Do You Have Writer’s Burnout?
I'll never forget that Friday years ago when I hauled myself out of bed after only a few hours of sleep and stumbled to my computer for another full day of work.
I sat there and stared at the monitor until my vision became blurry. My hands remained clenched in my lap. I simply could not bring myself to power the computer up for the day.
I didn't have writer's block. I had writer's burnout.
What Is Burnout?
According to Dictionary.com, burnout is "fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity."
The phrase was first used in the 1970s to describe the malaise of some people in the helping professions. Since then, mental health professionals have realized that people in just about any field are subject to burnout.
Causes of Burnout
There are several causes of burnout. The best known one is probably stress. Stress occurs when some internal or external factor overwhelms our coping mechanisms. Not all stress is bad, of course. Small amounts of stress can bump us out of our comfort zones and help us develop new coping skills.
Large amounts of stress or continuous stress, however, ignite the "fight or flight" response and leave us feeling anxious, exhausted, and very vulnerable to burnout.
Overwork. Shortly before I had my bout with writer's burnout, I had been working 15 to 18 hour days on a rush project. When I wasn't actually working on it, I was thinking about it or having nightmares about it.
By the time the project was completed, it was little wonder that I didn't want to see another computer again for as long as I lived.
Intense activity. If you've got a lot going on in addition to your writing, like dealing with an ailing loved one, moving to another house, or taking care of a new baby, it stands to reason that you could easily become fatigued and drift into writer's burnout.
A Triad of Symptoms
There are three primary symptoms of burnout.
1. Emotional exhaustion. You feel as if you don't have another ounce of energy left to give to your project. It is especially frustrating when emotional exhaustion comes at the end of the project. You know you only have a little left to do, but you simply can't do it.
2. Alienation from job-related activities. You may come to feel hostile about your project and try to avoid anything that reminds you of it. You may find yourself procrastinating to avoid starting work or doing a slipshod job because you just don't care anymore.
3. Poor Performance. As burnout progresses, the quality of your work may start to suffer. For instance, you might make careless mistakes like spelling or grammar errors or leaving parts of the project incomplete.
What Can I Do About Writer's Burnout?
It's an old mental health cliche, but a true one. Realizing that the problem exists is the first step toward finding relief. What you do next depends on your unique situation. Common solutions include taking a vacation or at least a day-long break, learning stress management techniques, and trying to eliminate excessive stressors (like some of your most demanding clients) from your life.
When I developed writer's burnout, I got rid of the worst of the symptoms by taking a one-week vacation from writing. I also began evaluating my projects more carefully and only accepting the ones that appeared realistic, well thought out, and well within the client's budget.
Have you suffered from writer's burnout? If so, what did you do about it?