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Overcoming burnout: recognizing and dealing with symptoms of burnout.

June 24th, 2014 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

Overcoming burnout: tips and strategies for writers from around the web

The Search Guru talks about writer burnout and strategies to overcome it

When you’re excited about a new writing project, you’ll probably have so many great ideas that your fingers can’t type fast enough to capture all of your thoughts – but that’s okay because you’ve got lots of adrenaline to keep you going. Sometimes, when I’m eager to write, my wrists actually tingle.

You may find yourself writing late into the night, or before dawn or when you’d normally take a lunch break. You think about your fantastic idea as you fall asleep, and the notion even finds its way into your dreams.

Unfortunately, many of us have also experienced the lack of these feelings – disinterest, fatigue, lack of focus – which means that we may be experiencing symptoms of burnout. Job-related burnout is real phenomenon, recognized by places as diverse as Psychology Today magazine, the Mayo Clinic and Forbes and is a real danger in today’s “we need lots of quality content and we need it right now to please Google” world that we live and write in.

If you aren’t sure if you’re suffering from this condition, Cheryl Reifsnyder offers a short quiz in her post, Writers’ Burnout Quiz: Do You Need a Break?

If you are suffering from symptoms of burnout

Fortunately, we’ve found lots of wisdom on the web and will share highlights here, starting with Sara Toole Miller’s important piece of advice found in Burnout: A Writer’s Dirty Little Secret:

“Admit it. This is the hardest step for me. Sometimes you have to admit that you’re burned out. For me this usually begins with a plea to my husband. ‘I will pay you one million dollars if you write this article for me.’ This is followed by a lot of pacing and staring at a blank computer screen. And then finally, after much prodding from my level-headed husband, I am forced to admit that I’m burned out.”

The best part about admitting your condition is that you’re freed up to find and implement solutions, including this valuable piece of counsel that appears in numerous articles online: when you’re feeling burned out, disconnect; take a break; do something different, something enjoyable; and fill yourself up again before sitting down to pour more of your thoughts out in writing.

This could include:

  • Something as short as a ten-minute break on a busy day, perhaps by:
    • Taking a walk
    • Reading a short story
    • Meditating
  • Taking a day off and:
    • Getting as much rest as you need
    • Visiting the beach, a museum, an amusement park or whatever else restores you
    • Listening to music, reading, looking at art or whatever else fills you up again
  • Taking a vacation, if possible, even if it means a relaxing staycation

Here’s an article in Psychology Today (Writer’s Block and Burnout: Getting Unstuck by Carolyn Kaufman) where multi-Emmy-winning television sitcom writer Gene Perret demonstrates how dramatic writer’s burnout really can be:

The Search Guru talks about writer burnout and strategies to overcome it

Burnout, especially in TV which demands so much product, is a real phenomenon. Writers get weary of turning out so much similar material. I worked on one sitcom where in the middle of a show, one of the writers stormed out of the viewing room saying, “I hate this family” . . . Many times my partner and I would struggle to get a new sketch idea. It would be so hard that we would often have words with one another and sometimes partners almost came to blows. Then we go to lunch, tell each other a few stories, trade insults, pay our bill, come back to work, and discover that one or the other had come up with a great idea for a sketch.”

Here are more tips:

  • In Recover from Writing Burn Out: 18 Tips for Writing with Gusto by Tess Marshall, her tips include these three bullet points:
    • “Clear your desk. A cluttered workspace influences your state of mind.”
    • “Mind your own business. Don’t allow other writers to drive you. Don’t make comparisons.”
    • “Learn to accept constructive criticism. Everyone experiences criticism and rejection.” (Here’s more from The Search Guru on fighting defensiveness.)
    • Tess also references this great quote by Natalie Goldberg: “We have to look at our own inertia, insecurities, self-hate, fear that, in truth, we have nothing valuable to say. When your writing blooms out of the back of this garbage compost, it is very stable. You are not running from anything. You can have a sense of artistic security. If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside of you.”
  • In The 3 Secrets of Surviving Writer Burnout, the amazing Sophie Lizard assures us that “It’s okay to suck sometimes. There are going to be days when your writing is simply not very good. We all have those.” Her solution when that happens is to spend ten minutes to an hour doing nothing. Nothing at all. Then, have a refreshing drink (and food if you’re hungry) and get back to work.
  • In How To Avoid Writer Burnout When It’s Your Day Job, Julie Neidlinger suggests that you dump the rather dull terms “content” and “copy” and label your work as writing, literature, philosophy, your story, your creation.
  • Jami Gold (12 Tips for Recovering from Writing Burnout) suggests taking your laptop to a café or park and enjoy writing from a new venue. You can also focus on why you wanted to write as a career in the first place to hopefully rediscover your passion.
  • In The Signs and Symptoms of Writer Burnout, Shanan says the following: “Stay off the writers’ forums. I don’t mean to knock online writing communities, but when you’re burned out and on the edge of exhaustion, there’s only so much helpful advice you can take before it all becomes a kind of gray noise: buzzing and ever-present, just distracting enough to keep you pinned to the blank document or half-filled piece of notebook paper.”
  • The staff at Writer’s Relief (Writers: How To Recognize (And Cope With) The Early Warning Signs Of Career Burnout) reminds us to take care of our health, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet and getting our eyes checked for strain.
  • Charlotte E. in 5 Tips to Prevent Writing Burnout shares this strategy: “Get rid of problem clients. We’ve all got them; they’re demanding or pay poorly or expect us to read their mind. If you’ve never let go of a client before, it’s a little nerve wracking at first – especially if you’re counting on the income from them – but you’ll feel liberated afterwards.
  • Debra Stang adds to that line of thought in Do You Have Writer’s Burnout? when she says that she “began evaluating my projects more carefully and only accepting the ones that appeared realistic, well thought out, and well within the client’s budget.”

A few more tips for overcoming burnout

PJ Sharon, in Top 10 Signs of Writer Burnout, reminds us that there is no shame in seeing a therapist when necessary, saying, “I’m serious. A good counselor can help you put things into perspective (when you’ve clearly lost it and are convinced the world will end if you miss a deadline), support you without judgment, and assist you in discovering coping strategies that your addled brain cannot come up with on its own.”

And, Stella Tarakson offers great advice in avoiding future writer’s burnout in 3 Ways to Avoid Writer’s Burnout. She reminds us not to set unreasonable goals and deadlines, because that’s just setting ourselves up for failure. “Be realistic about what you can achieve and when,” she says. “Consider all your commitments, your capabilities, and be kind to yourself.”

Finally, Whitney Potsus, in her post Dealing With Professional Burnout, offers these “rut-busting reading recommendations”:

What strategies do you have for fighting burnout – or overcoming it once it settles in and starts making itself at home? Share in the comments below. 

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