The old saying of it’s better to burn out than fade away may apply to rock stars and flaming celebrities, but it certainly doesn’t apply to writers.
There is nothing glamorous about burning out to the point where you stop production and loose your grasp on being a writer.
If you stop writing you are no longer a writer. Why would you want that?
You wouldn’t want that of course, but if you are not careful, that’s exactly what can happen.
In this article I’m going to show you how to spot the signs that indicate writers burnout is just around the corner, if not already there. That way, you can do something about it before it hits and causes real damage, otherwise you may end up writing your twisted memoirs on an imaginary typewriter in the wing of a mental hospital somewhere, and no one wants that.
Start With Self Awareness
I was on the edge of burnout myself recently. I felt it coming but I ignored it because I stupidly thought it would pass like a mild illness, which it didn’t of course.
It finally got to the point where I felt like my head was going to explode if I didn’t take some sort of action.
It’s important that you learn to be self aware as a writer. Self awareness will insure you keep monitoring your stress levels to make sure they aren’t in the danger zone, and by danger zone I mean a level that will upset your equilibrium.
By the time stress levels reach the danger zone, it’s too late, the damage has been done, both physically and mentally.
To stop yourself sliding too far into the red, look out for the following signs that may exhibit impending burnout:
1. Unable to maintain concentration. This is perhaps the biggest sign of mental burnout there is. If you sit down to write and either don’t have the concentration or focus to even start, or to keep going for any length of time if you do manage to start, that means your focus is shot.
A lack of concentration is what most upset me recently. As a consequence, my writing flow jammed up to the point where I was starting and stopping all the time, unable to maintain a steady flow.
I also felt like giving up every time I started writing. The resistance in me grew strong and it was a constant battle not to give into it.
Luckily I found a way to deal with this, which I’ll explain shortly.
2. Feeling stressed all the time. Not that writers are known for being the most happily relaxed people in the world, but you shouldn’t be feeling stressed all the time.
Everyone feels some level of stress, but there comes a point when those levels get so high that they have to be dealt with.
Again, I’ll explain how to deal with stress shortly.
3. Unable to sleep properly. This is another sure sign of burnout or oncoming burnout.
If you find it difficult to sleep for more than a few hours at a time, or you can’t sleep at all, that means there is something wrong, especially if your sleep patterns have previously been normal.
4. Depressed about everything. Depression is another sign that something is wrong. If you get depressed about your work (more than normal anyway!) or if you struggle to find joy in things that you would normally find enjoyable, then your most likely depressed.
Those are some of the main signs that you are either burnt out or heading for burnout.
Now what can be done about it?
This is the good news. Sometimes all it takes to combat burnout is to take stock and look at your life and work habits to objectively examine if something is wrong or out of place somewhere.
Here’s a few steps that you can take right now to try and pinpoint the problem:
Examine What’s Going On In Your Life
Burnout doesn’t always happen because you are writing too much.
In fact, stress and burnout normally come from some other area of your life that is infecting your writing.
It’s just that you don’t really notice until you sit down to write and find you can’t, or that you struggle to get the words out.
Naturally, you begin to think the problem is writing related when often it isn’t.
In a way, you may want the problem to be writing related, for that would then mean you don’t have to confront other problems in your life.
It’s a way of avoiding the real problem.
Avoidance is never good and won’t solve anything.
Sit down and evaluate other aspects of your life.
If you are in a relationship, are there problems going on there? Are things as they should be, or are there problems bubbling below the surface that you are refusing to see?
What about your finances? In my experience, this is the single biggest cause of stress for most people. Are you struggling to pay bills? Are the debts mounting?
If so, you can guarantee that this will affect your ability to write if you don’t at least attempt to get them sorted.
But what if you earn your living from writing? If you can’t write, you can’t earn. This is where it gets messy.
If your living is dependent on your writing then you have to find a way to keep writing despite your money troubles.
I know this can sometimes be the hardest thing in the world, to try and write with all that going on in the background, but its either that or find a different job.
Only you can decide if it’s all worth the stress.
There are no easy answers for such situations.
If money is a problem, and you’re a writer, you have two choices: keep writing and fight to stay afloat, while also trying to build up your income, or quit writing (even temporarily) and get a job so you can pay your bills and get out from under the debt.
It’s these kinds of situations that really underscore the “struggle” part of “struggling writer”.
I guess its all part of the process.
Have faith that things will work out for you if you just keep writing, but don’t bury your head and refuse to acknowledge your debts or money problems. Do that when you write, but the rest of the time try to sort them out.
Not Taking Enough Care Of Yourself
If you don’t take good enough care of yourself, your mind and body will eventually reject you and refuse to do what you ask of it.
Lack of sleep is a big factor in this.
Since I started this blog a couple of months ago, my sleep has suffered somewhat.
I’ve found myself in the habit of sitting up very late every night so I can tinker away at the site. Then I’ll go to bed, grab a few hours of fitful sleep before spending most of the day writing.
Lack of sleep will affect your ability to cope with stuff. It’s the main reason I struggled recently with writing.
My mind and body weren’t sufficiently rested enough to operate at their full potential, hence my lack of concentration and inability to cope with the daily stresses of life.
Obviously, there is but one solution to this: get more rest and sleep!
Try to avoid late nights. A few here and there are fine if there is stuff you need to get done, but after a while they will take their toll on you, more than you think.
Get to bed by a decent hour and rise a bit earlier if you need more time.
I’ve always found it better to get up earlier rather than sit up later. If you are a night owl by nature like me you will find this difficult, but after a few days of forcing yourself into the routine, you will get used to it.
It’s also important that you get plenty of exercise in. As a lifetime martial artist I have always trained in some regard.
Physical training will help you a great deal in coping with the stresses and strains and of daily life.
More importantly, it will help clear your head so you can concentrate better while writing.
It doesn’t really matter what kind of exercise you do, as long as you do something.
My advice is to aim for short sessions if possible. Three or four twenty minute sessions a week are better than one or two sessions that are an hour and a half long.
There is no need to exercise for any longer than forty-five minutes tops.
Most of my sessions are less than half an hour, but I push myself during that half hour.
There are no long periods of hanging around between exercises, it’s just a brief pause and then straight on to the next exercise, bang, bang, bang…get it done quickly!
Then go write!
I love writing straight after exercise because my body is stress free and my mind is clear, which is perfect for writing.
Don’t Let Stress And Burnout Ruin Your Life
Consciously monitor yourself to insure that your mind and body aren’t suffering or struggling in any way.
If you are like most people, stress will always be just around the corner.
It’s a daily battle to keep it at bay or under control.
Cultivate self awareness so you don’t get caught out by stress or burnout.
Stop both in their tracks before they become a problem.
Get into the habit of exercising regularly.
Look after yourself as much as you can.
Problems will always be there, it’s just part of living. Learn to compartmentalize while you sort out your problems.
That way, they won’t impact your writing too much and you can still get work done.
I’d like to hear from you on this. Have you ever suffered from burnout? If so, how did you deal with it? How do you guard against burnout? Let me know in the comments below.