I burned out.
Sometimes, it’s not so easy to tell when the work becomes overwhelming and the motivation drops to zero, but this time, it was. I got the book in, nearly 70,000 words written, edited and submitted in under six weeks. I spend the week my partner was away working until three in the morning for days straight and waking up too early to even things out. I have been behind on projects for months and running on empty and one day the engine just wouldn’t start.
We live in a society that demands busyness. It’s valued to be tired, to not sleep enough, to get up earlier and go to bed later and hustle and do it all and never stop moving. As creatives striving toward a career in the business, that sense of needing to be doing and working all the time is compounded. Any moment away from marketing or writing or editing is a moment we fall behind on the journey to success. That motivation can be great–but it can also be problematic.
Because when we burn out, we experience serious physical and emotional symptoms. Our bodies become fatigued and our immune system suffers. Maybe we get sick or maybe we linger in a weird grey space of lethargy, far too vulnerable to mood disorders like anxiety and depression, the other side of the burnout coin.
All that’s to say is, if you’re a writer, it’s important to take care of yourself.
It’s important to watch for the signs of growing clutter or late bedtimes or aches in your jaw from grinding your teeth in your sleep. Allow yourself to sit and eat lunch without reading or watching television, allow yourself another day to finish the project, strive to create a healthy work balance.
Because we are in it for the long haul. Writing is not a sprint, it’s a life-long marathon that requires time management, balance and a healthy respect for yourself. You need to be coach, player, and cheerleader, pushing yourself harder, urging yourself on and knowing when to take yourself off the field. Otherwise, you might end up with an injury that keeps you out of the game for the rest of the season.
When you burn out, you don’t want to do it anymore. You don’t want to bother with starting new stories or checking on submissions or emailing agents. You don’t want to share your work with other writers or even read your favorite authors. You’re just done. And that doesn’t help anyone–trust me.
This burnout, it’s lingering. We moved nine hundred miles from home this summer and the effects of moving in less than three weeks, setting up a new home for ourselves, freelancing full-time and trying to start a writing career are catching up to me. I feel like I haven’t actually stopped running since last June. And I need to listen to myself. I need to compartmentalize, find a way to get the pressing work done and balance the rest. Because I want to be able to write again and I want to be excited about this journey. I don’t want to be tired anymore–and that goes for the emotional exhaustion I feel after five years of rejections, almosts, and reply hazy, ask agains, as well as the physical.
I’m not telling you this story for sympathy. I confess, there’s a certain relief in even writing about this frustrating time. But I do hope you’ll take something from it, a step back, a page break, a breather. There are many reasons you won’t want to burn out, but the most important, most enduring, most accessible one is this–your book won’t get finished.
Everyone’s balance between work and home and art will be different, but I recommend you start to find the one that works for you, otherwise, you’ll be sitting on the other side and wishing that you had.