I’ve been there—several times—and I bet you have too.
You work non-stop on getting that draft finished, going through round after round of revisions, then copy edits. Add on top of that your family life, the day job, and keeping up with personal relationships.
All of that together is bound to lead to a burnout every now and then. You start dreading opening that document, your brain hasn’t come up with any new story ideas, and you even hate the idea of logging online to promote your blog or book. You’re not alone.
Every writer has experienced burnout, but not every writer has been able to come back from it. You can. You can shuck off the exhaustion and lack of motivation and get your career back on track. I’m going to show you how.
Throughout the years, I’ve gone through what I call miniature burnouts. They only last about a couple weeks and, really, these types of burnout are about catching up on sleep and getting back into a routine. However, in 2014, after several full-blown rewrites of my latest release at the insistence of my editor, I suffered from a two-month long burnout I just couldn’t bounce back from.
I’d tried everything I could think of to get myself back to work, but the motivation and the creativity had disappeared. I didn’t think I’d recover. I’d just signed with one of my dream publishers and I didn’t have anything left in me to give.
Whether you’re in the same situation or just want to avoid a major burnout, here are the five major changes I made in my life that lead me to recovery.
Nope. I’m not going to tell you to push through the burnout, work on something else, or try some writing exercises. This is your physical and mental health we are talking about here and the best thing you can do to start your recovery is distance yourself from the very thing that put you in recovery.
This ideally means:
- No writing, revising, or editing whatsoever.
- No social media or blogging.
- No conferences, meetings, emails, or phone calls that pertain to your career.
- Should probably throw no reading e-books in there too.
Crazy, right? But I can personally attest cutting myself off from the digital world—if just for a few days—aids my recovery from burnout. Actually, it can even aid in my personal life.
The reason for this is simple: you need to focus on something else. Mainly, getting yourself healthy again. You don’t need the digital world to do that.
When I sit down for a writing session, I know I’m going to be there a while. So during these high-intensity rewrites of my latest release, I sat down with everything I needed to keep going. That included M&Ms, a log of raw cookie dough, crackers, or pretty much anything else I could mindlessly eat while I worked.
The sugar high kept me going for a good hour or so, then I’d get tired, take a break and snack some more. My energy fluctuated like that all day long. There were points throughout my writing session my fingers would be flying, but then I’d crash and have to take a nap. Not so productive.
And not so good for my body either. When I first dove into my burnout, I didn’t think my nutrition had anything to do with my lack of motivation or blank ideas. But once you learn the things you eat have a direct relationship with your energy level, you start thinking differently.
Changing my nutrition was probably the most important thing I did to help my body and mind recover from burnout. Within the first week of changing to a “clean” diet in order to detox all the crap I’d been shoving in my mouth, I found I had more energy, I was sleeping better, and my mood lightened. Add on top of that losing five pounds in the first seven days, and I’d started feeling like myself again.
I can’t tell you how nice it is to have a few hours to myself to just write. If you have small children at home like I do, you know what I’m talking about. Once the little ones go to bed, it’s nirvana for an author, but with so many late nights during revisions, I’d started giving up on an important part of my mental health.
Getting a full eight hours of sleep gives your brain the time it needs to reboot, and since your brain controls the rest of your body from digestion to coming up with ideas for your next book, you need to give it the time to reset properly.
I know what you’re thinking. There are a thousand things on your “to do” list, the hours after the littles go to bed is your personal time, and you can’t give them up. I used to say the same things, but the truth is without allowing your brain and your body to recover, you’re not coming out of that burnout. Your work will suffer, your family life will suffer, and you’re going to spiral down until you hit bottom.
Make getting at least eight hours of sleep a night a priority. You’ll be amazed at the difference in your mood, your energy level, and the quality of your work with the right amount of rest.
I can cite several major case studies explaining how exercise balances hormones in your body, releases endorphins, and is capable of bringing even the worst burnout victim through recovery. But I won’t. Because you already know exercise is good for your body, your mind, and your energy level. The science has already proven this and there’s no point in hitting you over the head with it.
Instead, I want to focus on how you’re able to get in a quick, satisfying, heart-pumping workout that will raise your energy level and help your body heal from burnout. All in 15 minutes a day. That’s reasonable, isn’t it? Here are three ideas to get those endorphins working for you:
1) Take a walk. Honestly, this is where I do my best thinking anyway. If I’m stuck with a problem in one of my books or I just need to clear my head, I tend to solve many problems at once by getting out of the house. My toddler loves it too. We pack up the stroller and go. No need to buy expensive shoes, no need to pay a fee. Just go and enjoy the fresh air.
2) 7-Minute Workout Challenge. Got 7 minutes? The 7-Minute Workout Challenge app by Fitness Guide, Inc is for you. This combination of exercises blasts calories fast while working your entire body. If you’re feeling good after one routine, try stretching it out to 14 minutes and get the most out of your workout.
3) Yoga. Not up to getting outside or sweating hard? Give this low-impact practice for beginners a try. Don’t worry if you can’t hold the poses long or can’t do some at all. Yoga is a journey with no end. All you need to worry about is feeling and enjoying the practice.
Health professionals have proven our bodies are made up of 65% water, but according to John Ericsson, 75% of Americans suffer from chronic dehydration (Medical Daily). Not only does dehydration lead to higher blood pressure, digestive issues, and skin conditions, but not getting enough water a day can affect asthma, allergies, and cause fatigue. And all that Diet Coke you’re drinking? It’s actually leading to further dehydration.
64 ounces of water a day is the standard-issue prescription for rehydrating. However, it’s actually a lot closer to one ounce per pound of body weight to kick that fatigue and get your cells back in working order.
Once I started tracking my water intake (you can download a free app to do this) and ensuring I drank at least 100 ounces a day, I noticed I had less migraines, I didn’t crave snacks throughout the day, and I was able to focus during the hours my fatigue usually got the best of me.
Burnout can come from a variety of sources. Writers not only stress about producing quality material but how to balance that work with family, a day job, and their personal lives. That’s a lot of pressure and the body—and your mind—can really only take so much.
When you’re starting to feel the side effects of giving too much of yourself and just can’t seem to wrangle the motivation to work on your book, it’s time go back to the basics. Make yourself a priority, take a break, and let your body and mind recover.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your wisdom with us today, Nichole. It's been such a pleasure to have you on the blog!
Do you have any other tips for avoiding writing burnout? How did you work through your most recent slump? Share with us in the comments below!
Award-winning author Nichole Severn writes dark paranormal romance and thrilling romantic suspense. She’s the grand prize winner of the 2014 Heart of the West Contest from the Utah Romance Writers of America Chapter and a psychology graduate from Utah Valley University.
She resides with her very supportive and patient husband, as well as her terrorist of a toddler, in Utah. When she’s not writing, she’s constantly injuring herself running, climbing, practicing yoga, and snowboarding.
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Kristen Kieffer is a writer of fantasy fiction and the creative writing coach behind She's Novel. She's made it her mission to help aspiring authors write sensational novels because obliterating expectations is her jam. Her other passions? Coffee and Tolkien, of course!