixed pattern, which this didn’t fit into, which is how I know I’m burned out)
What about ME?
I’m a ‘frenetic’ burnout subtype, I’ll keep working no matter what – but that was the wrong solution in this case. I’ve just graduated, after a four-year course, we moved less than two years ago, our personal lives are changing, and this is my first full year trading as a business, which meant more paperwork, more writing work, more *everything*. And this summer I had to get the eldest ready for high school. I should have stopped.
But I didn’t, until last week.
I’m not going to say that it was inevitable, because it wasn’t. But in a way it was – I kept agreeing to doing more and more than I should have – three books – four in fact, that are written, but not quite ready to go, lots of sites, lots of projects. Trying to bust through what I thought was writer’s block.
I burned out, entirely. 110%, and even two weeks after acknowledging that I’d hit my wall, I’m still not back to writing fiction.
But I did learn a couple of really important things in the last few weeks – the week before I realized something was wrong – and the time after.
- If you feel something is wrong, it’s ok to take a day off. Write something for fun instead of your book, or books. Brainstorm for lean days, or just do something fun, like reading. It’s ok to take *time* off.
- Burnout is horrible – and if, like me you rely on writing, you can’t give in completely. So write something every day, even if all it is, is a blog working through your feelings. I don’t do my 750 words a day right now, but last week, I did a lot of writing working through anger, sorrow, pain, and I eventually even did some outlining. I don’t want to go back to writing fiction right now – other people might find they hit ‘blog burnout’ or ‘twitter burnout’ or ‘promotion burnout’ or even ‘Facebook burnout’. It’s ok to admit that you’re not coping with x or y.
- If you really can’t cope with something beyond your writing, remember there are people who can help. Indie writers are in some ways expected to be one man or one woman marketing, editing and writing machines, but that’s not what we *are*. It’s equally ok to ask for help.
- Time out helps – isolating yourself doesn’t – in my case, I was very lucky – I didn’t go far, and talked to some of my friends every single day I was away from the groups I’d also quit. I was also lucky that in quitting, I could tell a couple of people where to go without damaging the reputation of others. It’s ok to say NO.
- Eventually you’ll want to write again. That’s ok too.
What do you think? Have experience of burnout, or a story to share? Advice that’s helpful? We’d love to hear from you!