Everyone at some point during the writing process experienced some sort of burnout. Writing, as said many times on aBloodyWriter, isn’t easy and sometimes keeping going on seems impossible. Writing requires a great deal of mental stability and calmness, but (most importantly) you need to enjoy what you’re doing. aBloodyWriter already dealt with the importance of mental health in "Rules of thumb and academic truths" on The Laws When pressure, tension or fear show up, writing transforms itself in a burden and not a pleasant activity.
So how to overcome burnout and enjoy once again your passion or your work?
Here they are: six straightforward steps to avoid burnout from the get-go, making your life a little bit easier, or helping you to start overcome this problem.
But what is exactly burnout?
With this term, one should intend with its original meaning the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in “helping” professions. Nowadays, one can use the term not only for helping professions, or for the dark side of self-sacrifice.
It can affect anyone, from stressed-out career-driven people and celebrities to overworked employees and homemakers. And of course, it can affect people who make an intellectually demanding job: such as translators, speechwriters and creative writers, just to name a few.
Though, it is not completely certain what burnout is or is not.
There are different scientific opinion on the topic and researchers never pointed out at something specific. However, according to the “National Center for Biotechnology Information” there are three key areas of symptoms that underline some signs of burnout:
Exhaustion: People affected feel drained and emotionally exhausted, unable to cope, tired and down, and don't have enough energy. Physical symptoms include things like pain and gastrointestinal (stomach or bowel) problems.
Alienation from (work-related) activities: People who have burnout find their jobs increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may start being cynical about their working conditions and their colleagues. At the same time, they may increasingly distance themselves emotionally, and start feeling numb about their work.
Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work, at home, or when caring for family members. People with burnout are very negative about their tasks, find it hard to concentrate, are listless and lack creativity.
The major problem is that fighting burnout isn't easy.
Burnout, in fact, almost involves a zeroing of the mental energy necessary to perform one's profession in the best possible way and with motivation. It’s not enough to postpone or reduce commitments with the hope it will just pass by itself; you need a strategy designed ad hoc to reduce the stress.
What does exactly happen when burnout hits a writer, though?
Well, to make a long story short: productivity drops suddenly, the quality of what one writes suffers as well due to lack of creativity and energy, and one stops enjoying the craft risking to aggravate an already stressful situation continuing writing or just giving up altogether.
So what to do if you find yourself in the middle of a creative burnout? First of all, you need to realise that creative burnout affects not only you; it is a very widespread phenomenon, and that it is not a dead-end street.
You can come out of that.
In fact, these presented could be very useful steps to allow you getting rid of the situation. Whether you're a seasoned writer, a newbie or just someone who's yet figuring things out. The six steps that aBW reports below can be a good starting point. They’re not a definitive answer, as nobody seems to have it yet, but they can help avoid the problem or find a stepping stone to feel a bit better with time.
First Step: Identify the source of your burnout
Why did the burnout hit you? What has originated it?
We are all capable to achieve plenty of goals every day, but when stress makes it harder for you to enjoy working, demotivates you and pushes you down a procrastination and boredom spiral: well, probably burnout isn't that far off. Stress can come from various sources: family problems, pressures at work, big changes in our life, worries about what lies ahead or apathy towards what we are doing.
We would like to draw your attention to one aspect: all these reasons have little to do with writing itself. Often, in fact, the source of your burnout is foreign to the world of writing.
Think of your tranquillity like a gas tank. Stress exhausts it.
Good things, like sleeping, relaxing, travelling, having good connections help fill it up. But if you stress yourself every day it will be increasingly harder to make good progress (which won’t help with your stress level, already high to begin with) and the gas tank will empty itself causing the problem we listed before.
So your creativity will decrease as your energy and you just won’t write or you won’t do something good. And writing something good should be the first, second and third task of every writer.
Second Step: Drop it. Just drop it!
