Note from Nick: this is a guest post from Sophie Lizard, and it’s one of my favorites. She’s a no-nonsense writer offering a dose of “punch-you-in-the-face” truth this morning. Read it, comment, and bookmark it!
You know that feeling you get when you’re writing and everything just flows?
When the world falls away, your thoughts come sharp and clean, and every word you write is right… it’s a gift. It’s a joy. It’s why we’re here.
But there are times when it just isn’t like that. Nothing like that at all. Times when, in fact, it sucks to be you.
When you’ve got too much work and not enough time.
When you go from writing thousands of words a day to feeling like you’d rather stay in bed.
When you can’t think straight and you just don’t know what to do anymore…
It’s burnout, baby. Congrats – you’re officially a writer.
What Causes Writer Burnout?
It all comes down to one thing: energy. When you’re full of energy, you can’t burn out. You can edge close to the flame if you have to, as long as you keep some energy in reserve for the flight back.
The dangerous mistake we writers often make is to sacrifice our energy to the work. We think, “Wow, I’m exhausted. I wrestled with my muse for hours and it damn near killed me. But that’s what it takes, right?”
Come on, writers! We should recognise a trope when we see one. The tortured creative genius driven insane by their own crazed writings? The flickering flame of midnight oils and double-ended candles? Cliche, dude.
Let’s be better than that.
I’m going to give you the big secrets to fighting burnout and getting more writing done. Starting right now.
Secret #1: It’s OK to Suck Sometimes
There are going to be days when your writing is simply not very good. We all have those. There are two ways this becomes a problem:
First, if you’re on a deadline, you still have to write.
Second, even if your schedule is fine, your inability to stop sucking can be incredibly frustrating.
Here’s the way to deal with both of those issues:
- Take a break. 10 minutes or an hour, the length of time isn’t as important as what you do with it. Which should be… nothing.
- Do nothing at all, with your eyes closed, in as quiet and comfortable a place as you can find, for as long as you’ve got.
- After that, drink something refreshing. Tea, water, beer, doesn’t really matter. Whatever you like or whatever’s available. Eat if you’re hungry.
- That’s it.
When you come back to your writing, you may find that you still suck. That’s fine. Start writing anyway, and don’t stop until you’ve got the essential points out, no matter how ugly it looks.
After you’ve got that down, you can spend as much time as you have, want or need on filling in the details and making it read better. If you get to your deadline and your work isn’t perfect yet, it is at least complete in its message. And that’s the second secret to productive burnout avoidance.
Secret #2: Shut Up and Tell the Story
Everything you write has a story. Doesn’t matter if it’s a YA fantasy novel or a corporate white paper; there’s a story. Our brains are hardwired for it, because story is a survival instinct.
It’ll help you survive this, too. When your energy’s low and burnout seems imminent, just shut up and tell the story.
Seriously, this works for almost every writer I know. A story gives you a trail of questions and answers to follow, an order in which things are discovered, and the desire to see the ending.
A story brings its own energy to the table. Get it rolling, get out of its way, and then write it down. You can tidy it up later.
OK, so now you have two ways to dodge burnout and keep the words flowing without exhausting yourself.
But what if your situation is much worse than that? What if you’ve already reached the point where staying in bed all day seems like a viable option? What if your deadline is today and you haven’t got the energy to write your own name?
Secret #3: Negotiate a Successful Failure
If nothing’s working for you, if you can feel the slow creep of burnout taking hold, the best strategy for survival is to take a hint when it’s offered.
Burnout is a warning. Pay attention.
This is your mind’s way of telling you that it can’t give you any more. It’s your body’s way of letting you know that you’ve run out of fuel.
The only cure is to stop what you’re doing and recharge, whether that means a quick pit stop for lunch or a long stay at a fancy writers’ retreat. To get that cure, you’ll have to rethink your schedule and your objectives.
When you feel like you just can’t win, negotiate a successful failure.
If you’re on a deadline, ask for extra time. Take a break before you start writing, and you’ll have more energy to complete the project to your usual high standard.
If you’re pushing yourself to write at night after working a full-time job, take some time off from writing. You’ll fall behind the schedule you’ve set for yourself, but you can come back to more productive writing after a rest.
If you write full-time, consider using a ghostwriter, co-author, or research assistant to help you gain time to recover. When you’re feeling better, you can go back to doing everything on your own if you like.
You get the picture: stop working yourself to a crisp, and start getting more rest. Taking a break and asking people to help you out may feel like failure, but it’s the secret path to success.
Now, take a deep breath.
Let it out.
You’re ready. Step away from the keyboard.
Sophie Lizard is a freelance writer and blogger who teaches writers to increase their income and authority through freelance blogging. Download your free copy of the Ultimate List of blogs that pay $50 or more to get started!