Writing is often described as a solitary journey, and it’s up to the writer to navigate things like motivation, momentum, and progress. But along the way, it’s not uncommon to hit rough patches—times when things slow down or stall all together. This is burnout and a tricky place for writers to find themselves. Burnout is a form of mental exhaustion that can impact much more than just your writing life. Read on to learn more about burnout, how to overcome it, and how to prevent it in the first place.
Common Causes of Burnout
Burnout can come on fast and seemingly out of the blue. However, there are common factors, including:
- Taking on too many responsibilities
- A disorganized work environment
- Excessive or prolonged stress
- A lack of success
- A lack of sleep
- A lack of support from friends, family, and coworkers
Signs of Writer Burnout
Recognizing the signs of burnout is the first step toward stopping it in its tracks. Many times, writers may not realize they’re fully in a burned-out phase, making recovery much more difficult. Be aware of yourself—both body and mind—as well as outside factors. Check-in with yourself, and use the following list of burnout signs as an index:
- Physical fatigue
- Waking up feeling exhausted
- General sense of detachment
- Depression or hopelessness
- Lack of motivation
- Anxiety surrounding your writing
- No longer find enjoyment in writing
Preventing and Overcoming Burnout
Writing is a mentally exhausting job, and without the proper approach and self-care, burnout can easily sneak up on you. Whether you’re hoping to prevent burnout or looking for ways to overcome it in your current state, use the following tips to avoid burnout and recover quicker.
1. Take time away from your writing
It’s easy to get so sucked into a writing project that you start to go a little cross-eyed (we’ve all been there!). Words blend together, objectives get cloudy, and you start hating the project you’re working on. Or another scenario: You’ve put so much pressure on yourself that the words won’t even come. This is writer’s block, a common predecessor to burnout. In either of these cases, it’s best to step away from the computer and take a well-needed break. It might be for an hour, a day, or even a week or more. When you’re ready to return, it will hopefully be with fresh eyes and perspective.
2. Get more sleep
It may sound cliche, but sleep truly is a critical bodily function that also impacts our brains. If you’re struggling with burnout, one of the first things you should check is whether you’re getting adequate sleep. No? Make a plan to improve your sleep by setting a bedtime routine and sticking to it. Chances are, with better sleep, you’ll feel more rested and can fight the burnout with greater energy.
3. Try a new hobby
Writers are creative people by nature. However, there are many ways to tap into that creativity outside of writing. Stimulate your brain by picking up a new activity, such as painting, card games, pottery, or simply getting outside for a walk. It can reset your brain and serve as a good source of creative inspiration.
4. Write something else
Putting a big project on pause can be tough, but taking a break to work on something else may prove beneficial. Try freewriting—letting your mind go wherever it wants without a word count or time limit. Or challenge yourself to a new form of writing such as flash fiction, short stories, or poetry.
5. Change of scenery
Depending on where you live, you may be stuck in the house or a small office space for most of your writing time. Cabin fever is a real thing, and it’s important for writers to change their scenery occasionally. It can be as simple as switching rooms within your house, going outside to your porch, or hanging out at the local coffee shop. Sometimes, a simple change greatly affects your energy and focus.
6. Connect with friends and family
Because writing is a solo act, it can feel lonely at times. This is why staying connected to people is important—real, live people outside your story! Take a break from your writing to meet a friend for coffee, walk with your kids, or even just talk on the phone. Get out of your head for a bit and experience human interaction as a reminder of life outside your work.
7. Set boundaries
Writers need to create some sort of routine and plan for their writing. It could be scheduled writing times and durations, planned breaks, and set deadlines. It could also include rules for other members of your household or how and when communication is accepted. Setting and sticking to your boundaries can give you a sense of control and order, as well as help avoid frenzy.
8. Give yourself some love
Above all, writers must remember that they’re only human—and as humans, we have ups and downs. Give yourself grace when you hit a bump in the road. Burnout doesn’t last forever, so if you experience it, go easy on yourself. The last thing you need is additional self-criticism. Being actively positive, both internally and externally, can go a long way in preventing burnout in the first place.
Chances are most writers will experience burnout at some point in their writing careers. Use the tips provided throughout this article to help avoid and overcome it. Then get back to work doing what you love!