Kate Elliott February 23rd, 2007
But if writers write every day, especially as much as I’ve been lately, isn’t there a chance of burnout?Â Don’t get me wrong, I’m not feeling it yet.Â I’m still going strong and working on a short story for entry into the writers of the future contest.Â But is there a point where a writer just runs out of steam and has to step back, take a breath, and close the laptop for a few weeks or so?
My short answer to this question is:Â youâ€™ll know it when you get there.Â Until you get there, donâ€™t worry about it.
My long (long) answer:
In my life as a writer so far I have not as far as I know suffered from writerâ€™s block, but I have been scoured clean by burnout.
It could be argued that burnout is a form of writerâ€™s block, but I think block is a different fish.Â Â Â (Feel free to argue with me about this.Â I am not wedded to my position.)
Burnout is well described by – well – the word itself.
I have been toasted by the weight of real world responsibilities which I was juggling at the same time as writing.
I have become simply too mentally or emotionally exhausted to write for periods of time, and sometimes during those periods I had to write anyway.Â That was fun!
Iâ€™ve also hit periods where I think I simply wrote too much and for too long in the same world and needed a break.Â Which I didnâ€™t necessarily get.Â Not that Iâ€™m complaining about having contracts, mind you.
I have been most susceptible to burnout when writing to deadline with the fear of failure breathing down my neck:Â failure to meet the deadline (or knowing absolutely that I would be late);Â failure of nerve;Â failure of inspiration;Â failure in having something unique to say; failure in living up to real world responsibilities while meanwhile not doing so damned well in the writing either.Â The sometimes paralyzing fear of being mediocre and pedestrian.
There are whole litanies here, the hidden underbelly of the process that is not easy to talk about both because itâ€™s painful to stare at for long (and can mesmerize in turn if you spend too long looking into its eyes) and because sometimes people just donâ€™t want to hear about it.Â As in, youâ€™re living the life that Iâ€™m struggling to reach, so donâ€™t you dare tell me that you have problems on the other side.
A long while ago on livejournal, Kristine Smith mentioned periods of transition and change as ones that leave you susceptible to burnout.
These are the big three for me:
1) real life responsibilities eating up your creative energy
2) changes of direction, including things like life reassessment, major family shifts, moving, relationship difficulties
3)Â battered confidence, as in â€œwhy would anyone want to read this crap anyway?â€ and all its variations ringing down the changes of doubt and trust
Burnout is related to Creative Exhaustion.Â Iâ€™m not sure if one is a subset or an overlapping set of the other.
An experienced writer possesses the skill set to produce words, but the ability to CREATE is not always present.Â Real world exhaustion (see above) can contribute to Creative Exhaustion, but creative exhaustion can develop out of other factors.Â For instance, finishing a book can throw a writer into a creative exhaustion which might last for an hour, a day, or a year.Â Writing a series of books set in the same world might trigger creative exhaustion related directly to continuing to write in that particular world.
At other times, â€œthe well runs dryâ€ – this is a classic line I think every writer I have ever met understands, even if he or she hasnâ€™t experienced it for herimself.Â You, the writer, have just sucked it all up after a run of umpteen stories or books or scripts, and the well (of inspiration and/or creative energy) needs time to re-fill either via theÂ internal and inexplicable spring of creativity, which flows at its own rate, or through external heavy-lifting bucket-hauling such as travel, reading, conversation, lounging on the beach and staring at the sky, long walks, long baths, listening to music, theater and shows, and innumerable other ways of absorbing strength from other sources of creative energy.
Sometimes there is no way out but through.
Sometimes you simply have to give yourself permission to be patient and forgiving and, you know, realistic.
Not that this whole writing thing is especially realistic, but thatâ€™s an entirely different subject.
For any of you suffering burnout at the moment, all I can say is:Â hang in there.
For those of you who arenâ€™t, let me just say:Â wallow in the mud of creativity.Â Life is good.