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.