Writer’s burnout can happen for lots of reasons – stress, overworking yourself, putting pressure on yourself and your work, forcing the work in spite of difficult circumstances. It’s fairly common, especially among writers who also have a full-time job and/or other responsibilities. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to overcome it, no matter how you got there.
First, you’ll want to figure out the reason for your burnout.
Why are you burnt out?
Before getting down to how to overcome writer’s burnout, it can be helpful to identify why it happened. This will help you put together a plan to prevent it happening again, or at least make it happen less intensely. It can also help you to spot signs of when you need to slow down and prioritise rest in the future.
Take a look at your life, including stressors, responsibilities, and priorities. What could be contributing to the burnout? How does writing fit into your life? Some examples could be:
- Working long hours or at a stressful job on top of writing
- Too many responsibilities at once (for example, writing, a full-time job, a baby or children, pets, socialising, housework and errands can all pile up)
- Forcing writing when you aren’t feeling your best, or on top of an illness or condition
- Spending too long on the same project
- Putting unnecessary pressure on yourself – whether that be to write a lot, to publish by a certain date, or to reach a goal that isn’t able to be controlled
- Lack of breaks, including not pausing between projects
- Getting rejections on your work and feeling discouraged
When you have some idea of what’s causing your writer’s burnout, you can think about how to overcome it.
The causes of writer’s burnout – and how to overcome them
Depending on the cause of your burnout, you’ll need to adjust your approach and make some changes. What can you do, in each of the above situations, to get writing again without feeling drained of energy?
Working long hours or having a stressful job
If you have a stressful job or profession, writing can be much harder. And when you work long hours, it’s difficult to find time where you aren’t feeling drained or tired from your job. If you’re in this situation, I really do sympathise.
In these types of situations, it’s important to remember that some of the common writing advice just won’t apply to you. All too often we hear “you should write every day” or “you should write X words per day”. This doesn’t apply to writers working full-time jobs, or who have stressful careers. I have an entire blog post dedicated to this situation. But to sum up: the solution to burnout in this case is to readjust your expectations, write when you’re able to, and be okay with writing less than some of your peers.
It’s an unfortunate truth that in your writing circles, you probably know someone who can afford to only work part-time, or who can devote all their time to their writing because they have a working partner. You might know someone with a more flexible job. Someone who earns more money and works less. These people probably have more time for writing than you do.
Comparing yourself to others doesn’t help, because unless you’re able to work less hours, or can afford to reduce your hours, the situations will never match up. I know how hard it is to avoid comparison, and it’s easier said than done. Just be kind to yourself and remind yourself that you’re on your own journey, and have your own circumstances.
Too many responsibilities
To overcome writer’s burnout related to too much responsibility, it can help to see where you can cut back. I do hesitate to give this advice so firmly though, because in a lot of circumstances, it’s just not feasible. If you’re a carer, you can’t cut back on care. If you have a full-on job with no control over your hours or the stressors involved, you won’t be able to do less.
Another way to cut back is to look at your non-working hours (or non-responsibility hours). What are you doing with your time, when you aren’t working/caring for someone/managing your health/etc? Can you cut back on 45 minutes of TV or Netflix at night to give yourself time to write? Can you write in bed for a while before you to go sleep? How much time are you spending scrolling through social media, and can you use an app blocker or productivity app to reduce scroll time? Do you have a commute or lunch hour you can use for writing?
We all have at least some downtime, so have a look at what you’re doing with it. Schedule regular writing hours in that time and stick to it. Do be mindful of doing too much, though, or neglecting self-care. Put limits on your writing time if you find that helpful. I’m not here to suggest sacrificing sleep, time with family/loved ones, or your health because those things are important too.
Find pockets of time where you can.
Forcing writing when you aren’t feeling your best
We’ve all done it – sat down at the keyboard and forced out words even though we’ve had a bad day, or aren’t feeling the greatest. To a certain degree, the “butt-in-chair” method works. We need to be disciplined if we want to keep consistent as a writer and make sure we finish projects. But sometimes, forcing it just doesn’t help and your mental wellbeing could suffer. If you keep forging ahead anyway, the burnout can appear – and last longer. If you’re going through a difficult time and aren’t feeling good mentally, now may be the time to rest.
You can still do activities that feed your writing! Read books, watch movies, research things that interest you, jot down notes, and get inspired. All of this will help you overcome any burnout and feel keen to get writing again.
If you live with a long-term condition or a health problem, this one will be more difficult, because the times when you feel your best are likely limited. In that case, setting a limit on how long you write to make sure you get rest and take care of yourself might help.
If you’re really struggling with your mental health and nothing is helping you creatively, or you’ve lost interest in everything including hobbies, you may need to get help from a doctor or mental health professional.
Spending too long on the same project
If you’ve spent a long time on the same story, you may start to feel tired or sick of it – that’s normal as you’re getting a manuscript into shape, especially in the later editing stages when you may be on your fourth or fifth draft. But if you’ve spent, say, five years on one manuscript, and it’s all you’ve worked on, that could lead to writing burnout. We’ve all heard stories about people who have spent a decade revising and rewriting the same project.
Having fresh writing projects to tackle can keep you feeling excited about writing, and that’s the perfect antidote to burnout. Sometimes, we need to learn when to let an old project go and move on if we want to stay enthusiastic and not feel fatigued and burnt out.
Some writers are able to work on a few projects at the same time to give themselves variety, so if you think that might work for you, there’s no harm giving it a try. You could also try writing short stories or flash fiction to break up a longer project.
Putting pressure on yourself to reach certain goals
All writers put pressure on themselves at some point. You might want to get an agent and a book deal by a certain age. Finish writing your manuscript by Christmas. Write 50,000 words during National Novel Writing Month. Self-publish ten books in a year.
Goals can help us keep focused on what we want to accomplish. But they can lead to burnout if we’re constantly pushing ourselves to do more, especially if we’re working towards goals that are outside of our control.
Getting an agent and book deal before you’re thirty, or forty? Winning a literary award? Getting your book turned into a film? Sadly, these are goals that are outside of your control.
Make sure your goals are things you can work towards and accomplish, and don’t overstretch yourself. If you’re forcing yourself to write 50,000 words in November when you have a full-time job and other responsibilities, that can pave the way for burnout. Try for more manageable goals: to write for an hour in the evening, to finish a chapter, to write your query letter, to send out five submissions.
Lack of breaks, including between projects
If you’re a bit of a workaholic like I am, you might forget to take breaks. Cramming your days with work, responsibilities, and writing often results in feeling burnt out.
Learning to finish projects and dedicating time to writing are important, but you don’t have to write every day, nor do you have to push yourself to write all the time. Schedule in breaks for yourself. Have a day where you don’t write at all. Take two weeks off from writing when you finish a big project. Refill your creative well – that’s an important part of how you can overcome writer’s burnout.
Rejections on your work
Rejections can leave you feeling burnt out on the whole process of writing and publishing, not just the writing itself. It’s one of the most difficult parts of being a writer, and there’s no getting around it or avoiding it. Even if you self-publish, odds are, you’ll experience “rejection” in the form of people not buying your book, or negative reviews. The emotions that can come along with rejection may leave you wanting to stop writing altogether.
Taking a break from submitting your work, or avoiding reading your reviews, can help. Reading stories of people going through rejection can be encouraging, too, and make you feel less alone. Author Mandy McGuiness has a great collection of rejection stories from authors on her blog. And LitRejections has a page all about bestsellers initially rejected.
You may also want to equip yourself with healthy strategies for dealing with rejection. I have a whole post on learning to cope with it.
Do you have any other tips on how to overcome writer’s burnout?