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Writer’s Burnout – What Is It and What Is It Not?

Welcome to the new series, friends! This time, I want to talk to you about Writer’s Block Burnout,ย the natural predator of writers and authors everywhere!

The Banner for the informative post on writer's block and burnout.

I crossed out the word ‘block’ in that banner for a reason–I don’t believe in writer’s block. I do believe in writer’s burnout.

Or rather, I don’t believe in the common misunderstanding of what writer’s block is.

Before we dive into this series, allow me to clear the air and explain what I mean by that.

The Collins Dictionary defines Writer’s Block as ‘an inability to think of ideas’, which essentially means you sit down at your screen and can’t write. So far, so easy–but it’s the reason behind this inability where the misunderstanding happens.

Let’s take a look at what writer’s block burnout isn’t.

A supporting banner suggesting that a lack of inspiration is not the same as writer's burnout.

A lack of inspiration is what most writers, especially new ones, mean when they say they have writer’s block. I’ve talked to some people who haven’t written in years* because they haven’t felt inspired enough.

But a lack of inspiration isn’t the same as writer’s block, friends. Inspiration is great–who doesn’t love that sudden exhilarating rush of ideas? It’s like a high!–but it’s far too rare for you to rely on it.

In fact, inspiration can be ever harder to come by the busier we are with other things. Weekly meetings, traffic jams, grocery runs, and school evenings aren’t exactly an environment where your creativity can strive**.

Stress isn’t food for the soul, it’s food for headaches. While some simple everyday activities like doing the dishes might help, anything stressful isn’t likely to make you want to be productive.

With so much halting our creativity, inspiration is ever harder to find. Are you really going to wait for that? And what happens if it finally finds you? Write a page just to lose inspiration again before your next writing session–and then wait another year?

Your book will never get written that way, friends.

*YEARS, friends! YEARS!
**although, it’s useful for coming up with creative ways of killing your characters, so it does have some uses

A supporting banner suggesting that a lack of motivation is not the same as writer's burnout.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve sat down at my screen in the morning, and got nothing*. I probably don’t need to tell you, either, because you’ve all gone through the same thing at one point or one hundred.

It’s easy to give up for the day and try again tomorrow, but that’s not going to get your book written. Try anyway.

Believe me, I’ve written some terrible chapter openings. But I’ve also written amazingย good-ish** chapter middles and endings, because I started anyway.

Sometimes, the first words are the hardest. Not just of your novel, but of individual chapters or wherever you pick up again.

In the wise words of Maya Angelou:

A quote by the author Maya Angelou about inspiration and writing.

If you can never find the motivation to add to your draft at all, you need to reconsider whether this is really the right profession for you. If you want to turn this into a serious career, you sit your butt down in that chair and you write, whether you fancy it that morning or not. Harsh, maybe, but there it is.

Why do you want to write a book? Why do you want to publish? If you can’t answer those questions, perhaps that’s answer enough.

*in fact, just this morning I had no idea how to start, but I did and ended up with 1.4k words in half an hour I actually quite liked!
**let’s be honest, we’re talking about a first draft here

A supporting banner suggesting that a lack of time is not the same as writer's burnout.

Our everyday lives are hectic, and filled with chores upon chores. Having enough time to write can be tricky, but if you really want to do this you don’t find the time, friends.

You make it.

I know some writers who work full-time, raise children, and are happily married, and still manage to write a little every day. It doesn’t take black magic to make it happen, just perseverance and commitment. If you have to get up a little earlier or stay up a little later, then that’s what you do.

I recommend tea or coffee, and lots of it.

You’ve got this. Go make that book happen!

But what IS writer’s burnout?

A supporting banner stating that a lack of energy is the definition of writer's burnout.

I said above that, when you sit down and can’t find the motivation to write, you try anyway. But sometimes that gets you nowhere, and when it doesn’t it might be because you’re dangerously close to burning out.

There’s only one thing you can do:

Stop.

Please, for the love of your health, stop.

You don’t mess with burn-out. I burnt out last November and don’t recommend it.

If you feel like you have lower energy than usual and just the thought of writing makes you more tired, you need to take a break.

It’s when we need it the most that it’s most difficult. But taking a day or two off to look after yourself will be nothing compared to burning out and not being able to do anything–not just writing–for much longer than a day.

Burnout can feel similar to depression. Treat it accordingly.

And this is what writer’s block really is: the inability to write, not because you’re not feeling inspired enough but because you physically and mentally can’t force another word onto the page.

You might say you’re blocked.

I’ll talk more about what happened when I burned out and how to recognise whether you’re close to burning out yourself or not in two weeks.

In the meantime, if you think you might be burning out, don’t wait. Leave a comment below, get in touch with me privately, or just take a day off. The more you force it, the worse the result is going to be.

If you fancy a bit of further reading, also check out this post by Jerry Jenkins, or my post on Nadia L. King’s blog.

Have you struggled with writer’s block burnout in the past? How did you recover?


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Published inA Writer's Musings

5 Comments

  1. This is going to be an interesting series. I’m pretty sure I burned out for most of January: I kept up with my blog but barely worked on my work in progress. I just couldn’t write, and being stuck with my plot didn’t help! I spent a lot of time watching Netflix and exercising to recover. I need to get better at spotting the early warning signs and taking a step back before it gets to that point again!

    • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

      Oh no! That’s not the start to the year you want :/ Hope it got better after that ๐Ÿ™‚

      Could someone else help you spot the warning signs? Someone who knows you well enough and sees you often enough to know? That way, all you need to do is trust them ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I’m hoping things are finally starting to improve: My mind feels clearer this past couple of days ๐Ÿ™‚ (After a lot of Netflix, reading and gaming!)

        My fiancee’s taken it upon himself to spot the warning signs and tell me when he thinks I need a break. I just need to squash my stubborn side and learn to listen ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I’m on my way to a complete burnout, I think, but still I cannot bring myself to stop. I’ve tried taking it slow and staying away from work over the weekends, but everytime I think about all I need to do before this month ends, it’s daunting, I cannot afford to let myself slack, so I just have to push through… but I have had two colds in the space of about three weeks, I haven’t been sleeping well, I’m tired enough to stay off exercising… it’s crazy.

    • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

      Ruth, my dear, take a break. I know it seems impossible right now because of deadlines, but once you’ve taken a day off for self-care the rest of the month is going to go much easier! Pushing through it will make it worse. Take time off before you have no choice <3 Your mental health is important, there's nothing to feel guilty about. You've got my permission.

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