Monday 7 September 2020

The Trials of an Indie Author: Burnout


I did a piece last week about running out of ideas (found here) and in that I hinted that I'd be covering burnout, as while it's something I've talked about before (found here) it makes sense to cover it again and again because as you grow as a writer, you find that your way of dealing with these things changes, and the way you come to view them changes as well.

For reference details, I have been writing for almost twenty years, have been published for fifteen, and have drafted over thirty books in that time. I am disabled with several chronic conditions that put limits on my time, so when I'm talking about things that work for me, bear in mind that there's all of that backstory to go with it.

So what is burnout? It's basically when you've reached that point, usually, after pushing yourself too far and doing too much in a short amount of time, that you can no longer be creative in the same way as you usually are. Things like NaNoWriMo are great examples of ways you can burn yourself out. It's why a lot of people talking about refilling the creative well (piece here) and why down time and breaks from writing and creating are so very important. I know that a lot of the advice out there is to write every single day, which is one of the reasons that so many newbie writers (and more experienced ones too) end up burning out so very fast.

How do I deal with burnout? Personally I take a chunk of time away from any kind of writing. If I'm in the midst of editing, that goes on the back burner, and I have to seriously allow myself to relax and refill before I got back to it. For some people that can be weeks, others it can be months. And while every writer and creative is different, personally I find that it really does depend on where in the process you are, and how far into the burnout you got before you saw the warning signs and pulled back.

How do I avoid burnout? This is where it pays to be in tune with your body, your limits, and your symptoms. Burnout can present itself differently for different people. Personally I end up with a headache whenever I write for more than a few minutes, I feel lethargic and blah that isn't all my conditions, and sometimes my pain gets worse because my body is trying to wave this little white flag and demand that I rest my brain and eyes and all of me.

To avoid it, you have to know what it presents like in you. I know when I'm starting to get burned out when I've written chapters more than four or five days in a row. I plan my time so that I know what I'm supposed to be doing when, and also how long it is until I have my next rest day. During NaNoWriMo 2019, I said screw it to my goal, and pushed myself way too hard. I wrote 32 chapters, over 80K and then I paid for it in spades. I was so tired, so drained, and so ready to just curl up in a ball and never write again, but it doesn't happen the same to everyone.

My mistake had been doing double chapter days and writing on my days off. If I'd stuck to my plan, I probably would've managed to avoid burnout completely, and that's something I've learned about myself. It's been almost a year since then, and while I used to do 24 chapters in a month, I've managed that exactly once since that November. I now do 20 chapters as standard and then occasionally, I will try and squeeze in others, and I plan to do that when I finish these books and start two new ones for NaNoWriMo 2020. But I won't be going nuts, just getting my 50K and making sure I have all the rest days in the middle.

Burnout can knock you for six, and my advice is to simply know the signs and be gentle with yourself. You need breaks, you need time off, you need to be doing what's right for you, and that means taking care of yourself as well.

If you have any tips about burnout, lemme know in the comments below!

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