What Is Writer’s Burnout?

Hi everyone! Today we’re happy to welcome author Chrys Fey to the blog who is sharing an excerpt from her book, Keep Writing with Fey: Sparks to Defeat Writer’s Block, Burnout, and Depression (affiliate link) where she focuses on writer’s burnout. This is something that’s a real risk, especially this year. We’ve all had a lot more to handle and it takes a toll. So please, read on.

When I mention writer’s burnout, many people get the wrong idea about it, so I thought I’d mention a few of the most common myths about writer’s burnout first and then get into the facts about what it is and what causes it.

Myths:

– Writer’s burnout is the same as writer’s block.
– You only get burned out by writing too much.
– If you can write an essay or a poem, you’re not burned out.
– If, deep down, you want to write, you’re not burned out.

The Confusion:

Writer’s burnout is often confused with writer’s block when, in actuality, it is more extreme than that. Writer’s block is the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

When you are burned out, it is very different. We’re not just talking about things that can stop you from writing. You don’t even need to be blocked in order to get burned out. You could be able to easily think of what to write next and may even have the next scene or chapter plotted out and still suffer from this extreme condition. Anyone who works too hard, pushes their limits in order to get one task after another done without a break, and is eyeball deep in stress, can experience this. It doesn’t matter what your profession is, either. Usually, it’s called job burnout, but when it comes to being a writer, and when this burnout affects you as a writer, I call it writer’s burnout.

When I suffered from writer’s burnout, I had many ideas of what to write and a workable outline for the next book in my series. I was not blocked. I wanted to write, but I couldn’t. I’d try and fail. Again, not because I was blocked. I’d have a good day or two of writing a fictional story with fresh energy that would make me think I was back to normal, and then I wouldn’t be able to muster up the energy, the motivation, to write a single word more on the third day. I’d want to. Oh, boy, did I want to. I wanted that energy I had the previous two days. But it wasn’t there. I was depleted. Utterly exhausted, from my mind to the tips of my fingers and toes. Even my soul felt drained. I had worked myself beyond the breaking point, through depression and stress, and faced the severe consequences.

During that time, however, I managed to write essays about my life as a child and teen. These essays were non-fiction and ranged from a page or less to three pages long. See? I could write something. I found writing about my life (for myself and no one else) relatively easy, but writing fiction, the thing I’d been writing for well over a decade, was hard. I didn’t have the motivation or energy for it anymore.

I did a small amount of non-fiction writing when, suddenly, even that became too much and I couldn’t manage to write another short essay. Eventually, because I kept trying to force myself to write, I did lose all motivation for anything writing related. I didn’t even want to write emails. That’s how exhausted I was. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is burnout.

What is Writer’s Burnout?

Burnout is defined as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by stress or by doing too much. Believe me, you can be physically exhausted as a writer.

You can lose motivation and feel as though you have nothing else to give in the area that caused your burnout, which usually means your job. For athletes, it’s their sport, the one they’ve devoted and dedicated their lives to. For writers, it can be anything related to being a writer, not just the act of writing. And that is something many don’t understand. You don’t need to be writing five thousand words a day to burn yourself out as a writer. You can burn yourself out by revising or rewriting a project over and over again. You can burn yourself out by editing one thing after another for others. You can burn yourself out by focusing on marketing day in and day out and getting upset that nothing is helping your sales.

Once you have burnout in one area of your life, it can leak into all areas of your life, like an oil spill, covering everything with a thick greasiness and zapping your energy for things even unrelated to writing. That is how dangerous burnout is for creatives and career-oriented individuals.

What Causes Writer’s Burnout?

Anything. It can be different for everyone, and you may have several causes working together to burn you out completely.

For me, doing too much in other areas (blogging and editing for clients), stressing myself out over marketing, and depression, which partially stemmed from my writing life, brought about my long battle with burnout.

Common Causes:

– Excessive stress
– Overworking yourself
– Taking on too many responsibilities
– Chaotic work environment
– Feeling undervalued
– Too many expectations
– Setting unachievable goals
– Lack of support
– Sleeplessness

Symptoms of Writer’s Burnout:

– Feeling drained and tired (fatigue)
– Insomnia
– Lowered immunity (illnesses)
– Frequent headaches
– Sadness, anger, or irritability
– Sense of failure
– Negative outlook
– Feeling detached
– No or low motivation
– Lack of interest
– Unhappiness
– Depression
– Alcohol or substance abuse
– High blood pressure
– Heart disease

That’s a lot, isn’t it? That’s why burnout is not something to shrug your shoulders at. That’s why burnout should be taken seriously and understood.

