It’s Okay To Be Burned Out
And Not Write So Much
I keep reading about people burning out, needing a rest or finding that their routine isn’t sustainable any more.
We’ve all been through hell the last two and a half years dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) pandemic. This has altered our working patterns, the way we socialise and many other living habits. Even as we emerge back into ‘normal’ life, we are all changed. Alongside that we are dealing with ongoing war, extreme weather and soaring costs of living.
And there you are, trying to be a disciplined writer and fulfil your writing goals.
In a topsy-turvy world, writing can be a grounding activity but it also requires energy – and sometimes you just don’t have enough.
If you are feeling burned out and are struggling to write, then give yourself the break you need, nurture yourself and allow some space to recover.
Your health matters the most
As I have discovered this summer, without good health you are severely limited in anything else that you can do.
What do you need to do to protect your physical or mental health? Prioritise this above your writing.
Can you make small changes for better health habits? When author and writing coach, Shaunta Grimes, realised it was essential that she moved more and lost weight, she started off promising herself to move for just ten minutes a day. That could be a short walk or some stretching. As long as it involved movement, it counted. Setting a small goal makes it easier to achieve.
You might also find this book useful: The Healthy Writer by Joanna Penn and Dr Euan Lawson
What is the bare minimum you can do?
When our internal resources are challenged it may be necessary to do the bare minimum of writing. With my fatigue this summer, all I did was write my Friday article which took three hours, spread over the week. I didn’t do anything else and I gave myself permission, if necessary, to not even do that.
If you’re under contract to write something then that might be your minimum and other projects will have to wait. Equally, keeping up with your day job might be your bare minimum.
Continuing with a small amount of writing, even though you wish you could do more, allows you to keep momentum and your sanity, knowing you are at least doing something.
It might be that you can’t write your novel at the moment but you can do research. Maybe you can jot down vignettes of scenes or conversations.
If writing is beyond you, you could keep an image file of the places your characters might go or clothes that they might wear.
Sometimes the bare minimum might be nothing. I got severely burnt out throughout 2020 and I didn’t write at all, no fiction or blogs, between November 2020 and April 2021.
Try not to compare yourself to other people
Comparison-itis is the thief of joy at the best of times, but when you’re knocked sideways by burn-out it can send you into deeper mental despair.
Even though I maintained the bare minimum over this summer, it has been frustrating not to do more, especially to advance with my fiction. I stopped listening to my usual writing podcasts because it was too painful to hear about other people’s progress. Instead, I switched to podcasts about nutrition and health because this was more beneficial to me.
Some people write in seasons and have fallow periods. Over time you learn what your rhythm is and not to panic in quieter times.
How to fill the well again
You need to have fun. What are easy nurturing activities that you could undertake?
This could be as simple as sitting with a coffee and a magazine, or wandering around your preferred department store or taking your favourite hiking trail and spending time admiring the views.
Reading for pleasure can also be nurturing. So often as writers we read with half an eye on learning and research, but sometimes we need to indulge in imbibing story for the sheer joy of escapism.
It’s okay to binge watch a show on Netflix. This summer I discovered Virgin River. It’s not an edgy show, it was a bit soporific in places, but the beautiful landscapes and tales of a small-town community soothed my anxiety and frustration. Last month, when I saw that the latest season was available, it was like meeting up with old friends.
In The Artist Way, Julia Cameron suggests taking a regular artist date. This is a weekly date with yourself where you spend an hour or two doing something that nourishes you and replenishes your creative well. I have to admit that I am bad at doing this on a regular basis. It’s no wonder that I have often hit a burnout point!
How can you be kind to yourself?
This is the major lesson that I have learnt from my recent health challenges. After years of thrashing myself to be disciplined and pushing through tiredness to get stuff done, I’m realising the importance of a new, kinder approach.
Even when there is work that has to be done, you can still take moments to nurture yourself, eat properly and ensure there is relaxation time somewhere in the mix.
As a creative you spend a lot of time giving out, stretching yourself and living beyond your comfort zone. In order to do that for the long haul, you need to look after yourself.
It’s like a car. It will take you where you want to go but you have to give it fuel at regular intervals. It will run for a while with no additional maintenance but eventually you will start to get problems. If you maintain it regularly you will prevent breakdown, it will be cheaper in the long run and you will always be able to rely on it.
Energy will return
Eventually you will feel better. You can dip your toe back into your writing and you will be stronger having given yourself a break. I have found that dealing with fatigue has given depth and honesty to my writing.
I’ve also drawn on this experience to realise that the theme of one of my novels is about being trapped in the darkness of your own hell and having to find a way to let the light in again. Even though I knew some of the plot events, I was struggling to ascertain what the book is really about. Now I know!
It’s frustrating when you know you should be creating and working consistently on your project, but when your health tells you it’s time to rest, sometimes you just have to rest!
Gentle Creative is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
You might find these articles useful:
This Substack publication deals with burnout: