Sorry for the lateness of this post – let’s just say that in Manitoba, winter isn’t over until it’s good and ready to leave.
So – burnout – I’m sure you know what it is already, but for me, I’m often burnt-out and still producing work. There is a fine line between doing stuff when it’s no longer fun because I’m working through the hard stuff, and when every time you sit down to write, I have to force it. Like most people who write, at least on some small level, I enjoy it even if it’s frustrating – but there is a time and a place to say to myself, “Maybe I should take a break.” And mean it.
I’m not saying my advice is the only stuff that works, feel free to offer other suggestions to help with burnout.
The best thing is to prevent burnout altogether.
I’m a creature of habit, and I find that if I adopt a healthy lifestyle to begin with, there’s no huge vices that I need to change. My job can be stressful, hectic and the hours are unpredictable, I do my best to make sure that I have everything I need for when it’s go time, and enough supplemental stuff that supports my mental well-being while I’m off. For example – if I work a really long day and I’m tired, it’s not very likely I’m going to be making a very complicated dinner – in fact, I’m probably going to grab the first thing I see and start munching while I make it. I keep baby carrots and snap peas with hummus on the top shelf for when I’m like this – because like heck I’m only going to have A Cookie while I make dinner.
What does this have to do with writing? You may think you’re brilliant during your sugar fix. Wait until it crashes and all you’re left with is indigestion. Take care of yourself – you might be able to put up with torture and write when you’re miserable, but other people have to put up with you – not to mention, you might make yourself sick.
~Set realistic goals. It’s okay to set a challenge for yourself or to have a schedule, but accept that life gets in the way of other plans. If you’re writing for a living and it’s your bread and butter, this obviously has to come first, but for me, I consider writing to be my second job – and I still produce about a novel a year.
~Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, eat right, and get some exercise. Everyone’s physiological needs are different, so don’t listen to hype. Listen to your doctor (a good one!) and your body.
~Allow a certain amount of flexibility. It’s okay if you want to write at a certain time every day and it gets you in a habit – imagine if that needed to change, say for your job or you needed to commute with someone else. Obviously if something is due to an editor in X amount of days, try to be done ahead of that so you’re not scrambling at the last second.
~Try to rotate what you write. It’s all well and good to work on a series diligently, but studying other forms, or even switching mediums can help you understand your form better. I found studying another language and poetry helps my command of English. I wouldn’t consider this switching mediums so much as hobbies, but I also draw and paint.
But let’s pretend you’re on a deadline and nothing’s going right lately – or maybe, you’ve been at something for so long, you just want to get it over but you just can’t.You feel like it’s being forced and not working anymore.
~Take a break. Believe me, working on something else besides that will probably help considerably – even if it’s another novel or a short story. Try to avoid that universe/character set; or better yet, switch mediums. Working at it even when your sick of it works for when you’re writing a dreadful scene – when you loathe the idea to look at your project, take a break.
But let’s pretend you fee absolute dread at the thought of anything creative (no cake decorating or watercolors) how about:
~Tackle some sort of practical project. I find doing mundane chores helpful for working out plot issues.
~Switch up your routine. Write in the mornings? Take a Saturday afternoon off and write. Change your location – go to a different coffee shop or try writing longhand rather then on a computer monitor for your first draft.
~Go do something fun – try out a new restaurant, or go for a day-vacation where all you do is walk around and look at people enjoying the day – you might get inspired for a scene. At the very least, call up a new friend and ask to see them.
~Try different music. I like instrumental, so I’m big on video game and movie soundtracks, but when I feel like I’ve listened to it, I like to try classical.
What I like to do to avoid burn-out is have a project I’m writing, and a different project that I’m editing. I don’t normally do both in the same day (unless I’m really getting frustrated with one). I think a huge amount of the creative process comes from editing – that’s where I’ve taken a story I’ve established and try to make it sound better. When I’m doing this, however, the medium has to be very different – even though I’ve got a series on the go, usually when I’m working on it, the other project can’t be related. I don’t like to get the feeling that everything’s overly connected, so even though I’m usually writing well within the parameters of speculative fiction, I can change tone, style, length, pacing, and subgenre to the point where even if something I’m writing the time is unpublishable, it helps me have that creative balance that helps me to craft effective prose.
There’s lots more to take into consideration about burnout – what’s the craziest goal you’ve given yourself, and how do you cope with burnout?