There was a time when I genuinely thought of myself as a writer. It was a keystone of my identity. My friends and family all knew I was writing, even if very few of them ever read anything I wrote. On the roadmap of my life, the path labeled WRITER was always highlighted, even when I didn’t know where I was going.
I wrote every day. Most of it was slop, but I was fulfilling the old adage, “Writers write every day.” Each checkmark on my daily writing calendar was a tiny affirmation of my productivity, of my identity. I wrote.
It took me a while–almost a year in fact–to notice I wasn’t a writer anymore. I wanted to be, but writers write, and I hadn’t written anything but texts and work emails for months. That realization wrecked me. A part of my identity was gone. That section of my life’s roadmap had been burned away, and you know what the real kick in the ass was? I didn’t have enough drive, willpower or even the desire to change anything.
That, more than anything else, made me really despise myself.
There are all kinds of excuses I could make; I lost my job, then got a new one. I lost a friend and didn’t make a new one. I moved across the state, bought my first house, started coaching… a lovely mix of good and bad, as any life should have.
This wasn’t writer’s block, as I often told myself it was. It was straight up burn-out. Now I’m starting the process of overcoming that burnout, and here are a few things I’ve learned.
- It’s okay.
It really is. It’s okay to not write every day. It’s okay if you need to take a break for a week or a month or a year. It’s okay if you haven’t written in ages. It’s ok if your blog was last updated in 2018 (guilty!). You can always go back. Your old project will still be there. There will always be new ideas. You are on no one’s schedule but your own.
- Don’t fall into the trap of “productivity”.
I did this a lot. I would decide on a Sunday evening or the first of the month that I would be productive from that point on. I would write 500 words a day. I would post to my blog once a week. I made charts and lists and planners and spreadsheets all planning how I would be productive in the future. I’d fill them out, color-code them, make the plan, and go to bed happy because while I hadn’t actually done anything, I would do something in the future.
Noticing a theme here?
All that time and effort I put into planning when and how much I would write, I could have spent actually writing. I was clearly motivated to do so, but instead I chose to waste that momentary burst of energy on what, making a calendar? All of these tools people create to help you outline your novel, plan blog posts, create a writing routine, etc. are only as useful as you make them. If you can make them work, great! If you can’t, welcome to the party.
Don’t fall into that trap. Just write.
- You don’t have to wait until a Significant Date™ to get started or keep going.
This isn’t the Lord of the Rings.
You’re not Frodo waiting to leave Bag End on his 50th birthday because that’s when Bilbo began his adventure.
I run into this issue a lot too. I tell myself I’ll get started on the first of the month, or next Monday, or New Year’s Day, or after swim season is over, or when Summer Break begins. When the day comes, I rarely do anything different. If I had just sat down when the idea struck me, it would have been great. But beginning a writing habit on Tuesday the 17th can feel weird sometimes. It doesn’t have to.
- Doing something is better than doing nothing.
I suffer–as I’m sure many people do–from perfectionism. Often, especially with writing, I get so anxious that what I’m working on won’t be good enough that I don’t work on it at all. Instead of producing something that could be edited or at the very least be used as a whetstone to hone my skills, I do nothing.
Sometimes I only manage to write 50 words a day. I get so discouraged that I stop. It’s been over two years since I wrote anything of substance for myself. Do the math– 50 words a day for two years is 36,500 words! It may not seem like a lot. It’s certainly not a novel. But it’s 36,500 more words than I actually have on paper.
All of this is to say, I am still overcoming this burnout. It’s a small miracle I even managed to write and post this, but something is better than nothing!
Does anyone else have advice/strategies for overcoming writing burnout? I’d love some help and more ideas!