10 signs that you have a case of writing burnout

Hi, peeps! Well, I’m currently working my way through a major case of writing burnout.

Obviously, that hasn’t extended to my blog. Let us all rejoice for small miracles.

Burnout, friends, is sadly normal in our fast-paced high-stress lives. What exactly is it? Think of the flame on a match. It burns bright and sizzly and all happy and then it slowly diminishes until it’s no more. Matches are designed to do that. People, not so much.

Burnout means you run out of gas. You become physically and emotionally tired after doing a difficult job for a long time and it affects your job performance. It can be debilitating because it can lead to some depression, though depression can also help cause burnout, so if you’re prone to depression anyway (like I am), you need to pay attention to yourself so you can do some self-care things. with me, burnout is linked to depression and they feed each other, so I have to figure out whether my issue is true burnout or whether I’m burning out because of the depression. If it’s true burnout, then depression could follow, even if depression isn’t something you have to deal with on a daily basis.

So let’s meander further.

Pretty sure my situation is true burnout. After all, I work a full-time day job and then I come home, work around the house, then write a couple hours every night and/or do an hour of promo-related materials. If I’m trying to get something published, then writing time becomes publishing time. I don’t take much time off beyond a few hours here and there because I’m constantly working. I regularly put in 15-hour weekdays and often 6-8 hour days on the weekends. I can be super-productive. But I’ll tell you what. If you do that pace long enough, eventually, you’re going to hit a wall. And I did.

I’m so tired and I’m so tired of writing. I’m in a burnout.

But I’m getting through it.

So, friends, you, too, might be burned out if:

1. You’re exhausted. Physically, emotionally, mentally. You have this feeling that you just don’t have any energy and you want to sit out in the sun all day and/or lie on the couch all day. But you don’t really want to have to choose between those two because it takes energy to do that.

For writers, this translates into not wanting to write. Finding it a chore rather than something you do when you’re traveling through your happy place.


2. You have no motivation. Granted, we all go through days like this, right? But in burnout, this lack of motivation extends for days. Weeks. Months. Your lack of motivation, of feeling moved or passionate about doing things morphs into “just getting by” and that’s when your productivity drops. You start resenting going to work.

For a writer, you really start resenting opening that file to continue the story. You start putting all kinds of pressure on yourself. “If I don’t write, OMG I won’t publish a novel this year and then I’ll fade into obscurity and all this work will have BEEN FOR NOTHING.”

3. You are a giant seething ball of negative ju-ju. You’re pissed off, but you don’t quite know about what. You’re frustrated, but you can’t put your finger on why. You’re irritated and cranky. You don’t think what you’re doing is having any impact. It’s become rote, and you just do it because you’re somehow expected to do it and that feeds your lack of motivation and resentment.

For writers in burnout, we start wondering why we’re writing because it doesn’t seem to matter that we are, that no matter how much we write and how much we try to publish, we still have to work a day job, we’re still obscure, we’re not making much money at writing, we’re not getting reviewed, we’re not [fill in the blank with whatever we feel we’re not getting or doing].

4. You have problems remembering things. This is also a sign of stress, when you start having some cognitive issues. You can’t focus and you forget things. Which leads you into more spirals of negative ju-ju.

Notice how all of these signs feed each other? They all enable each other, like those icky cliques back in junior high and high school.

5. Your work quality goes down. This plays into “lack of motivation,” too. If you don’t feel passionate about your work, you don’t care. So why should you extend yourself? For people in burnout, you’re just too drained to care. You’re too overextended to spare the energy needed to up your work performance. You’re just drifting on the sea of negative ju-ju off the coast of exhaustion and disillusion, and it’s damn hard to raise your sails in the midst of that, let alone feel passionate about doing it.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 2.04.07 PM

For writers, this might translate into something you write that is not up to your usual standards, that requires more editing and proofreading. Or it might translate into “SCREW IT AND SCREW THE WORLD I AM NOT GOING TO WRITE ANOTHER FREAKING WORD BECAUSE I AM TOO TIRED AND NOBODY CARES ANYWAY I WILL GO EAT WORMS NANNY BOO BOO.”

6. Your personal life experiences some suckage and tension. Maybe you’re coming home to the spouse and/or kids and because you’re a seething ball of icky and you’re so drained, that begins to affect your home life (and yes, that includes the more intimate aspects of your personal life). Or maybe you just tune out. Maybe you get into more arguments with your loved ones and your work colleagues. Maybe they start wondering why you are paddling your douchecanoe so powerfully upstream.

7. Your health suffers. Because you’re exhausted and since you don’t care, you don’t eat right, you don’t exercise. Maybe you’re drinking more alcohol, more sugared beverages, more caffeine. Plus, stress manifests as physical ailments. Maybe you’re getting more headaches (which feeds your negative ju-ju). Or stomach issues. Maybe you’re experiencing heart palpitations. Or whatever aches and pains. Insomnia. Overall feeling crappy. Stress is a powerful de-health agent. So if you’re in burnout, check your health. That’s a good indicator that something’s up with you, when your habits slip or become even worse.

8. You no longer enjoy writing. You don’t find your creative outlet “fun” anymore. It begins to stress you out, and you feel overwhelmed and obligated and all of a sudden you start comparing yourself to the dancing monkey at the beck and call of the organ grinder. Who is this person turning the crank? Why the hell do you feel obligated to dance? Is there really a leash around your neck or is it self-imposed because you have loaded yourself with all kinds of unrealistic expectations?

You don’t feel like opening the file to do any writing. Everything you put on paper feels stale and contrived and wooden and just crappy. You don’t feel there’s a point to it. And the thought of walking away from it actually makes you relieved.

