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.

39 Comments

  1. M. Howalt says:

    Really good pieces of advice! Thank you! 🙂 Personally, my biggest obstacle and cause for burnout is the fact that I juggle other jobs too. Writing and everything that goes with it is done in my “spare time”.

    1. That does make it harder. I’m lucky to have a husband who works so I can spend more time writing. It makes a huge difference if you have to do this without any help. I wish you lots of luck! I know it’s not easy.

      1. M. Howalt says:

        Thank you! I know that I would write regardless of whether anyone read it, so I’m just happy that I get to schedule my time like I do.

        1. I love your attitude. I wish more writers had it. The joy of writing should be the primary thing because it’s really the only thing we can control. We can’t control if or when people will read our work. I figure if no one else likes my books, I should, which is why I write for me first. Some will argue that’s the wrong way to look at it, but I figure if the bottom fell out and people forget who I am, I will still have my books to read. 🙂

          1. M. Howalt says:

            I completely agree with you. Writing comes from the inside. Yes, it’s great to learn about the craft, to publish and to have readers, but essentially I write because I can’t help it. 🙂

  2. Another thing I’d add is to try something new. Not too long ago I was starting to feel burn out over a short story I’ve been working on and off with for eight months or so. I decided to try writing flash fiction, and that made me feel so much better. I got three out in a couple of days.

    1. Good point. Varying it up a bit can really help. This is why I like to dabble in other genres. My platform is romance, but I enjoy taking a detour to do something new. And recently, Stephannie Beman and I decided to try our hand at a horror suspense serial. All this talk about serials has gotten me thinking of doing on, but we won’t publish anything until we finish it. I expect it to be about 5-7 episodes, so it won’t be “seasons” like some serials are. I’m looking forward to this project.

      1. Ooh, let me know how that goes. I’d like to read it or give some feedback or both.

        1. I’d love to hear your thoughts. 🙂 Right now we decided to tweak on that flash fiction piece I mentioned to you.

  3. myieshaspeight says:

    Thank you so much for this advice. I’m famous for writing until there’s nothing left and then on the next day, having nothing much else that I want to write. I will definitely be taking more breaks and really pacing myself as I write. Also, I like what you said about not focusing on the sales. I never realized the effect it could have on my writing, but now I know to not focus on it as much. Just once a month, as you said. Thanks again and I will be putting this advice to good use.

    1. I hit that block early on today. I was writing and suddenly ran out of ideas on what to do. I started to continue on and then thought, “What the heck am I doing? I need to stop.” LOL Habits die hard. I’m so used to pushing myself that I have to fight the urge to feel guilty for taking a break. I know it’s in my best interest I take the breaks, but another part says, “Just a couple more hundred. I can do it.” 🙂 So I know how hard it is to put this into practice.

      As for checking sales, it’s the quickest way to ruin my creative edge. I know some authors can do it every day and keep going. My hat’s off to them. I can’t do it.

  4. This is very good advice, Ruth. I agree with all of it! I suffer burnout in my full time job, too, so I know exactly how that feels. But I have more control over how I handle writing burnout than accounting burnout. LOL

    1. I guess burnout can come with anything. I tend to think only in terms of writing because it’s pretty my entire world.

      1. I wish it was my world. But…evil day job.

  5. 1WriteWay says:

    Great advice. Too many writers think they have to follow a particular model to be effective. Everyone is different. That’s why we write 🙂 I do wish more of my indie author friends would follow #4. I hate watching them on that roller-coaster ride.

    1. I know someone who gets so depressed over lack of sales, she can’t write. She’s one that shouldn’t check sales every day. I do it because it’s the accountant in me. LOL

      1. I know someone like that, too. She also obsesses over reviews. No matter how often I tell her to stop and focus on writing, she won’t. Then she comes to me and tells me how she can’t get motivated to write. I’m not a numbers person to begin with, so maybe not tracking sales every day comes easier to me than it does to others.

        Some people do manage to keep their emotions separated from the sales sheet. I don’t know how they do it.

      2. 1WriteWay says:

        Indeed, lol 🙂 I work with numbers all day (health statistics) so I know I’d have a hard time not checking sales.

