Writer Burnout – Friend or Foe

March 12, 2008 at 12:39 pm | Posted in Bria, career, creativity, writer's block, writing | 14 Comments

This month we had two wonderful Honorary Heartlettes guest blog for us. Mary Buckham and Diana Snell inspired us all.

Throughout the week people wrote in with their struggles and thanked the ladies for their generous words. There was a common denominator through most of the issues – they were all caused by burnout.

While burnout feels bad, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Think of it as a catalyst.

Burnout forces you to look at what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

Last week Jessica told me about a book she was reading and it dawned on me that I hadn’t read a book in weeks – everyone who knows me, gasp now. Typically I read a book each day and (when I’m not on assignment) I can read 2 a day and still enjoy my writing time.

But, with the Golden Heart finalists to be announced in 14 days, I’m in a bit of a panic. All the changes I wanted to make! All the editing that needed to happen! The proofing! The polishing! How will I ever finish?

Do nothing but write/edit/rewrite/edit/read/edit/polish/edit/polish. . . Burnout.

Burnout wasn’t on the list, but it happened.

This weekend I read two new books and one of my keepers. I watched a movie. I made some notes. I worked on my CP’s stuff. I started researching warriors’ castes and societies as war itself.

And the dreams started again – the ones that are so clear I have to get up in the middle of the night and write.

Burnout forced me to change my patterns and nothing but creative good came from it.

Treating writing as a career means knowing that, just like any job, you need to manage your stress before it becomes burnout. But once it does, just like any job, there are cures:

Look at your schedule – is it realistic, is it manageable, have you added unneeded extras, are you delegating (yes, your 8-year-old can unload the dishwasher.)

Are you beating your head against a wall – sometimes we call it “writer’s block” but it may just be burnout. Change your routine with one of Bria’s R’s:

 1. Research – sometimes research makes us look at what we’re writing about in a brand new way

2. Relaxation – it isn’t that you don’t have the time to relax, it’s that you don’t have the time to not relax. Writers are creative people and stress kills creativity – even if it’s one night off – relax and recharge.

3. Renewal – Beyond relaxation, renewal brings a freshness to your life and your writing. Think of relaxation as recharging a battery – great, but the life isn’t as strong or as long lasting. Renewal is buying yourself a brand new battery right out of the factory. Everyone’s is different. I gave myself a weekend alone in New Hampshire hiking (please, no lectures on hiking alone.) the time, the atmosphere and the activity brought me home excited to get to work again.

4. Remove Refuse – You heard me. Stop being so nice. There are people, activities and belongings that clutter your life and create a negative impact on, not only your writing career, but your life, your relationships and your joy. Get rid of them.

So, get out there, burn your burnout and then, Go Write.



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  1. writers are indulgent creatures. The genuine artist is overflowing with creativity; they cannot contain the beast. Those who are stunted are not truly connected with the empowering force.

    art is a life and a passion. you don’t burnout from it. you burnout from something that is not you.

    • I imagine wanderer has never done anything creative other dress up like the witch from the Wizard Of Oz. Whether physical or mental humans always hit a wall at some point no matter how much they love their art. Stephen King is a great example. It’s just a sign to say we need a rest – or a change. Apparently one’s as good the other, so they say.

  2. It’s interesting, I find that research (at least into the craft side of things) tends to bring me to what feels like a standstill. I need to relax and trust myself to come out of these periods with a renewed burst of energy and enthusiasm for my projects. It’s difficult, because I’m excited to have learned something new, but not quite ready to put it into practice yet. Back to the drawing board for me today…

  3. Great point K!

    Typically the research that gets me going isn’t craft related 🙂

    But, re-reading “The Art of War” has definitely gotten my juices flowing about how this epic is going to crash or burn or fly.

