Click here to read Burnout Part 1—Explanation & Prevention
Identifying Burnout in Yourself
Even though you have strategies to avoid burnout, there is still a chance you do it anyway, so it’s important to be able to identify the signs of burnout. Catching it early can cut down recovery time and even help you work at preventing it the next time around.
Remember, if you don’t know there’s a problem, you can’t fix it.
The signs of burnout can be split into three categories: physical, emotional, and behavioural.
You may think burnout is all in your mind, as we often forget that the body and mind work in tandem. Your body will tell you that something is wrong, and it is your job to listen. Here are some things to watch out for:
- Physical fatigue or lethargy
- Feeling sick without a clear cause
- Waking up feeling exhausted
These are what people normally associate with burnout, and while they can also be signs of other mental strains or illnesses, these are some signs that may indicate you’ve burned yourself out.
- Lack of motivation
- Persistent hopelessness
- Lack of enjoyment in what you love (writing)
- Moody or negative attitude
- Inability to relax
- Increased forgetfulness
- Feeling detached from work or others
- Feeling like your writing is pointless
Lastly are the behavioural signs. If you have writer’s burnout, these are things you might do or say. They range from minimal to extreme.
- Excessive snacking
- Inability to commit to something or keep commitments
- Increased procrastination
- Isolate yourself from others or decrease your social life considerably
- Inability to stop thinking about what you have to do when you are meant to be relaxing
- Heavy drinking or eating
- Unnatural weight gain or weight loss (from excessive eating or stress)
Do any of these signs sound familiar? You don’t have to have all of these symptoms, nor does having some of them indicative of burnout. However, it is important to know that these in combination may mean that you are experiencing burnout. If you’re not careful, these symptoms may worsen.
Now let’s discuss the difference between burnout and being unable to put words on paper.
Writer’s Burnout vs. Writer’s Block
These two conditions are easy to confuse, and others you may ask might say that they are exactly the same thing. In fact, they are very different.
Writer’s Block—Lack of Creativity
With this, you typically want to write, but nothing is coming to you. When you sit down, it’s like the creativity had been drained out of you and you have no idea what to say. This can be caused by a problem with your outline, with the writing itself, or just a simple lack of knowing where you want your writing to go next.
If you think you may have Writer’s Block, read more here to identify and recover from it.
Writer’s Burnout—Lack of Drive
Burnout, however, is the lack of desire to write at all. Even if you know exactly what you want to put down, you don’t have the desire to do so. Creative burnout in general is the ability to do something but the lack of wanting to do it.
How to Recover
If you’ve gotten to this point, you’re either one of those people who read an entire article, or you believe you may have writer’s burnout. If you do, don’t beat yourself up about it. It is quite common among writers, light or heavy in nature, and most even experience it multiple times throughout their writing career. You are not alone.
Have no doubt, though, that recovery can be a rough road. It is different for everyone, as everyone experiences burnout differently. I have compiled a list of methods you can apply to your own recovery. Not all of them will help you specifically, but they are great places to begin.
1. Improve Your General Health
Just like in preventing burnout, having a steady circadian rhythm is a great way to recover from burnout. Typically, you will feel tired, depressed, or lethargic, so going to bed at a decent hour and waking up on schedule is one way to increase your energy.
Working in tandem with your sleep, daily exercise can improve your energy levels, as working out (or simply walking or jogging) increases your endorphin and serotonin levels. This also tires you out, so you fall asleep quicker and easier once the day is done.
*Remember not to overdo it and stretch thoroughly before and after each workout!
Snacking and overeating (or undereating) can cause imbalances in your body as well as weight gain. For me, it helps to have a schedule for eating throughout the day (every 2-3 hours). Healthy snacks such as celery and carrots are best if you need to be chewing.
Daily meditation may seem like a big commitment, so I suggest just taking a few minutes each day to just close your eyes and breath deeply. This may be difficult at first, sitting around doing nothing, but after several days of the routine, you’ll find it easier to settle into. Downloading a meditation app (either free or by subscription) is a helpful step to remind you and guide you through caring for your mind.
2. Reduce Your Workload
If you have burnout, the most likely reason is that you’ve taken on too much at once. Not only are you trying to write a book, but you’re probably also working a full-time job, taking care of your family, and maintaining a social life. Reduce your workload where you can and keep the workload low until you’ve recovered.
*After recovering, know your limits and do not overload yourself again.
If possible, find a routine that works for you. As I’ve mentioned, I start my days with breakfast and an hour of free time after waking up, then one hour of reading an indie book to review. I have an hour window to exercise and shower so I feel refreshed for the day, and starting at 9:00, I have a snack and begin work on the project of the day. This schedule is carefully tailored to my own limits and workload, and I can always cross out events for breaks if need be.
3. Write Something Else
Sometimes, a good way to increase motivation to write is simply to try something else. Maybe you’ve been working on the same book for months and even though you know what comes next, you don’t have any drive to write it. The answer to that is to simply work on something else.
Personally, I have two or three projects that I can flip between that are different enough for my brain to make a physical “switch”. This is likewise useful for my work, as I deal with reading and writing all day long. Some projects involve reading a book to write a review, other involve writing these blog articles, and others involve different forms of editing or designing.
Be careful with this method, though, as having several things to switch between may cause you to feel like you have too much to do. This is why I only have a single deadline project at a time (typically for a client), while the rest are personal basis and are carefully scheduled into my daily calendar as “creative breaks” or smaller accomplishments.
