Writer’s Burnout, Recovery, and Tips to get back on track! #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Welcome to another Author Toolbox Blog Hop post. The hop is hosted by Raimey Gallant, and is a monthly collection of writing resources. For a list of participants, click here:

ATB

I’m taking a break from my storytelling and TV series to talk about an important topic, and one I’ve struggled with the past few months: Writer’s Burnout.

I’ve always pushed myself hard, and I’ve never seen it as a problem until recently, when I was working on a writing sample for my university application. I burnt out not long after I submitted it, but I think my problems started way before that, in February, when my granddad died. I’ve never been good at recognising when I need a break, but looking back? I needed one then.

Author toolbox blog hop Writers burnout and recovery

What is burnout?

Burnout is caused by ‘excessive and prolonged stress.’ It leaves you mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted.

I don’t know about you, but I have a never-ending task list. Normally I can manage it, but this year things got on top of me, and at the end of June I just stopped. Between the death of my granddad and my favourite pet, my partner losing his job and starting a new one with unsocial hours, and the pressure I put on myself to perfect my writing sample, my mind had enough.

Burnout sucks. Productivity goes out the window. Motivation? That too. You start to feel hopeless, cynical, and unable to function.

Recognise the signs:

Feeling helpless? Overworked? Undervalued? Exhausted? Does everything look bleak? You might be burnt out, or close to burning out.

We all have bad days, where we think our writing sucks, but feeling bad for a couple of days isn’t an issue. Even the most positive heroes have bad days, especially when we decide to torture them πŸ˜‰ If you experience these feelings all the time though? Not good.

Because the symptoms of burnout gradually occur, and get worse over time, my burnout took me by surprise, but if you catch the symptoms early and reduce stress in time you can avoid it. With the benefit of hindsight, here’s a list of what to look for:

  • Feeling tired constantly, no matter how much you sleep.

  • Getting sick more often, or suffering from frequent headaches.

  • Working less, procrastinating, or taking longer to write or edit.

  • Avoiding responsibilities, often because you’re not motivated.

  • Boredom, and a feeling that, no matter how much you write, it’s not enough.

  • Getting easily frustrated and struggling to concentrate.

  • Feeling detached and avoiding social gatherings.*

  • Comfort eating or drinking.

  • Feeling negative and doubting yourself, even when you succeed.

*This one’s tricky because I, like a lot of writers, am pretty introverted. It took me a while to realise my determination to avoid anything social had become a problem, and wasn’t just me being me!

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The above list sounds kinda like our neighbourhood cats: Antisocial and sleepy!

In the past few months writing blog posts has taken me twice as long as usual, and I’ve been stuck on my WIP for a long time. I’ve only been active on Twitter on Sundays for my hashtag game, and since February I’ve had plenty of colds and even bronchitis. I also lost motivation to exercise and eat healthily, which in turn made me feel worse.

Even my successes failed to give me a feeling of accomplishment. It felt like life was passing me by as I checked items off a to do list. I didn’t have the time, or energy, for anything, and I struggled to relax and enjoy many of the things I love doing, like singing or writing.

It’s been a tough few months, but in the past month I’ve finally started to relax and recover.

Recovery tips:

Once you recognise the signs of burnout, try to reduce stress levels. Carrying on will only make the situation worse. The first step is figuring out why you burnt out in the first place. After that, focus on recovery. Here’s some tips:

  • Talk to other people, especially those close to you.*

  • Avoid negativity and negative people, where possible.

  • Exercise and eat healthily.

  • Make time to relax, and get enough sleep.

  • Take a daily break from all technology, even if it’s just for half an hour, to help you relax.

  • Write randomly, for fun, without any goal or project in mind.

  • Reassess your personal goals and workload.

  • Break your normal routine. Take a walk outside during lunch, or write in a different colour pen. Doing something new, or differently, can make you feel refreshed.

  • Don’t be afraid to say no if you already have a full plate, especially when recovering.

  • Learn to think positively. Start by thinking of one positive thing each day.

  • Take a break. A one or two week break, even when deadlines are looming, is better than burning out and being unproductive for far longer.

  • Be patient. Burnout takes a while to manifest, and it takes time to recover.

*May not be the ideal solution for introverts, but apparently being social is the fastest way to cure stress…

How to avoid future burnout:

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Take breaks: Not necessarily somewhere awesome like a pirate cove with golden sands and blue seas, but step away from the writing!

Burning out is more than an inconvenience. For me, it was a struggle to do anything at all. I’ve learned it’s better to take a break at the first signs of burnout, rather than ignore the early warning signs and end up unproductive for months. But how can we avoid future burnout?

  • Be aware of the signs of stress, and your own personal signs. Reduce stress before it leads to burnout. (When I’m stressed my Tinnitus is much worse!)

  • Stick to the recovery tips above even after you feel better. A healthy lifestyle makes a healthy mind. Sleep well, be positive, don’t over-set goals, and don’t be afraid to say no.

  • Have hobbies outside of writing. For many of us writing isn’t our day job, but we take it very seriously. That’s okay, but it’s good to have another hobby where we can express ourselves without the invisible pressure we put on ourselves.

  • Take breaks. In my opinion writing every day is the fastest way to burn out. If you get stuck, take a break. It may be hard at first, but breaks are necessary, and okay!

Feeling under-appreciated? Like nothing you do makes a difference? If you start to feel like everything you do is pointless, take a step back, you may be burning out!

I’m through the worst of my burnout now, but I’ll try to write the rest of my summer story seriesΒ by the end of the weekΒ so I can take the next two weeks off (Except my Twitter hashtag game, which I enjoy running!)Β I wish I’d realised I was burning out sooner to avoid an unproductive couple of months!

