Writer’s Block & Burnout

Tips for Avoiding Burnout

I’m sure you’ve heard it said over and over again how important it is to get the next book out.  One of the most effective marketing techniques out there is to publish the next book.  Ideally, this will be a compelling story, but in order to create a compelling story, you need to be energized.  If you’re facing burnout, your work (and other areas of your life) will suffer.

A couple of quick indicators that you might be facing burnout are trouble sleeping, lack of energy/excitement, trouble focusing, headaches, increased illness (ex. you get a head cold easier),  irritability, and anxiety.  Having any of these once in a while isn’t cause for alarm.  But when you notice this is an ongoing thing, you’re probably facing burnout.

What are some causes of burnout?  Doing too much, lack of sales, lack of social support, doing work you’re not passionate about, and negative feedback.

The good news is you can take measures to avoid burnout (or, if you’re currently in the middle of it, pull yourself out).  This is something you have control over.

Here are some tips to avoid burnout.

1.   Take breaks.

This was a hard one for me to do because I used to believe if I wasn’t writing every single day, I was failing as a writer.  After all, you hear over and over how important it is to do this if you’re serious about writing. I’ve found it’s best to take planned breaks.  My new philosophy this year is to write five days a week and take two off.  It doesn’t matter which two are my days off.  I just need to make sure it’s at least two a week.

Ever since I started doing this, I have found it so much easier to write when it comes time to sit and write. I feel renewed and energetic.  When I was making myself write every day, it took me about fifteen to twenty minutes before I could get into the story, and there were days when I felt like I was pulling teeth to get my word count in.  But when I gave myself permission to take days off, I can get into the story in five minutes and I’m able to write more with less effort.

I believe when you take breaks and you’re giving our mind a rest, your subconscious thinks over the story and works things on its own.  Now, I do find it helpful to keep a notebook nearby to mark down ideas if they pop up, but I don’t do any writing.

2.  Take vacations.

It’s okay to take vacations.  These are extended breaks.  If you had a job outside the home, you get days off.  There’s no reason why you shouldn’t use this same principle if you work at home.

Your vacation length will vary depending on your situation.  It can be a week, two weeks, a month, or more if you need it.  I find it helpful to take at least one vacation a year, though I do three because I have kids and realize I need to spend these times with them while they’re still young.   So my husband and I will pick somewhere to visit and spend a few days there.

This time should be dedicated to nonwriting/nonbusiness stuff.  Take time to play, spend time with family, or check out something new.

A word of warning: the longer the vacation, the harder it might be to get back into the writing routine.  It takes me about a week before I’m back in the flow of things.  The most I can manage at first is 500 words. Each day, I can get more in.  On an average day, I write about 1500 to 2000 words.   I know some authors can do more in a day, but that is where I settle on the word count spectrum.  And this brings me to my next tip…

3.  Adjust Your Word Count or Time Goal for Your Comfort Level

Not everyone can write 5,000 words a day.  I know some authors who do, and they do it very well.  I’m not one of them.  As I said above in the five days I write, I average 1500-2000 words.  Some authors prefer to sit down and write for a certain amount of time, like 30 minutes to an hour on their writing days.  Some break up their writing throughout the day.  They might write an hour in the morning and another hour in the afternoon.  Another might break up their writing by word count.  Five hundred words in the morning and a thousand in the afternoon.

Whatever method you choose, pick the one that is most comfortable for you.   If you don’t know where your comfort level is, I suggest taking a couple weeks to monitor how you feel while you’re writing.  When you start to run out of ideas or start feeling like you’re winding down, this in an indication that you’ve reached your limit for the day.  If you ignore this indicator, you could overdo it and risk burnout.  (I’ve done this and learned my lesson the hard way.  Yes, it’s hard to stop, but sometimes you need to stop before you exhaust yourself.)

4.  Do Not Dwell on Sales (or Lack Thereof) or Reviews

I know this is hard.  It is probably the hardest thing we need to do, but focusing on sales (whether good or bad) can hinder the creative energy that makes it exciting to write.  I don’t know how often you can track sales without it affecting your ability to write with as much enthusiasm as possible.  I’ve found I can’t look at my sales report any more than once a month.  I do this at the very end of the month to plan out my budget, so I pretty much have to check them at this point.  But doing more than that will make it difficult for me to write because then my mind is on sales and rankings instead of the story.

Sales go up and down.  The highs can inflate the ego and the lows can bring on depression.  I don’t like this roller coaster ride.  I like to keep things as level as possible in my emotions, and I found I’m actually a lot happier when I ignore what is going on with my sales.

The same is true for reviews.  Reviews are for readers, not the writers.  The time to get feedback on your story is before you publish.  This is why a good editing team (which includes beta readers and critique groups) is so important.  The input you get at this stage is what you need to make your story the best it can be.  Once you publish, that part is over.  Reviews are for potential readers.  They are to help readers decide whether or not to read the book.  It’s okay if some people don’t like your book.  Look at the reviews on your favorite books and movies.  Scroll down to the 1 and 2-star reviews.  See how subjective the reviews are.  Embrace the fact that some people will hate your story.  You can’t please everyone.

This is why the most important thing you can do as a writer is to write the story you are most passionate about.  The one person who should love your work is you.

