Writer’s Burnout, and How to Deal

Writer’s burnout. I wasn’t sure this was a thing until I Googled the term and came up with articles like “The 3 Secrets of Surviving Writer Burnout” and “Recover from Writing Burn Out: 18 Tips for Writing with Gusto.” But finding those articles brought me some relief: it’s not just my imagination, other people experience it, and there are ways to deal.

So, what is it? Writer’s block on steroids? Laziness? Lack of motivation? The result of being overworked and stressed?

For me, I feel like it’s probably a combination of most of these, compounded and fed by my being in grad school for two and a half years. Grad school, work, life–it can really zap the creativity out of you if you let it. Furthermore, being in school provides some external structure to your writing and reading–assignments and due dates force you to get work done. Having that structure fall away can be disorienting, so it’s important to find ways to replace it with a schedule or structure of your own making.

I think it’s okay to take some time, every once in a while, and just do nothing–it helps us reset the clock, recharge, and find balance. But once that’s been done, you have to find a way to restart, and that can be the hard part. Admittedly, I’ve done very little reading and/or writing in the past month–after graduating from grad school, I felt mentally exhausted, and allowed myself to slack off and more or less veg out for a few weeks. But it’s time to find some ways to kickstart my writing.

I have two note cards tacked to my bulletin board above my desk. One is a quote attributed to Pablo Picasso: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” The other is from Ecclesiastes 11:4: “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.” (That’s the New Living Translation: in other translations, it’s “He who observes the wind will not sow,/ and he who regards the clouds will not reap.”) 

I keep these note cards in front of my face because they directly address a problem I know I have a tendency to fall into. Far too often, I’ll not write simply because I don’t “feel like it” or am not “in the mood.” The truth is, more often than not we must actively create a situation or “mood” in which we get work done. This is why my New Year’s resolution was to just look at my own writing for five minutes each day. Sometimes this helps me get started writing, sometimes it doesn’t–but it definitely gets me writing more than I would otherwise.

Another thing that’s been helping me ease back into a self-motivated writing routine: reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. This book is really wonderful, full of snarky wit and writing advice, and reading about other people’s struggles and success with the writing process helps you to realize your own pitfalls, strengths, and needs.

So, what are some of your methods for dealing with burnout–those days (or weeks) when you seem to have no creative energy left in your fingertips?

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