How are you feeling right now? Are you experiencing writer’s burnout? Let’s talk about it.

(Affiliate link)

Chrys Fey is the author of Write with Fey: 10 Sparks to Guide You from Idea to Publication (affiliate link). She is also the author of the Disaster Crimes series.

Visit her blog, Write with Fey, for more tips on how to reverse writer’s burnout.

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This entry was posted in Focus, Guest Post, Motivational, Time Management, Writer's Attitude, Writer's Block, Writing Resources, Writing Time. Bookmark the permalink.
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[…] Nathan Bransford explores writing as a series of lenses, Steve Laube discusses what happens when disagreements arise during the publishing process, Randy Susan Meyers says that being terrified about writing your novel is excellent, and Chrys Fey defines writer’s burnout. […]

Dawn
1 month ago

A burnout for me is usually coupled with an emotional trigger. On your common causes list, it would be overworking myself and feeling undervalued. I start to think, “What’s the point of doing all this work if no one appreciates it?” To get out of it, I take a break. Some break days are spent simply enjoying myself. Other days are spent contemplating. Why was I working so hard to begin with? Was I striving toward a goal? And if so, what did I hope to achieve with that goal? Was it recognition or was it a sense of accomplishment? If it was for recognition, then I re-evaluate my goal. If it was for a sense of accomplishment, I try to regain that hope for accomplishment.

With my writing, I often get bogged down emotionally with imposters syndrome. It’s a constant fight between giving up or pushing through because I enjoy the creative process and I can only get better if I keep writing. There have been times when I pushed through so much that I got burned out. It took a lot of effort to get back into writing for the sole purpose of acquiring a sense of accomplishment within myself without the worry of what others think.

Judith Field
Judith Field
1 month ago
Reply to  Dawn

Hi Dawn

I can relate to the feeling of being undervalued. For me, it’s mixed up with the idea that only publication is validation. I don’t get to write much but I’m a member of a crit group and some of the other members write a lot and get a lot of acceptances, and post about it. I don’t like to be mean spirited and envious but it makes me feel useless. I think the key to that could be to step back from it all and try to think about it in a different way. Starting with “so what if they are?”

BECCA PUGLISI
Admin
1 month ago
Reply to  Judith Field

We all struggle with envy and comparison. The best remedy I’ve found for this particular issue is to look at the benefits you’re getting from writing—even apart from publication. It’s therapeutic; you’re writing stories no one else can write; look at how much better you are now than when you started; consider the joy your get from writing… If someone’s only validation is being accepted by a publisher, they’re going to be frustrated and could easily burn out. Not to say publication isn’t something to strive for; but for the sake of longevity, we need other motivators. Find those motivators and focus on those :).

Chrys Fey
28 days ago
Reply to  BECCA PUGLISI

Looking at the benefits we receive through writing is a great strategy. When I started publishing, all of my writing became about publishing those stories. That brought me down big time and ended up stopping me from writing. After I fought my way through depression and burnout, I learned to push aside any thoughts of publishing during the writing/creative process. I’ve finally gotten back to writing for fun…for me. Once I finish writing, that’s when I allow myself to think about publishing that project. It took a bit to get here (and often that follows a lesson or coming through the other side of a deep struggle), but it is possible. <3

Chrys Fey
28 days ago
Reply to  Judith Field

Seeing others’ accomplishments has brought me down time and time again, no matter how happy I am for them. I think it’s totally normal. But that doesn’t make it any easier. I ended up unfollowing (but staying friends with) a few writers on Facebook because of how often they posted their successes that fed into my depression. We gotta do what we gotta do. <3

Chrys Fey
28 days ago
Reply to  Dawn

I can also relate to overworking myself and feeling undervalued. Both of those triggered my burnout, as well as my depression. I love how you ask yourself questions to evaluate the situation and how you feel. That is very smart and the best way to heal…if you have understand yourself and what you’re going through.

Jemi Fraser
1 month ago

Excellent post, Chrys! You’ve nailed it. The only time I experienced true burnout was due to so many of the factors you mentioned. Stress (so much stress surrounding my mother’s first stages of dementia), lack of sleep, and being totally overwhelmed by life. Thankfully so many things improved and it seemed to resolve itself! Your book is going to help a lot of people!

