As a writer, I set very high goals for myself, and perhaps you do, too. I have minimum time commitments or word counts for each of my different kinds of writing every day:
- Blogging: 1000 words, 6 days each week
- Fiction: 30 minutes – 1 hour daily (I spend more time writing fiction on Saturdays)
- Non-fiction: 25 minutes daily, 5 days each week (I try to aim for 800-1200 words for each writing session)
There are times, though, where I cannot keep up with this word count and time commitment, and nothing makes me feel I’ve encountered burnout more than when I’m overwhelmed and can’t keep up with my goals. Eventually, I recognized that I needed to have a process in place that would allow me to recover from burnout more easily, and in this article, I will give some tips to avoid burnout with writing.
If You’re Exhausted or Something Comes Up, Don’t Fight It
There will be days when you’re tired or ill. Other times, unexpected things can come up with our loved ones or at work. That’s why having a contingency plan is important.
I learned about the importance of a contingency plan in Ramit Sethi’s Finisher’s Formula course. Before I took his course, the concept of planning for the fact that there will be days when I won’t get to my writing was completely foreign to me. I can tell you, though, that a contingency plan is very effective, and this is true for anything in your life that you do on a regular basis. Rather than insist on doing something every day (outside of our day jobs), we can aim for 5-6 times each week and have a catch up day that allows us some breathing room while helping us keep our commitments to our goals.
This is why I now spend more time on Saturdays writing. Saturday tends to be a catch up day for me, and that has helped a lot. This way if there is a day when I am not able to get to my writing because I’m sick or if something unexpected comes up, I have a plan in place to make up a writing session or two. Try putting a contingency plan in place for your writing and see if that helps.
Do Something Physical
When I am overwhelmed, I tend to enjoy slowing things down, but there are plenty of people, and maybe you’re one of them, who benefit more from speeding things up with physical activity. Exercise, playing sports, or going for a walk can be very beneficial, especially if you’re dealing with frustration. A kickboxing session at the gym can help us release any pent-up anger, which allows us to get back to work more easily.
When I was learning how to program, forcing myself to get up from my computer and go for a walk was one of the best things I could do for myself when I was stuck on a challenge that I couldn’t solve quickly. I have also found that walking works just as well for tangled plot lines. Just when we feel we may need to give up, stopping what we’re doing and engaging in physical activity can help re-energize our minds and bodies and give us the fortitude we need to push forward.
Meditation or Relaxation
This is one of my go-tos in order to deal with burnout. I tend to use relaxation and meditation more as rewards, though, because when I get home from work, I know that if I don’t start writing right away and prioritize relaxation, it is not likely that I will get back to my writing that night.
Since I write in the mornings and in the evenings, I need to keep a certain level of energy going before I completely relax into the evening. When I first get home and have a desire to soak in the tub while reading a good novel, I don’t allow myself to do it until I get my writing done for the evening. If I am super-tired, I might move one of my fiction or non-fiction writing sessions to Saturday and just concentrate on one. As always, it is a negotiation and a process. We need to make time for relaxation, but if we prioritize it over our writing, we may not get it done.
After my word count or allotted time is completed for the evening, I either choose to meditate, take a bath while reading a novel, or curl up on the sofa with my cat while I read a good book. My cat is super-affectionate, and I find snuggling with him in the crook of my arm while he purrs and gets himself otherwise comfortable to be incredibly restorative. These are the things that work for me, so you can try them out or you can do the things that you find relaxing after you get your writing done for the day.
Go on An Artist’s Date
Have you ever read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way? I think this is a must-read for all writers, actors, and artists. In case you’re not familiar with Cameron, she has made a name for herself helping creative people get unblocked. During her 12-week course outlined in the book, there are two tools that she says are mandatory:
- Morning Pages.
- Artist Dates.
Morning pages are three longhand pages of journaling whatever pops into your mind. You don’t edit or try to WRITE them. Rather, you just allow yourself to ramble on the page. Doing so helps keep your inner censor at bay, which helps when you venture into creative writing.
The other tool is an artist’s date, which is an outing that you take by yourself. The idea is to do something fun and frivolous that your inner artist would enjoy. Examples include walking through an art museum, driving to a different neighborhood and sampling some ethnic food, browsing a used bookstore, or going antiquing. An artist date allows you to take in images. It allows you to delight in just being out and about. It helps “fill the well,” to use Cameron’s term, with emotions, images, and impressions. In this respect, it is a way to restore your inner artist to health. Just like we need rest at night, I have learned through Cameron’s book that my inner writer also needs to play.
I hope these tips will help you avoid burnout with your writing. As a writer, how do you handle it if you’re feeling burned out? Let me know in the comments!