5.  Embrace Stories You’re Excited About

Some of you might be tired of hearing me tell you to focus on what you’re passionate about, but seriously, the best way to avoid burnout is by doing work you love.  If you’re working on things you don’t enjoy, sooner or later, it’s going to drain you of your energy.  You might be able to sustain momentum for a while.  And for a while, it may seem like it’s working great for you.  But creativity is best fueled by passion.  If you focus on work you truly love, it will be easier to write for a the long haul.

Categories: The Writer & Author, Writer's Block & Burnout

New Year Changes

I stepped into the New Year with trepidation as I awaited the installer of our new television and Internet provider to arrive. Is it not funny how these small-life changes can throw us for a loop?

Well, it did for me. Change was in the air and was it really going to be better as the new carrier suggested? I was apprehensive. We had used our previous providers for many years and were happy with both until recently.

I awoke at 5 a.m. to a blistering-cold morning of one degree. Would he come as promised on this chilly day?

But he arrived and got right to work. A pleasant man who knew his business. Within a couple of hours, I looked at my living room, where wires had stretched for years beside my couch and now I could clean behind it. Besides that, I no longer had to lock our downstairs-bedroom door to keep the cat from playing with the wires in there.

I also no longer had to fret over the modem. Would I have to restart the computer or unplug it today? Relief swept over me. I never realized how all these years these items gave me such anxiety. Now, I felt liberated and in the process I have better television with the program I missed and a faster Internet.

As the man said as he grasped the wires: “What I have in my hand is old technology.” He was right. I needed a change.

This also is true of authors. We get into our grooves and routines and forget to try new things. Last year, I tried something new – the anthology, Bride by Arrangement, with Ruth Ann Nordin. This endeavor allowed me to reach a different audience through my story, She Came by Train. Ruth Ann Nordin and I plan another anthology – a follow-up on last year’s – and my goal is to write book two – a follow-up on Courtships and Carriages – in the Great Plains series.

In addition, I am excited about writing again. I renewed that interest after the busy Christmas activity. I needed a break. Winter also puts you in the mood to write and sit by a fireplace, if you have one. I have one close but not near enough to curl up on a sofa and write. However, it does keep me cozy and keeps my fingers warm enough to type even if my work is gibberish at times. Ha! Ha!

It also makes for a great time to clean up your office and get rid of old files and rearrange your office. Without that modem sitting next to my computer, I was able to wipe away the dust where it used to lie and even that small step gave me pleasure.

When you throw away your old calendar, make sure you replace it with something inspirational to keep you excited about writing. I replaced my office-wall calendar with a calendar portraying a variety of paintings, including January’s winter scene with gray skies, cardinal birds perched on a white fence with a church in the background. The scene fills me with peace and awe in the Creator’s majesty.

Well to wrap up, remember to embrace the future and the change it brings, and I wish you the best in your 2015 writing career. God bless.

Categories: General Writing, Writer's Block & Burnout | Tags: , ,

Stuck For An Idea?

We’ve all been there at some point or another. We want to write, but nothing comes to us. Everything that does come to mind seems trite, boring, maybe even repetitive or used up. At times we stare at the blank page for hours on end, willing an idea for a story or a poem or an article to come to us. When nothing comes, we doubt ourselves as writers and we wonder if maybe we’ll never have a good idea again.

The good news is, there are ways to get the creative juices flowing again. And none of them involve sitting in front of a computer or notebook for hours hoping an idea will just pop up. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Instead of worrying about the problems you are dealing with, psychologists recommend finding something else to focus on. It’s not entirely clear why, but when the mind is unfettered and is free to roam or hone in on something other than a problem you’re dealing with, a solution often presents itself to you just when you least expect it.

When I’m stuck for an idea or experiencing writer’s block, I do anything but focus on the problem at hand for hours at a time. I’ll work on a blog post or another story. I’ll watch TV or read a good book. And if ideas don’t come after all that, I often find just going about my daily life is an inspiration. Some of my best ideas for stories occur during the semester. While at work or in my classes, a random thought, sometimes related to my coursework or the project I’m doing and sometimes not, will pop into my head and grab my attention. From that thought I can develop an idea, which turns into a story or article of some sort.

A great example of this happened in class a couple of weeks ago. During a discussion, one of my classmates made a comment about the Soviet Union in World War II and about D-Day. What he said so captivated me that it ended up being the foundation for a series of novels taking place in a dystopian communist nation (no idea when I’ll write them, but the fact is, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with them if I hadn’t been in that class on that day having that discussion and hadn’t seized on the thought when I least expected an idea to come to me).

Plenty of other authors are able to come up with ideas the same way, whether by taking classes, working, volunteering in the community, or finding some other hobbies or interests that occupy their time and allow the creative processes in their brains to do what they do naturally rather than being forced to produce something. It’s amazing what you can come up with when you try finding story ideas this way.

And if you do have an idea while pursuing this method, I highly recommend writing it down immediately. I write down all my ideas so that I don’t forget them, which Im prone to do. I even bought a little notebook the other day so I can write down ideas as they come to me and then put them down on a list on my flash drive when I’m at a computer so that I’ll remember them when I want to write them. (I used to just write on the back of my hand, but I’m kind of tired of seeing a bunch of ink scribbles covering my left hand.)

Categories: General Writing, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, The Writer & Author, Writer's Block & Burnout | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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