Keeping the spark alive: how to conquer burnout

Burnout is something all writers face at some point in time. As much as we love what we do, sometimes it feels like the creative tank has been depleted. Either the ideas are lacking, or the motivation has dried up, or maybe both– either way, it can be a maddening cocktail of emotions.

I fell into an unmotivated spiral sometime last month. It was just after the New Year, when you’re supposed to make resolutions and feel energized and ready to tackle anything. Instead, I just felt tired. I chalked it up to the fact that growing a human takes a lot of energy, and it was normal for me to not feel like tackling writing projects with my usual aplomb. Plus, I had other things on my mind… decorating a nursery, creating a baby shower registry, looking at baby name books. But regardless, I was used to fitting writing in with everything else going on in my life, and couldn’t figure out what had changed.

It was only after talking to my husband about it one night that I figured out the root of what was going on. He helped me figure out what was missing, and why I wasn’t feeling as passionately about writing as I did before. A lot of it came down to how I was using my time. Part of the problem: I was wasting too much time mindlessly scrolling through social media (I’m sure we’ve all been there!), and comparing myself to other people. I wasn’t even aware I was doing this until I heard the words come out of my mouth. Sometimes, you have to actively remind yourself that what you see on social media is someone else’s highlight reel. We all have ups and downs, but we tend not to share the lows.

The other problem (which isn’t even a problem as much as a new situation) is that I didn’t have one project to focus all of my energy on and set deadlines for, but instead, was trying to work on several projects at once. I just didn’t know how to implement a schedule to work on all of them and be productive, and also remain interested in pursuing each one. I felt like my attention span had dwindled to that of a fruit fly– bouncing from one idea to the next, but never resting long enough to give it a chance to become something.

So how am I going to fix this? First, by admitting that it’s okay to take breaks sometimes. If you’re someone like me who tries to write every day, not writing can feel extremely detrimental, and like you’re going backwards instead of moving ahead. But this isn’t always the case. Forcing it can make it feel like a chore and not like something you love, and I never want to be in that position with writing.

I’m also stepping back from social media a bit, and choosing more set hours to be online, instead of being half-there a lot of the time. Often, after a weekend was over, I didn’t feel rested at all. I had spent a good chunk of it on my phone, responding to emails that weren’t urgent in nature just to get them out of my inbox (I’m a bit obsessive about never having any unread messages linger there). But the truth is, those emails and tweets can wait. I’m making the conscious decision to unplug and focus my energy in places that make me feel creatively replenished, not drained.

My main mission is to learn how to write unselfconsciously again, something that seems instinctive but really isn’t. I need to write for me and pursue ideas that excite me, even if they don’t go anywhere. Instead of thinking “what if” in a negative way: “what if this doesn’t sell? What if this is stupid? What if I’m wasting my time?” I’m trying to turn “what if” into a positive: “What if I love this and it turns into the best thing I’ve written?” Because I know from experience that even writing that goes nowhere is not a waste of time. It’s a learning experience– and those ideas that trail off, that don’t quite make it into books, are always something that can be pursued later.

I wanted to share all of this in case anyone else out there is feeling the same way… burned out, exhausted, uninspired. You’re not alone, and you haven’t lost your talent. You’re a writer, and these are the realities we struggle with. What we do– creating something out of nothing– takes a lot, and we don’t reward ourselves enough. Take a break. Read lots of books. Reorganize your office. Go back to your characters with excitement, not fear. And write your little heart out.

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