4. Try Freewriting
This is a great method for overcoming writer’s block, but it can also help you with burnout as well. It is the act of writing exactly what you are thinking at the moment, called “stream of consciousness” writing, which makes it a quick and easy way to get words on paper. The act of writing and completing a project (no matter how small) stimulates your brain and gives you a sense of accomplishment.
5. Take a Break from Writing Altogether
Sometimes, writing something different isn’t the answer, nor is freewriting. Sometimes you just need a break. Be it one day or even two weeks. The key is to not take too long of a break, as this can be harmful to your writing motivation. An extended vacation from writing is just like an extended vacation from work; beforehand, you may feel like the job is dull and grey, and after, you come back with a new perspective.
During this break, you can even focus on other creative work that you enjoy so as to keep your creative juices flowing, just not in writing. It serves as a reset button, or a palate cleanser, so you can come back to writing refreshed and focused.
6. Try a New Hobby
It’s quite possible that writing is your hobby. When it becomes your job (full-time or part-time) it can often lead to burnout because what used to be your creative escape has become work.
For some, it is beneficial to find something new to be your fun creative outlet. This new hobby can be used to express yourself, and it can be anything from physical activity (martial arts) to visual arts (drawing, painting, sculpting) to board games. This is also a way to expose yourself to something new.
My good friend recently gifted me a felting kit. I can’t wait to make my new little fox! I also enjoy jigsaw puzzles, colouring pages, and horseback riding.
7. Spend Time with Loved Ones
Spending time with close friends, family, or a spouse is an amazing way of lifting your spirits. Quality time with these people can raise your feeling of self-worth, which quite literally causes a physical change in your health.
The best people to spend time with are those that are supportive and encouraging and won’t bring you down further by criticizing your choices. Negative people can actually worsen your burnout, so they are the ones you’ll want to avoid.
8. Be Inspired by Others
This can refer to a bunch of different things, from hearing inspiring stories about other writers pulling themselves out of burnout, to reading books by authors whose work is similar to yours, to simply finding something new to enjoy.
When I’m writing, I know that I always start reading books of similar genres or plotlines. Not only can I draw inspiration from the stories, but it also bleeds into my own writing. It’s refreshing to be able to slip into another writer’s style for writing exercises, and I find that the words flow easier if my mind is in a specific setting.
As for hearing about other people’s experiences with burnout—I think it’s insanely helpful to know that you’re not alone. Sometimes when everything feels hopeless, you feel like no one else can relate, and while it is true that no one can experience exactly what you’re feeling, it’s important to know that other people have burned themselves out just like you have, and they have recovered successfully. J.K. Rowling, for example, lost much of her motivation while writing the third Harry Potter book, The Prisoner of Azkaban, and when she pulled herself out of it, she used the feeling of depression as inspiration for the dark creatures, dementors.
9. Give Yourself a Change of Scenery
Sometimes, all your need is to get out of the place you normally write. You might look around and feel nothing, draw no inspiration from the walls around you. So, try something different! Move to a different part of your house. Go outside. Go to a café. Maybe even go for a hike and sit on a bench at the top of a mountain to write in a notebook! (I’ve done this once.) Best of all, you could take a vacation and rest (or write while you’re there!).
Not only will this stimulate your brain with new ideas, but it also helps you create mental distance from the location where you were experiencing problems. This is also why it is typically hard for students to learn from home or adults to work from home. You have one idea about your house, and without a change in location, you find it hard to make that switch in your brain. This is why people find it easier to study in a library, where they can focus on the task at hand, than at home, where there are many distractions meant to help them relax.
10. Identify Your Drive
Finally, your drive. Your drive is the reason you write. Why do you do it? What motivates you to spend time writing? If it’s for work, what made you choose the job? If it’s just for fun, why do you enjoy it?
It might be for the success of writing and publishing a novel. It might be for financial freedom, creative expression, or even just to fulfill a lifelong dream. Whatever your reason, find it.
Personally, I love writing because reading makes me so happy. I love being able to escape into a book for hours on end, and I love the idea of creating a world that helps someone else do that even more. Sounds cheesy, huh? I guess it is, but it’s true. I always feel so warm inside when someone tells me that my writing brightens their day.
Once you find that reason, it can become your motivation to keep writing. Review it any time you feel burnt out, and it can give you that extra little push to begin again.
Overall, I can’t recall the last time I really had “writer’s burnout” though I can think of how it feels. I know that they are those days when I just didn’t want to get out of bed or those days when I had ideas for what I was writing, but I only wanted to turn them over and over again in my head, unable to get up. Those are the days that I really had no motivation to do anything and was mostly a zombie scrolling mindlessly through Facebook or YouTube or Instagram, trying to find something to do or something inspiring to bring me out of the slump.
This was shortly before I started going on weekly walks with a friend. This was a person I could talk to for hours about my writing. I could verbally work out plots and characters and worlds while we spent time together, which worked out perfectly because we were usually hiking and he didn’t talk much to conserve energy, so the only time he spoke was to interject with an idea, dispute a claim, or put in his own thoughts.
Unfortunately, I can no longer go on walks with that friend, but I have since found a routine that works for me, and I’ve been going strong for several weeks now in balancing work, personal time, and writing time.
So, how about you? Have you yet experienced writer’s burnout? What are your go-to recovery methods whenever you are burned out? Do you have a strategy in place to avoid it?