Chrys Fey
28 days ago
Reply to  Jemi Fraser

Thanks, Jemi! I am glad you that the things that were contributing to your burnout improved and everything worked itself out. 🙂

Fox
Fox
1 month ago

Wow! Thanks for this – it gives me insights into so many issues that contribute to what I have long wondered about for me, that enables clear seeing and a potential resolve.

Chrys Fey
28 days ago
Reply to  Fox

You’re welcome, Fox!

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Erin McKnight
Erin McKnight
1 month ago

Thank you so much for bringing attention to this issue. I am all too familiar with it. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Chrys Fey
1 month ago
Reply to  Erin McKnight

You’re welcome, Erin! <3

Natalie Aguirre
1 month ago

Thanks for explaining what writer’s burnout is and how it’s different from writer’s block. Writing is so time-consuming that it can be easy to get burned out if you don’t pace yourself and remember the joy of just writing instead of focusing on getting published.

Chrys Fey
1 month ago

The joy is what it’s all about. I had lost that joy and had to find my way back to it. I am there again, and feeling much better. <3

Rebecca Suddeth
Rebecca Suddeth
1 month ago

Wow. This is so me. I thought at first it was Writer’s Block but it was worse than any block I’ve ever had. Still trying to struggle through with limited success. What helps???

Rebecca Suddeth
Rebecca Suddeth
1 month ago

So, I just went and downloaded your book to my kindle. 🙂

Chrys Fey
1 month ago

Thank you so much for hosting me today! This topic is very important and very near and dear to my heart.

Sharon Hughson
1 month ago

In month ten of creative burnout. I would love to see a follow-up post or two about how to recover. I’m finding it difficult to “fill my creative well” like I used to do so easily with a weekend of reading, walking and focusing on spiritual things.
Burnout is WORSE than depression (and I have both) so maybe it’s worse because of depression. We need to be mindful of self-care before we get to the point of burnout.

Chrys Fey
1 month ago
Reply to  Sharon Hughson

Hi, Sharon! If you check out my book, Keep Writing with Fey, I discuss how to recover (or things you can try) there, in the part dedicated to burnout. I won’t be doing follow-up posts here, because everything I could share here is there in my book. This is an excerpt from it. 🙂

I wish you all the best and hope you can find your way back to your creative self. And I truly hope you’ll consider looking at my book. Because it’s packed with tips, encouragement, etc.

Take care!

Ingmar Albizu
1 month ago

I have experienced burnout.
Exercise and a couple of days rest usually helps.
Great post, Crys. A reminder to care for ourselves.

Chrys Fey
1 month ago
Reply to  Ingmar Albizu

Hi, Ingmar!

Exercise and rest can certainly help, especially when burnout is caught early. Sometimes, though, burnout can be so extreme that exercise and rest, even when combined, don’t do the trick. Taking care of ourselves and listening to our bodies (and our minds) before we can get to the point is so important.

Thank you!

ANGELA ACKERMAN
Admin
1 month ago

I struggle with burnout, in my case just from managing too many things and having too many projects. My problem is that I need to hire help, but there’s never time to really invest the time into figuring out what that should look like and find the right people…so I just keep trying to manage it. And of course, this on top of all the family and life stress as worry eats away at what’s going to happen for everyone with this pandemic…UGH. I know “staying afloat” isn’t sustainable, so I need to make this shift to sourcing help a greater priority. Thanks for posting with us Chrys – such a good topic, especially right now.

Chrys Fey
1 month ago

Oh, yes. Doing too much is how I always get burned out. I hear you about wanting to hire help. I say it all the time that I wish I had an assistant, but I don’t have the financial means to do that right now. I wish I did.

I hope you can find it in you to invest in finding someone to take some of your tasks off your plate, because after you do that, you won’t have to invest in as much or manage so much.

Take care, Angela! And thank you for having me as a guest. 🙂

Judith Field
Judith Field
1 month ago

Yes -I am experiencing writer’s burnout. It’s good that it has a name. It’s exactly as you describe it and in my case it’s down to the stress of being stuck indoors with my family, who don’t get on too well, plus trying to hold down the day job.

Chrys Fey
1 month ago
Reply to  Judith Field

When I was first experiencing burnout, I had no idea what it was, either. And then a light bulb went off in my head and the word “BURNOUT” blazed through my mind. It is comforting to know it has a name and that there are remedies one can try to reverse it. That’s why I wrote my book. <3

Thanks for commenting, Judith!