        1. That makes sense. 🙂

    2. #4 is the worst. And it’s hard to watch people going through the obsession and knowing there’s nothing you can do to help because it’s out of your control. Then you suggest they stop looking, but they can’t seem to. It’s a horrible cycle.

  6. ronfritsch says:

    I only write stories I love with characters I become deeply involved with. And I can’t really say “burnout” has ever been a problem. So I’m 100% in agreement with your #5, Ruth.

    1. Whenever I focus on stuff I love, I never get tired. If anything, I’m more energized than ever before. It’s sad that I spent part of the last couple years forgetting how important this ingredient for passion is. It’s too easy to get caught up in the business of the whole thing, worrying about sales and marketing. It wasn’t until I took my focus off the numbers that I was able to embrace the fun side. I’m not going to let myself get back to the point where I lose my joy again. Love for our characters is key. I believe that more than ever.

  7. I completely agree with taking breaks. Sometimes, I would find myself having a rapid flow of ideas in a short amount of time whereas other times, my head is just…blank. Breaks, whether long or short, are so important in rejuvenating your brain and keeping ideas flowing.

    1. I wish I had understood this sooner. It would have saved me many frustrated days.

  8. Great advice! Taking breaks is so very important to dealing with burnout. I’ve come to where I force myself to take breaks, even when my gut tells me to keep going. Because I know in the long run, I’ll feel better after stepping away from my writing for a bit. Thanks for your post!

    1. I hear you! It’s hard to tear yourself away from your work, especially when you feel guilty about it. This is going to be one of those days for me. I’m making myself watch a movie and do a puzzle.

  9. This article pretty much sums of advice. Many articles have suggestions such as changing the hours that you work.

    1. I hadn’t thought of changing the hours, but I can see how they might help. For example, if a person is a night owl and can write at night instead of the day, it would help them maximize their creativity. Or maybe writing first thing in the morning (even if you have to get up an hour earlier) would work better. It’s whatever works best for the person who’s writing.

  10. cav12 says:

    Great advice, a few tips I will include, though must admit it is difficult juggling work and writing and life!
    Thank you for the blog-post 😀

    1. It is hard to juggle when you have to work in addition to writing. If I was working, I would lower my weekly word count goal to a comfortable level so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. Working definitely means you can’t write as fast, and I’m sure there are things in your job that are stressful which would make avoiding burnout even more difficult. 🙂

      1. cav12 says:

        After reading your post, I did lower my word count. Still early days but we’ll see how it goes. Stressful, yes. It’s only February and am feeling overwhelmed! I’ll be setting time aside to work on a new schedule!! ;D

        1. Are you new to writing, or do you have books out already?

          1. cav12 says:

            I have a short story collection available and about to publish my first novel. 😀

            1. Okay. I suspected from your comment about feeling overwhelmed that you are still getting a feel for getting on a good writing strategy, and that’s normal when you’re starting out. If you had told me you had ten novels out and were still feeling that way, then I would be worried because by then you should have a good feel for what works best for you. 🙂

              Maybe try different word count goals. Like X number for two weeks, or even X number of hours (if possible). I have to write in 15 minute bursts because I have either my husband or kids to deal with most of the time. He works when they’re not in school, so it’s rare I’m alone in the house. But I don’t have an outside job to contend with, and that can make splitting up a writing day in 10-15 minute bursts near to impossible.

              Some people can set aside a couple hours a week to just write. I don’t know if you can do that or not. If you’re also dealing with kids (and your husband isn’t doing much to help), that would make it hard to get alone in a room and write for a certain number of hours. And with work, it’s not like you can stay up all night to write and sleep in.

              I don’t know what the answer is in your situation, but my advice (for what it’s worth) is to experiment with different word count goals or hour goals or even times/days that you write and see what feels the most comfortable for you.

              This is just advice. You don’t have to take it. 🙂

              1. cav12 says:

                Thanks so much for the tip Ruth 😀 I will try it out and not get stressed if I don’t hit my target. Just need to revise again.
                Thank you 😀

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