Tips to Avoid Burnout with Writing

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

exhausted woman sleeping on bedThere 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

woman in wearing boxing gloves and exercisingWhen 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

candle-lit bathThis 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

woman browsing in bookstoreHave 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!

8 Replies to “Tips to Avoid Burnout with Writing”

  1. Thank you for these tips. I definitely agree with the meditation or relaxation tip – a nice hot bath and some mellow music often clears the writers block for me.

    I get most of my best ideas in the shower – which is awkward because writing them down then is rather impractical!

    Thanks again!

    1. Hi Steve, Yes, that is indeed awkward. The muse has an interesting sense of humor. Sometimes I get good ideas when I am driving, which is equally problematic. I am not always able to write down ideas when an idea hits. Sometimes I will keep my cell phone handy and record myself talking about the idea. You might try. Just keep your phone handy and buy a waterproof case if you don’t already have one.

      Best wishes for your writing success.

  2. Planing for days when your just not feeling it, and spending more time when you do is a smart way to approach it.
    Your tip about getting up and doing something physical has always been a big help to me. It’s amazing how when you sit back down the words come much more easily. Good info here, thank you for it!

  3. Hey Laura:

    As a writer I found your post to be a useful reminder for ways to get your head back on track after overdosing in the Overwhelm.

    I am finding, though, that I do better if I can remember to work on avoiding getting into that dreaded overwhelm space.

    I have a tendency to get fascinated by too many things all at once. It starts small…ooh! Look at that! Wow! That one’s a cool thing…and so on and so forth until all of a sudden there’s a whole slew of stuff coming due and me standing there going OMG! Netta, what have you DONE!

    Less is more, I am finding. Backburners are there for a reason. (Mostly to keep over-active curiosity from getting the better of ya!)

    1. Netta, Thanks for sharing your insights! I can definitely relate to what you’re saying about shiny object syndrome. I struggle with that, too, and take on too much. It is not unusual for writers and artists to love many things. Our big loves often drive us to create. But you’re right: managing that is important to our productivity. Good luck with your writing projects, and let’s both work to stay productive!

  4. Great post! I struggle with this all the time. I’ve been writing lots of freelance stuff, which I don’t always enjoy. I guess that’s why I end up fighting with myself to get that done on the days when I’d rather work on my sites.


    1. Thanks, Mark! Yes, writing on behalf of others can definitely feel like a chore, and your comments remind me of the days when I worked as an advertising copywriter. I’m glad to hear, though, your own websites bring you joy. I know mine do! Best of luck to you with your websites.

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