  4. What Bria said . . .
    I wish I could have been so eloquent in my post on Monday! Great blog, B!

  5. Wanderer, I have to respectfully disagree. I consider myself a “genuine artist” and I am by no means an “indulgent creature”. I have an overflowing well of creativity, but due to an extremely stressful day job, I sometimes find my ability to write…difficult, at best.

    There are times when even the most loving mother will feel a sense of burnout. If we were to apply your standards, then that would mean she wasn’t truly a loving mother. I’m sorry I can’t buy that.

  6. “The genuine artist is overflowing with creativity; they cannot contain the beast. Those who are stunted are not truly connected with the empowering force.
    art is a life and a passion. you don’t burnout from it. you burnout from something that is not you.”

    That is the biggest load of bullcrap I’ve ever heard. Apparently you’re no artist.

  7. Trollism is the poetry of great souls. Speaking nonsense on blogs is the eventual path to truth for the dwellers in trailer parks. For verily, it is written, every snot-nosed twerpwad has, within him, the towering majesty of spam.

    Rejoice! It is mystery meat! It maketh no sense and haveth no sense of punctuation or capitalization! It channeleth ee cummings and a fourth grader unto the masses!


  8. Is this guy from Star Wars? Someone that is not you? BAH Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?

  9. Bria this is a great topic and I whole heartedly disagree with the comment that a “genuine artist” does not burnout. I personally feel that a “genuine artist” regardless of their craft, experiences times of burnout or for lack of better phrasing… times when inspiration waxes and wanes. Certainly even Picasso had moments when creativity did not strike him and he is regarded as a “genuine artist”.

    Anyone who is a true artist appreciates and understands what goes into creating any work of art regardless of whether we are talking a piece of fiction or a great masterpiece that will hang in the Louvre. Because an artist has first hand experience at the process of creation, they do not begrudge those who may be having a bit of difficulty, but instead can acknowledge that the creative process is sometimes littered with obstacles that they must overcome. Lord knows there are plenty of “genuine artists” out there who’s careers were hardly handed to them on a silver platter, free of trials and tribulations. Getting off my soap box now.

  10. Those are great suggestions!
    I will try some of those next time I’m stuck 😀

    As for the ‘genuine artist comment’ Pfft. Pay no mind. Even God determined the seventh day a day of rest. Being the greatest artist and creator there is, it’s quite obviously for a reason! We call need rest/a break to rejuvenate our thoughts and senses. We’re made that way!

  11. I have to disagree, Wanderer. I think someone who writes only to do it for themselves is self-indulgent. Those who write for a living are anything but. It is a totally different process to just write because you like it and feel like doing so at the time; to write because it is what you do, who you are, your CAREER, is a totally different process. Anyone who does anything for a living experiences burnout – no exceptions. Because we are human, our passions change from one moment to the next. Because we are human, we try to find the one thing that excites us the most to do for a living so that “going to work” is not a dreadful proposition. But we all have periods when we just don’t want to do it for a while. Great article, Bria, and I totally understand what you are saying.

  12. Wanderer,
    Are you even a writer? Obviously not… writers are not exactly like painters or sculpters.

    Images don’t just appear in front of us or congeal in our minds and it flows to our hands. Nope… it’s more like trying to create five different pieces of art all at once. We have several stories, plots, characters all interwoven into one piece.

    Just as the consummate artist can interlace light, texture and image to imply more than just a “picture”… to evoke feeling, compassion… pain… injustice… love… a writer must do this every time or their book lies in the slush pile.

    In art, an artist that can’t achieve mastery is just a hack. While writers must achieve mastery before they can even have the priviledge of having someone see their work to call them a hack.

    We are not indulgent… We are realistic and writers – even the best – get burned out.

    So stuff it and go somewhere else.


  13. Good post, Bria. As far as real artists not suffering burnout, I don’t buy that. Everyone suffers burnout in their lifetime — sometimes it’s just burnout from life in general,but we all get tired. It’s how we respond to that burnout and tiredness that makes us who we are.


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