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 | 37 Comments

A Discussion on Poetry

Janet Syas Nitsick and I sat down to talk about what we learned from researching poetry.  I am not a poetry writer.  She isn’t either.  Our main focus has been on writing genre fiction.  What we found in our research is not conclusive.  There’s plenty more out there to learn, but this is basically what we found:

If you are looking to make a living publishing poems (in your own anthology, to small publishers, magazines, or journals), we could find no evidence this is possible.  I can find plenty of evidence that authors who write serials, novellas, and novels are either making a good supplemental income or making a living.  I’ve even found that freelance writers (doing articles, ghostwriting, essays, posting for others’ blogs) can make a living.  I just can’t find it with poetry.  The bottom line: if you’re doing poetry, also do something else if you want to make a living writing.

Below I have linked to some discussion forums and critique groups for poets.  I haven’t joined any of these.  I just found them while searching for groups to help poets, so if you’re interested in poetry, this might help you meet (and befriend) others who share your interest.  These people will probably know more than Janet and I can ever dig up.

Scribophile: Scroll down to the yellow part to find the poetry information.

All Poetry

Critique Groups (includes poetry)

Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 16 Comments

Writing Serials

When done right, serials can be a good option for authors who would like to get more books out in a short amount of time. But the key is, it has to be done right.

Breaking up a novel into parts and publishing those parts is, in my opinion, a bad idea. I think most readers want an entire story when they read a book, regardless of the length. This means there needs to be a beginning, a middle and an end to the main plot.

That being said, the question then becomes…

How can you do a serial effectively?

I like to think of serials as TV shows. Each episode has its own plot. There is a conflict and a resolution in each episode. Now, there might be a deeper theme that connects each episode, but it doesn’t dominate the main plot in each episode, so it’s not the focus of each show.

As a quick example, I’m watching Z Nation right now. The goal for the season is to get the one man who has been bitten by zombies but lived to California. Each episode takes us closer to that goal, but each episode has its own unique plot to it. For example, in one episode, a bad storm is coming their way so they have to survive a series of tornadoes. The episode ends with them surviving the storm and continuing their journey to California.

I haven’t read any serials yet, so I don’t have a literary equivalent to compare this to.  But the layout of a good serial should work in a similar manner.

How long should each book be?

Usually, serials are composed of short books, but I’m guessing 15-20K words would be ideal.

How many episodes should be in the serial?

I’ve seen authors do miniseries which are about 3-4 books long and authors do 20 episodes per season with there being as many as 5 seasons. Usually, they box the seasons together for a discounted price when the season is finished.

I’d say there should be as many episodes that you need in order to complete the underlying story that connects all the episodes together. Like in the Z Nation series, I suspect the end will be when they either find a cure to the virus or realize they’re all doomed and nothing will save them.

One way or another, there has to be closure when your serial is done.

Something to keep in mind if you do a serial…

Make sure you will finish it. Some authors start it, get bored with it or get discouraged because of lack of sales, and quit. The problem is that someone out there invested their time and money into the serials. So be careful when deciding whether or not to start one.

***

That’s all I can think of about serials.  I haven’t read them, nor have I written them. Does anyone who has experience writing or reading want to chime in with what works and what doesn’t when doing them?

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 38 Comments

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