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Thanks for reading!

Most writers I know expect a lot from themselves and push themselves hard. Knowing the signs of burnout, and when to take a break, is important, and I hope my insight and tips are helpful.

Have you ever suffered from burnout? Do you realise when you need a break, or, like me, do you continue on oblivious until things get so bad you notice too late? What other hobbies do you have aside from writing? Chat in the comments!

47 comments

  1. Thank you for all these tips. My favorite thing is combing exercise with social networking like a yoga or kickboxing class. Somehow the exercise helps me begin the creative process all over or come up with terrific solutions to impossible problems πŸ™‚

    Like

  2. Great post. We all suffer from burnout at some point — I did last year and had to shut down completely before being able to write again. I still have an endless to-do list, but I’m learning to move things that I can when I need to (like moving the publication of a novel from November to somewhere next year because Life happened).
    Good luck with recovering πŸ™‚

    Ronel visiting on Author Toolbox blog hop day: eBooks — The Future or a Mistake?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My post this month is a tongue-in-cheek look my need to take a break from writing, but what you describe is more serious. I experience highs and lows during long writing projects. You mention several good ways to escape the lows. I find getting away from my desk, taking long walks, meeting with people, and talking about subjects remote from writing all work for me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome πŸ™‚
      I think we all experience highs and lows, but it’s knowing the difference between regular lows and needing a break that’s important. Exercise has been a great help for me. Just getting outside in nature brings calm and perspective.

      Like

  4. Awesome post, Louise! You definitely bring up some great points and tips on how to recognize the signs of burnout and what to do to protect yourself from it or help recover from it. I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with it lately, but I hope you’re on a good path now, especially after recognizing it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Burnout is always so tricky to manage and stop before it really gets started. Thanks so much for talking about this! One of the things that I really tried to be more intentional about this past year is being more open with people when I needed breaks. And I’m really lucky that the people in my life have been generally supportive of that, whether it’s my (now former) boss understanding when I needed to take some personal days when I was getting ready to leave for grad school, or my partner understanding that I need quiet time in order to relax. So often it’s not just that we need to recognize possible burn out in ourselves, but we need to communicate to others what we need in order to make sure burnout doesn’t happen. Thanks so much for sharing your post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome πŸ™‚
      I find it hard to be open with people when I need a break, but my partner’s been telling me for months that I should slow down and cut myself some slack. Next time I’ll listen! It’s great to have supportive people in our lives, especially when it comes to needing quiet time πŸ™‚

      Like

  6. Such good reminders, Louise. I have never felt burned out from writing but because of that, I consider myself lucky. Life has burned me out a few times and for that, I turned to writing. Your points are excelleing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m in a slump now, caused by burnout. I’ve finished two books and am crawling my way toward the next book. I find that creating something other than words sparks the juices. I’m starting a quilt, and I hope that the colors and the feel of fabric will spur me to write more.
    Thanks for the tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, Louise. I think I have 4-5 of the warning signs. The fifth comes and goes. I like the idea of trying to switch up my routine. I’ve been trying to get back into cycling, so hopefully I can keep that up. πŸ™‚ I’m so sorry to hear about your grandfather. It sounds like you know what you need right now though, so that’s encouraging.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but if I did, I’d want to be that cat. Or my cat. It seems like a stress-free life!

    Seriously, I think we all experience burnout to some degree at some stage. This post is an excellent resource for those currently suffering, and an excellent resource for others to keep and refer back to.

    Thank you for your honesty in sharing this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me too! One of the neighbourhood cats has been asleep in my garden all morning, what a relaxing life he has πŸ™‚

      You’re welcome. I hated the experience of burnout, and thought if I could help even one person avoid it, or those suffering with it, by writing about it, it’d be worth it πŸ™‚

      Like

  10. Reading your post has me thinking I may in fact be burnt out. I’m about to start my second year of school in two weeks though, so I gotta get my groove back lol. Thank you for sharing all these great tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I actually been going through a similar experience, though in my case I referred to it as “needing a win”, but I think it’s the same phenomenon.
    Recently I watched something where the author discussed how the modern world (for at least some) can feel like a form of assembly line, trying to accomplish as much as possible in a timely fashion, with plans and schedules, and little room for chance, chaos, or the leisure of “nothing to do, and that’s a good thing”.
    I think many of us dream of achieving the same level of success as those we admire, of that thorough affirmation, the secret hope that it might finally silence those lingering doubts. And we all know how few writers achieve “that level”, so we try to knuckle down, work hard, and earn our dreams.
    I think that is the great riddle of writing (and perhaps other things), the simultaneous need to “try really hard” when we’re creating, and then completely turn around and “let go” once we’re done. Try to achieve the impossible, but be completely comfortable with “not this time”.
    I think your advice is well spoken, and (at least for me) the hardest part is not “taking a break”, but being comfortable “taking that break”, and not returning with an attitude of “okay, I have a lot of catching up to do”.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and providing a fresh perspective on something that continues to prove challenging.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, especially that the modern world can feel like an assembly line. I know I find it hard to be spontaneous, especially when I have so many tasks to complete in a day. Sometimes I feel like I’m failing if I’m not working hard towards being published, but I know I need to learn to relax and take a break sometimes or I’ll go crazy and end up unproductive for months again. I find it hard being comfortable taking a break too, because my mind always wants to drift back to the things I could be doing. I’ve decided the best thing I can do is reduce expectations, and the amount of things on my to do list, so taking a break feels more possible in future πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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