This is a difficult place for writers. I’ve hit that point, where the thought of stopping this crazy writing treadmill makes me relieved and takes a weight off my shoulders. When something you normally feel passionate about becomes a burden, then there needs to be some re-evaluation going on. For sure. And that’s what I’m doing. I love writing as a creative outlet. But I need to stop putting all kinds of unrealistic expectations on it. We’ll see how successful I am later this year. Heh.

9. If you have a day job, you are worrying about work, even when you’re not at work or doing work. I’m guilty of this, and I’m in the process of ensuring that I limit my obsession with work-related issues, though this is also part of so-called “modern” life. No longer do we leave the office at the office, after all. And here we thought technology was going to make everything EASIER! HA! The evil techtrolls are laughing at how they fooled us with that ridiculous-ness.

For writers, this is a fine line. Most of us are writing even when we’re not actually at the keyboard or pen/paper or dictation software or however we mechanically perform the task. We’re constantly thinking about storylines and worrying about whether something we’ve written “is good enough.” Most of the time, I find thinking about storylines energizing and fun. But lately, it’s not so much fun. I don’t like how that feels, to not find writing fun. Which is one of the reasons I know I’m in burnout.

10. You can’t get no satisfaction. Nothing you do makes you feel satisfied, as you still have your negative ickiness that’s feeding into everything.

So you’ve recognized the problem. What should you do?

Through an act of will (fortunately not of Congress), you can fix this yourself.

1. Don’t be hard on yourself. Burnout is from doing way too much and piling way too many expectations on yourself. So reverse that. Pretend you are prescribing yourself relaxation and rest, for 1 hour at least 5 times a week. Put it on your fridge schedule and then take an hour and do something relaxing. I highly recommend taking a walk, especially outside in some open space or a park. Nature is healing. But whatever you find relaxing, do it for an hour at least a few times a week.

2. UNPLUG. I notice that when I’m in burnout, I get a little frenetic about being online. Not sure why that is, but I think it’s part of a wheel of misfortune, in which I keep feeding my high expectations of my work load by staying online, as if that somehow is making me feel like I’m “in touch” or something. This past weekend, I noticed that I started really hating social media sites. So I didn’t really hang out on any. I spent a lot of time outside instead, and it was really good to clear the mind. I also found myself feeling lucky that I’m still a flip phone kinda gal, because I’m not constantly walking around glued to my smartphone. Wanna unplug? Go back to a flip phone. 😀

Or take a drive into the countryside. Get out of your normal routine and do something not related to work or writing or whatever and that keeps you off the interwebz.


3. Get organized. I spent about 2 weeks really organizing my office and getting rid of a whole bunch of crap. That’s helped, because my workspace is now a lot less cluttered and I have a schedule with clearly defined appointments rather than papers everywhere that makes me feel like I’m missing something and then I go into crazy mode trying to figure out what it is. So organization can help with burnout.

4. Consider some therapy, especially if you have depression issues in addition to burnout. If after a few weeks of self-care you’re still not moving through burnout, there might be something else going on and you might need to dig a bit with a professional to find out what it is. There’s no shame in getting therapy, friends. If you can access this resource, do it.

5. Stop writing. Or rather, give yourself permission to do that. It’s okay. Really. Do this in conjunction with self-care. It’s okay to not write for a while. Hell, it’s okay if you don’t ever write again, as long as you are happy with that decision and you are able to move forward in your life with that decision. Most writers in burnout, however, are generally back to writing after a hiatus in which they did some self-care and relaxing and took some time off. Because yes, you do need a vacation from writing.

6. Get a social life. Seriously. Writers live in isolation. They work in isolation. And isolation can lead to exacerbation of burnout and/or depression. So work on cultivating a life outside writing that includes socializing, volunteering, whatever. It can help.

So there you go. For those of you in burnout, writing or otherwise, get some extra help if you need it to get through. Happy writing (if you’re not in burnout), happy break from writing (if you are), and happy reading.

Other links:
10 signs you’re burning out and what to do about it
Four ways to deal with writer’s burnout
18 tips to get through writer’s burnout (good stuff here)
How to avoid writer burnout when writing’s your day job
Author Jami Gold with 12 tips to recover from writing burnout
Author Leah Rhyne on her experience with burnout and what she did about it
Dawn Copeman at Writing-World with tips to cope with burnout

8 thoughts on “10 signs that you have a case of writing burnout

  1. I can so relate to what you’re going through. Just substitute teaching for writing and you have me. When I was a kid I loved writing. It was my favorite time of the school day. That carried through into my teaching. It was my favorite thing to teach until state standards came into the picture. There were so many rules the kids had to remember and follow that creativity went right out the window. I was turning out cookie cutter writers. All their stories came out the same. It was horrible. As I neared retirement I decided what the hell, my kids are going to love writing again. Most of the rules went by the wayside. I told the kids to take themselves on an adventure and have fun… and they did. What was the district going to do- – fire me? I was fed up with my district anyway. We were the first district in Colorado to have salaries tied to the results of state tests. Nothing like having my salary dependent on how 7 year olds perform on 2 weeks of tests. Depression? Oh, yeah. You are so right about getting out and walking. It saved me. I also find taking a day trip to Boulder brightens my day…just sitting outside and watching people. I hope you take your own advice and can work through your burnout. I so love reading your books. Not having any more of them would send me spiraling down depression road again.

  2. Love your work, and always look forward to more. But please take time to refresh so that you can keep them coming whenever it works for you.

  3. Thank you for sharing what you are feeling. You deserve a break! Please know you readers will be there when you are ready. Sort out the source of the burn out. As readers we appreciate your work and want the best for you. Take care of yourself dear sister.

Comments are closed.