I wear many hats, and in one of my non-writing hats, I’ve had a burnout that took me years to recover from. So when I saw a lot of people on social media become piles of frayed nerves about their word count for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I thought I’d write this post.
I’m going to keep things simple and define burnout as working too hard for too long until you can’t do it anymore. Sometimes you fall into a depression, sometimes everything physically hurts, other times you’re a ball of anxiety. The list goes on and on. Basically, you’re falling apart.
Not only is burnout demanding on physical and mental health, but it also takes a toll on the person’s willingness to work in that field again. Which is a huge problem for writers who started writing because they love writing, they enjoy creating. If they have a burnout from writing, it’s unlikely they’ll heal enough to return to writing.
Just like anything else that you’re passionate about, you have to pace yourself and recognise that there are other aspects of your life and health that need attention. The professional athlete who over-trains risks injury. The lawyer who is on top of their game working 120 hours a week will likely miss the warning signs their partner is thinking of a divorce.
A key factor in preventing burnout is to have realistic expectations. I have goals for my businesses, and I have goals for my writing career. And as ambitious as they are, I rein myself in to compare my time frame with my resources. I can write a best-selling novel. I know I can, just not in this current draft. I can take every course I can find on editing and writing, function (barely) on five hours’ sleep a night until the novel is of sufficient quality to publish it. But then, will I have the energy to write another novel?
It’s hard to have a career in writing if you’ve only ever written one book.
And it’s hard to access the resources to further your writing career when you’re struggling to maintain a paying job because you’re not sleeping enough, you catch every cold and flu out there because you’re run down, and you fall into a depression because you never see your family or friends.
Your brain needs a break. My advice for writers is to schedule time for social activities not centered around writing. Have strong social relationships outside of work helps people destress.
Your body wasn’t meant to be moulded to a chair. Even taking a fifteen-minute walk around the block helps stretch muscles and gets you away from a computer screen.
Your body needs real food. I eat junk food. I drink beer. I don’t live off of junk food and beer. Making sure you have reasonably balanced diet and are hydrated helps your health in so many beautiful ways and helps protect against the effects of stress.
You can take a vacation and not feel guilty about it. A change of pace a few times a year is a good thing. Don’t be ashamed to go to the cottage, visit family and friends in another city, or travel.
The worst part about burnout is that right up to the point of collapse, writers are on top of their game. They are writing the best prose, the most interesting characters and the strongest plots of their careers. Until one morning they wake up and they can’t do it anymore.
Take care of yourself first, lay the foundations for a healthy and balanced life, and then watch your writing flourish.
Word Crafting is a blog to help writers strive for excellence. If you would like to be a guest blogger, pitch me an idea.