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Writer’s Burnout – 5 Warning Signs You’re Burning Out

New on Burning out is the enemy of creatives and self-employed people everywhere. It’s so important you take care of yourself–but that’s difficult if you don’t know if you’re burning out.*

*Apologies if you saw the post I accidentally posted yesterday evening…Yes. Again. Twice in one week this has happened. I need more tea, obviously -.-

5 Warning Signs You're Burning Out

Let’s get real for a moment and talk about something that happened last year.

Last November, I burned out.

It had been a long, stressful year, and then–clever girl that I am–I decided to do NaNo. And then I got a cold (a rare occurrence in itself). And then I got another cold.

So it was no surprise, maybe, when I eventually couldn’t do anymore.

Burnout’s a bitch. When you’re self-employed in any capacity, it’s tempting to work all the time. I get it. I’ve felt guilty for taking tea breaks, a day off, or even just ten minutes at the end of the day, too.

But you know what? You’ve got nothing to apologise for. Your mental health is so, so important, and if you don’t look after it it’ll come back to kick you in the teeth.

I’ve come close to burning out a couple of times over the last two years. Each time, I realised what was happening and put myself on time-out before it escalated. But, for some reason, last November I decided to push through it.

5 Warning Signs You're Burning Out

I was exhausted.

Being more tired than I normally am is a little hard to spot for me. I’m low on iron–always have been–so being a little extra tired? Not that rare.

Last November, however, I should have seen that I had to drag myself everywhere. The day I burned out, I couldn’t get up. I made tea as usual, sat down on our bed briefly, and collapsed like an overcooked vegetable.

I physically had nothing left to give.

On top of that, I didn’t sleep well. I was stressing over word counts, deadlines, and a few things that weren’t really issues. Burning out has a way of exaggerating things.

Writing was hard.

We all get days when we sit down at our WIP, and the words don’t want to come. Usually, I write through it and usually, I get a pretty decent result as far as first drafts go.

Last November, I got nothing.

That should have told me everything, but naturally, I didn’t think I was burning out. I thought it was one of those mornings, you know? So I went downstairs, made another tea, sat down for a second–

and couldn’t get back up. My body literally had nothing left to give.

Now when writing feels harder than usual, I ask myself how I feel otherwise before I continue. If the other warning signs on this page are there, I stop. If they’re not, I carry on.

I was emotional af.

Now, I’m not the most emotionally stable person you’ll ever meet, but last November was bad even by my low standards.

In fact, it was realising that I was burning out that did me in. I literally curled up on the sofa and cried in silence to myself, while my cat meowed her concern at me*.

It was like realising what was happening had given me permission to break down and take a forced break.

And then, because I realised I’d burned out, I felt like a failure because I couldn’t work. How’s that for a vicious cycle?

I didn’t even feel like me.

*See? My familiar does care!

Time off? No chance!

As I said above, being self-employed means we feel the need to work all the time or else we’re not putting in enough work*.

However, the closer you get to burning out the more stressed you’ll feel at the idea of taking just an hour to yourself.

When the idea of taking a day (or less) off to look after yourself becomes inconceivable, you need to take that day off.

Trust me–when it feels the most impossible is when you need it the most.

And what would you prefer? Taking a day for self-care, or burning out and losing several days while you recover?

*I’ve seen an editor shamed on Twitter because she spent a Saturday at the beach–don’t be that person.

Your to-do list is magically getting longer?

Even though I was ticking off goals left and right, I didn’t feel like I was making any progress. Every time I drew a tick, I felt like I’d achieved nothing. Every goal I added felt like ten.

Part of the problem was that I set myself too many weekly goals to begin with. I wanted to be ambitious and try my hardest, but I ended up creating unrealistic expectations for myself.

Knowing what you can achieve in a day, week, and month is key. It’s better to set yourself fewer goals and feel like a rockstar when you hit them early than to set too many and become overwhelmed.

In short, burnout is a combination of pure physical and mental exhaustion.

No one tells you to go home at a certain time when you’re self-employed. No one tells you when your days off are, or when to take your lunch break.

That’s your job now.

Trying to push through the growing exhaustion doesn’t make you more professional, more dedicated, or brave. Taking a day off when you need it does.

Stepping away for a day can feel like the hardest thing, but it’s so important that you do. You’re not winning any medals for working even though you’re burning out.

How much you take off is up to you. If one day is enough that’s great, but if you need more don’t feel bad about taking two days or maybe even a whole week.

Your body will tell you when it needs a break, and when it’s ready to go back to work. Learn to recognise the signs, and do something about it.

Don’t overwork yourself, and remember to take regular breaks like an hour for lunch and weekends. Set a time in the evening after which you don’t do any more.

Learn to rest, and be kind to yourself.

Read more:

Burning out further reading - What is Writer's Burnout/Block?








In two weeks, we’ll look at ways to recover if you’ve burned out. If you’ve pushed yourself past your breaking point, nothing matters as much as your speedy recovery!

How do you know you’re burning out? What are your warning signs? Have you pushed yourself too far before and burned out? Make a tea, get a cookie, and let’s talk self-care!

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  1. debscarey debscarey

    I find burnout can often happen because of being already low – perhaps by doing things we had to do (or felt we had to do). So when it comes to doing the things we love and really want to do for ourselves, we just don’t feel willing to to give up on them. So we push through … and they end up being the straw, but the camel’s back was already broken by all the other stuff.

    My symptoms? Feelings of irritation, being fidgetty, needing the volume turned down.

    Personally, I have to put up mega high boundaries and get mean with my family. I hate doing it but they’re the biggest drain on my time & energy. I also have to find a way to spend some time on my own. Switching the phone off, going somewhere without wifi, and reading, always reading. I once pretended to spend a week in the library doing some research. I actually stayed at home but, as no-one expected to be able to reach me, I had peace & quiet. It was bliss. I need some of that now.

    Thanks for the post Sarina, such an important subject.

    • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

      It’s excellent that you know what to do, and are willing/able to do it. When it’s family it can be all the harder, but sometimes time to yourself is what you need. I love that you pretended to be in a library just to be left alone! Can’t fault it if it works ๐Ÿ™‚

      Sounds like you need a break now. Take care of yourself, my dear <3

      • debscarey debscarey


  2. I’ve never had a complete burnout before, but I came pretty close after I started my blog. I was working almost every waking hour to create graphics and content. On top of that I was participating in Camp NaNoWriMo (I started my blog in July) so I was editing on of my projects. I felt guilty stepping away from it all, but it makes a difference when my mind is able to focus again. Fantastic post!

    • sarinalangerwriter sarinalangerwriter

      Setting up a new blog can be so stressful. I’m glad I started before I knew everything I know now about image optimisation, SEO, and things like that – it would have driven me mad!

      The guilt always makes it harder for me, too, but that’s how you know it’s necessary <3 Glad to hear it helped and you were able to focus better after!

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