As seen many times the reason for burnout isn’t in control of anyone. There are just things in life and events that bring to stressful situations and cause one to stress out. It’s not your fault! Stop berating yourself when you can't do anything. This only serves to make the matter worse. If the situation is not under your direct control, taking a negative attitude will not help you solve it. In fact, if something isn’t in your control and you cannot do anything, there won’t be anything you can do to solve it. Don’t try! It will just make things worse.
Instead, try to concentrate on taking care of yourself for some time. What can you do for yourself? Ask to your inner I what are the things that could help you. A question that can bring to the next step
Third Step: Detox from your virtual life
Taking care of yourself also involves detoxing from everything virtual. This also means taking a break from social networking, maybe even turning off your computer for a couple of days. Being offline doesn’t mean being outsiders, necessarily.
It can be a good way to concentrate on more constructive things or doing real-life adventure. As a writer, you probably narrate about magnificent things characters experience and situations unfold before one’s eyes: now, even if magical things cannot be achieved in our world, more common and realistic adventure can.
There can be a great deal of negativity over the web and being exposed to it could lead to a downward spiral.
Make the most out of the time you are gifting yourself.
Perhaps sleep more or go for a short walk once or twice a week. Take a salt bath, try aromatherapy or go out for a weekend with your loved one.
Have you ever tried hiking, wondering the beautiful places that surround you?
Why shouldn’t give that a go? Perhaps you could find some sort of inspiration for your next masterpiece.
Fourth Step: Start an easy, relaxing side project
While you’re detoxing from your virtual life, you could start some smaller projects from the big one you’re currently involved in. Or do something completely different.
Some people learn to cook or bake, some others work the leather or begin anew hobbies. You could read that awfully long book you never wanted to and make sure you still hate the guts out of it or you changed your mind and now it’s a favourite of yours. Listen to music, watch a film, build a bee's house, do gardening or start a DIY project. Whatever you want as long as you enjoy doing it.
To be simplistic: find something that relaxes you, something that is not a burden on your mind and that can give you some extent of tranquillity.
Fifth Step: Create a Plan to start again
Once you know why you are in full/semi/approaching burnout and you have taken a break from the virtual world finding ease on your mind through relaxation and smaller commitments, you can start thinking about what you need to start again, with burnout fully avoided or overcame.
One thing that will definitely help is already on step three and four, so carry on with those activities. One other thing you may want to do is trying and start again your work but with graduality.
Take it easy.
You can create a schedule and increase the hours behind a keyboard day by day or week by week. Most of the times we all believe we need to rush things up or to be swift in our work, but as someone once told: “You’ve got all the time in the world. Why should you run when you can just walk?” Another thing you could do: asking for help. There is no shame in asking for help from a professional to overcome or prevent tough times. You’re not going to lose any “cool points” in seeking for another pair of hands.
Once you’ll start again writing daily with a normal timeframe, you may find that you are less productive than before; spoiler alert: that is fine. Start slowly and rebuild your routine or words count or whatever you want to use as a scale for a successful writing-day. It may take some time to get back to the previous normality, sometimes weeks, sometimes months, and sometimes you could never see your previous normality. Which means nothing bad will happen, but simply that you've changed and your habits and behaviours will change with you.
Don't push yourself too hard in search for habits that can be replaced so many times in a life-span; you could find yourself stressed out again, and that’s not worthy, really.
Sixth Step: Rinse & repeat from the second to the fifth step.
Here the title is sufficiently explanatory.
Just stick with those steps and repeat them as many times as you need for as many times as a full-blown (or just approaching) burnout comes. Don’t be afraid of losing time or productivity. If there’s something we all must know by now is the importance of health, whether it is strictly physical or mental.
Be easy on you and show respect for yourself. Try to love yourself a bit more and take care of what does truly matter. Productivity comes and goes, habits change and behaviour so does with them.
You can afford some time off if you feel so. Be better before.
You will write wonderful stories again, don’t you doubt that.
You will create amazing lives again, of this be sure.
You’ll always be aBloodyWriter.
P.S. As there is no shame in asking for help, you may want to check this link. Hopefully, they can help.
If you're from the UK, check here
If coming from the USA, go check this
From Canada, you can check here