5 THINGS TO DO WHEN YOU'RE EXPERIENCING WRITER'S BURNOUT
By Bobbi Linkemer
The word burnout was not even in my vocabulary when I first started
writing. I knew I would never tire of it, never want to do anything
else, never stop. I wrote at every opportunity. Looking back, I
don't know how I did it, except that I was young and obsessed. I
ran on adrenaline and addiction to writing, I suppose. All I wanted
in life was to write full time.
Strangely, that addiction has never wavered. I have been writing
for 40 years and can't think of anything I would rather do. Yet,
having said that, I must admit that I have been worn out,
exhausted, and blocked more than a few times over the years. Being
a full-time writer means you write all the time. That's pretty much
all you do, except for gathering the information you will write
For the first 20 years, I had a series of great writing jobs,
ranging from managing a city magazine to managing a marketing
communications department. If I was burned out at that point, it
was more with the vicissitudes of corporate life than with writing.
But, to be sure, I was burned out.
For the second half of my work life, I have been a business owner -
a one-woman band who, in addition to writing, does everything else.
When frustration has reared its head, it has been caused by the
need to create some sort of balance among work, life, and the
unbelievable number of administrative and financial tasks that come
with the job.
The writing has been challenging, comprising virtually every
industry, every subject, and every genre. The variety has stretched
me, educated me, and stimulated me. What has driven me crazy is the
uncertainty of finding work when there is too little, doing the
work when there is too much, holding on to the work in the midst of
a chaotic business environment, and continuing to love the work, no
matter what it entails. Keeping all of those balls in the air all
the time sometimes seems impossible. It is certainly a recipe for
Here is what I have learned that may be of help to you when you see
BURNOUT in neon on your computer screen:
1. Never say never. This advice applies to everything in life. It
is the one word that is guaranteed to trip you up because we never
(whoops) know what life is going to throw at us or how we will feel
when we must deal with the unexpected.
2. Admit it. You're tired. You're sick of what you're doing. You
hate your boss/editor/client. You're uninspired. You have writer's
block. You wish you were a carpenter. You want to scream. The point
is, don't deny it and fight your way through it. Stop, and be aware
of what's going on inside of you. The body never lies, and, if it's
turning you into pretzel knots, there is a reason.
3. Don't panic. When you feel yourself burning out, getting tired,
writing mechanically, or feeling too blocked to write at all - and
you will - take a break. (Oh, but I can't; I have a deadline!) Yes,
I know, but whatever you're doing or not doing isn't working. So,
stop and take a walk, a nap, a movie, a meal, or a vacation. Read a
book, veg out in front of the TV, put on your favorite CD, wash the
floor, fix your car, do yoga or tai chi or karate. Do anything but
4. Know that it will pass. You are still a writer, a good writer in
fact. You haven't lost your skill or your love of the craft. It's
probably premature to throw up you hands in defeat and job hunt. Be
a Taoist: go with the flow. You don't beat yourself to death when
you have the flu; why do it when you are suffering from temporary
malaise? Chalk it up to a passing phase, and get on with your life.
5. Think it through. If it's serious, if it's continuous, if it's
painful, and it won't go away, you may have to do more than go to a
movie or roller-blading. You may have to examine what is going on
and whether it is indeed time to move on to something else. My
guess is, that given time, you'll find some way to refresh your
mind and your creativity. But if that doesn't happen, you have a
right to switch gears and find another outlet for your talents. You
did not sign a life-long contract to be a writer. If it's time to
do something else, go for it.
Burnout is stress on overdrive. It affects your health, your
psyche, and your work. When you are a writer, burnout can stop you
in your tracks, rendering you incapable of doing the one thing you
can and want to do. Recognize it and respect it.
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