As writers we face many enemies--perfectionism, writer's block, rejection, long waits, lack of time, criticism, and many other hardships.
But amidst all the obstacles we battle, there's one sly enemy that creeps in undetected. Often we don't realize we're fighting it until it's slithered in, wrapped around us, and begun to squeeze the life out of us.
That enemy is burnout.
Burnout can happen to the best of us. And it occurs in a variety of ways.
Perhaps we no longer find joy in the writing process. Maybe we don't have fresh ideas anymore. We may even feel like the act of juggling writing with all our other responsibilities is just too tiring.
Lately, a couple of friends have expressed burnout with blogging. They've indicated that they don't really know what to say, are tired of posting, and wish they could stop.
By the time we notice that burnout has us in its death grip, we've lost our energy and enthusiasm for all the things we once embraced and accomplished with gusto. Instead burnout leaves us drained, dry, and discouraged–often without the determination we need to stand strong and fight.
Left weak and vulnerable, burnout finally coils tighter until we have nothing left to give. And it's at that point, many writers give up altogether.
What do we do when we finally realize we're burned out, when we're at a point when we're tempted to give up (or perhaps have already fallen flat to the floor and lie comatose?)
Here are just a few things I've done over the years to alleviate or avoid burnout:
1. Take breaks from time to time. I just got back yesterday from a weeklong vacation out East. And even though it was a busy week full of hiking, swimming, shopping, and driving, it was still a break from the usual routine of my life. And after the time away, I'm ready to jump back into my to-do list with renewed energy.
2. Re-evaluate the work load. I make a point at least a couple times a year to look at everything on my plate and to decide what to keep and what to toss off. I have two main priorities during this season of my life—my family and my writing. If my outside commitments don't line up with my priorities, then they have to go.
3. Cut back on social media. Let's face it, social media can be a huge drain on a writer's time and energy. Last fall, I decided to cut back on my blogging from three times a week to two. One day may not seem significant, but it's freed up more time and energy that I can devote to other responsibilities. I can pour my heart into the two posts I write rather throwing out fluff for the sake of having more posts.
4. Chase after joy. Joy is fuel for our creativity. We have to consciously look for ways we can bring joy into our lives. Usually I find joy in the simple things of life, like drinking a fancy cup of coffee with scented candles on a rainy afternoon. Or reading an especially gripping book that brings me to tears. Or laughing deeply over something one of my children says or does.
5. Take a hiatus. If we reach rock bottom, the point where we must stop writing for the sake of our well-being or of others, that doesn't mean we have to give up our writing career forever. I took a break from writing after my twins were born. At that point, I'd been writing seriously for many years and had just started garnering interest from editors. But life got busy (to put it mildly!). And I didn't write a single word for seven whole years. The first book I wrote after my hiatus was The Preacher's Bride (which became a best seller).
My Summary: All writers battle burnout. The trick is to be aware that burnout is a very real enemy and to be on the lookout for symptoms that may indicate we're losing our joy and energy. If we notice that our life is slowly being squeezed from us, we have to make conscious steps to recapture our love of writing. Because if we don't love what we write, we can't expect anyone else to either.
What about you? Have you ever faced burnout? What helps you through the rough times? What keeps you from giving up when you hit rock bottom?