He was submerged in words all day.
He wrote thousands and thousands of words in any given week on assigned topics, laughing at blog posts that insisted that the most important way to be a great writer was to write X amount of words every day, as if mere quantity had that much to do with it. When he got home after work, the thought of writing for his own blog and fiction projects made him ill, and he was lucky to do much more than sit in front of the TV and turn off his mind completely.
For a writer, he didn’t write much when he wasn’t on the clock. He had writer burnout.
How To Tell If You Have Writer Burnout
Writer burnout happens when your day job requires your writing abilities non-stop, but those same abilities are what you also use on your own time for creative enjoyment. If the balance tips too far either way (too much used on the job, too much used for yourself), there will either be severe burnout from giving your best to the job and leaving nothing for yourself, or you’ll perform poorly at work as you save the best for yourself and give little to your job.
Writer burnout isn’t a matter of writer’s block, of not having ideas. Many writers who have the start of a serious burnout issue might be churning out fairly decent content and appear to have nothing wrong. They’ve adapted to the pressure of being forced to write a certain amount in a particular way during a specific time frame by creating a routine, an almost internal “factory” for creating.
At least at the start, they keep functioning. Their factory system keeps them going.
But gradually it takes them longer to finish writing projects. Their writing isn’t as deep or exciting, and readers can tell. Their factory formulas start to show. They resent their low-quality work, the pressure to write within constraints, and the fact that they don’t write on their own free time. They get the job done, but barely.
If this is you, then you’re on your way to writer burnout.
We all have different levels of creative energy, and we all have different levels of creative energy reserves. We can even operate on a deficit for short periods of time, eating into those reserves that we’ve built up. Burnout happens when you have been operating on a deficit for a long period of time. Your writing reserves are all used up, and you turn into a machine.
If you’re on the path to writer burnout, you need to make changes in what you’re doing and rebuild your reserves if you ever want to get back to enjoying writing again.
Change How You Write
You can change the way you write in an attempt to slow down, and then reverse, writer burnout. Changing how you write is an option when you’re still able to limp along but have a mild sense of panic when you think of continuing on for the next month or half year.
1. Diversify Your Writing
If you spend most of your day writing thousands of words in the form of bullet-list blog posts, try writing something completely different on your off time, like a short fiction story, or even poetry. Try writing for pleasure.
Write about something you don’t normally write about, a topic you’ve never considered before. Write anything BUT work-topic blog posts or white papers or matter-of-fact content. Forgo anything that smacks of marketing, anything where the letters SEO might come into play, and have some fun. No one has to read it but you. Heck, really change things up and use pen and paper instead of your computer.
2. Stop Writing Content And Copy
Why not change the way you think about your writing?
Instead of using the buzz words “content” and “copy” think of your writing as something more. It’s writing, it’s fiction, it’s literature, it’s philosophy. Your words are your story, your creation, your ideas and it’s perfectly fine if the most they do is bring you enjoyment. Sometimes the phrases we use now to describe our writing are clinical, as if the product of our minds was mere copy meant to be red-penned into submission, or content, which sounds like nothing more than a product to be traded and used.
It is easier to find inspiration from great writers than from the “great copywriters” or “great content producers” of our time.
3. Reduce The Stop-And-Start
Are you able to sit down and write with relatively little distraction, or is a ringing phone or crying child causing you to have to constantly stop in the middle, and then come back and start up again? Are you tasked with lots of non-writing related tasks that cause you to break up the day and actually get less done? That constant stopping and starting is as wearing to your writing as driving a car at high speed, slamming on the brakes, and repeating it over and over again.
See if you can’t work out a way to set aside large chunks of time (and a quiet place) per writing project to reduce the energy drain that it takes to keep starting back up after you’ve ground to a halt. It should be an easy sell; much time is wasted when you have to come back to a project and re-read everything to figure out where you were headed with your writing.
Protect Your Writing Reserves
You might be so far into the red when it comes to your writing reserves that the only thing you can do is stop the truck. Stop, evaluate, and set up a new system. You need to replenish the reserves and put something back into your creativity bank before you can go on.
1. Reduce Your Writing (Temporarily)
You may need to write a bit less, sort of like taking a break from running to give the blister a chance to heal a bit. You must give yourself permission to ignore, for a time, all of the online advice that tells you to press on and write long blog posts regularly or you will take an SEO hit. While that’s valid advice, it doesn’t do any good to whip a tired horse.
- Work writing. Reducing the number of posts that need to be written each week is a purely by-the-numbers solution. You’re burned out on writing? See if you can write less for a period of time.
- Personal writing. I have several personal blogs of my own that I enjoy writing for. They are of different topics than what I write at work and are often a refreshing change. I have been writing many of these blogs for years. However, I’ve begun to consider the reality that I may not have an unlimited amount of words to write in any given day, no matter what the topic. As much as I would hate to give up my personal writing projects, even for just a while, I may have to make that difficult choice.
If your day job requires a heavy load of writing, proofing, editing, and more writing, and if you are nearing the edge of your finite pool of writing tricks, you might have to reserve your writing energy for your day job alone. Perhaps taking a short break to build up some writing reserves are all it takes. This is not an easy choice, as it can easily cause resentment to build inside of you.
2. Rethink Extracurricular Activities
There are a few things we do to supplement our work that help us excel and stay on top of our game. While they aren’t bad and may actually be a requirement, they can have the unfortunate side effect of feeding writer burnout.
- Take a break from proofreading. Proofreading is much like writing. If you’re reading the work of others, you’re not reading it for pleasure. You’re reading it to catch typos, errors, and check the structure. In some ways, it is more draining than writing on your own because you are trying to find editorial balance between how you’d write it and how it was written. After a while, you might start to notice that typos get by, or you can’t be sure what is good writing any more. Take a break from proofreading, or set aside a day or two where all you will do is proofread and you won’t mix proofreading and original writing on the same day so that you can compartmentalize your mind for each task.
- Restrict your work-related reading. The process of writing isn’t just the moment you sit down in front of your keyboard and start typing. It involves the gathering of ideas, thoughts, and making connections. Writing for your job often means you spend time reading on topics that pertain to what you need to write about. If you’re getting burned out, it’s not just on the act of writing, but on the topics you are being asked to write about. Pull yourself away from the blogs, the feeds, the ebooks, the articles, and read something completely unrelated to work. One strange side-benefit to doing this is you might actually find yourself coming up with more unique ideas than you would if you kept your reading so fixed inside the work-related sphere. Reading outside of your work-related topics helps you avoid using using buzz words, and helps you question the validity of concepts that only an outsider is capable of doing.
3. Actively Fill The Reserves
You can actively fill your creative and writing reserves by reading fiction books (yes, even if you don’t like them), taking a vacation from work and computers, taking a class online about creative writing, joining a writing group or meetup–anything to help feed and stockpile that creative energy that you must later draw from. Find a way to give back to what inspires you to write instead of always drawing from it, and you’ll be able to face those times where you have to operate in a deficit without falling into writer burnout.
Some writers haven’t ever had a problem with writer burnout from their day job, and if this is you, this post might not make much sense. You blast forward with enthusiasm and gusto. Every challenge is a possible conquest, and you are ready with the next blog post to take it on. There are some of you, though, who struggle with balance. You tend to see writing as an integral part of who you are, and when your work saps your writing energy and keeps you from enjoying it on your own time, you tumble towards resentment and writer burnout.
Knowing that this is what is happening is powerful; it gives you the opportunity to take steps to get back into balance and stop writer burnout.