Top 10 signs of Writer Burnout

It’s coming up on eight years that I’ve been writing toward publication (averaging 40 hours per week above and beyond my 30 hour per week day job). I recently moved my Massage Therapy business closer to home and have had to work at building a new clientele (since my day job is still supporting my writing life). I also just celebrated my two year Indie Publishing anniversary in September (sometimes logging as many as 80 hours per week between writing and marketing). I’m not ashamed to say that these past six months have been a struggle to keep all the balls in the air that are required to run two businesses, stay healthy and fit, and keep my generally happy disposition. PJ Sharon here, and today, I’m talking about BURN OUT. 

Whether you’re already published (indie or otherwise), or you’re working toward publication, this writing life is not easy, is seldom glamorous, and let’s face it, is anything but a healthy lifestyle. We sit too much, work into the wee hours, turn more often to chocolate than celery sticks, and our to-do lists make Santa’s naughty and nice scroll look like a grocery list. It’s no wonder there is such a high incidence of burn out among writers. But how does one know when enough is enough? And what do we do about it?

Here are the TOP TEN signs you may be suffering from burn out (according to me):

1) You spend an entire weekend watching re-runs of The Walking Dead marathon for the third time and call it “research”.

2) You spend more time standing in a hot shower “thinking” about your story than writing it.

3) You would rather be in a dentists chair or at a gynecological exam than preparing for another blog hop.

4) The word “marketing” becomes synonymous with “kill me now”.

5) When you take a rare night off and go to dinner with your spouse, your to-do list spills onto your napkin and you start adding notes to the palm of your hand so you won’t forget to add to your list when you get home.

6) You swear at your computer in a disgusted rage as your inbox populates itself with the 400 e-mails that come through daily.

7) When the word “deadline” gives you that sinking sense of doom that immediately makes you want to procrastinate.

8)  You would rather clean the toilet, vacuum, or wash dishes than work on revisions, update your website, or plan your next marketing strategy.

9) You feel so overwhelmed that you want to quit your job, quit writing, and move to Costa Rica to sell pottery on the beach (or some other idyllic life that is not your own, because everyone seems happier and saner than you).

10) You’re exhausted when you go to bed, and equally as exhausted when you wake up, and you’re not sure if you care whether it’s a Monday or a Friday.

Please forgive me for making light of an all too common and serious condition. Chronic burn out can lead to physical, mental and emotional health problems and genuine signs of burn out should not be ignored.

So what’s a crazy writer supposed to do?

1) Find a good therapist. I’m serious. A good counselor can help you put things into perspective (when you’ve clearly lost it and are convinced the world will end if you miss a deadline), support you without judgment, and assist you in discovering coping strategies that your addled brain cannot come up with on its own. Sometimes, even medication can help. I tend to lean toward the natural approach, but if someone’s got a pill that can improve my patience with the new Windows 8.1 upgrade, I’d consider taking it.

2) Let go. Just let go! If you’re in the writing business for the long haul, pacing yourself is key. None of us can do it all and do it all well, all the time. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! So instead of beating yourself up or making yourself crazy, decide what is most important to you. Creative success, peace of mind, and happiness, or business success and constantly feeling like you’re losing yourself to the work? When all else fails, go back to what you loved in the first place. Write your stories and stop reaching for the brass ring. If it’s meant to come, it will come, but losing your mind trying to do it all is not the answer. I have to believe that if we simply keep writing quality fiction and putting it out there, something will eventually stick. (I’ve heard that it takes Indies 10 books on their cyber-shelf before they find steady growth in their readership.) Jeesh! I’m glad this is my retirement plan for fifteen years down the road. Baby steps, grasshoppers!

3) Take care of you first! I know we have a responsibility to our families, but if we are overwhelmed, tired, grumpy, and never present, we are no good to them! The answer…nurture yourself first. Get some rest, eat something healthy, drink plenty of water, and get some exercise and fresh air!

For example, I’ll be celebrating the upcoming solstice with a few of my women friends of the earthy-crunchy persuasion (yogis, massage therapists, and energy workers). My husband has agreed to play host, bless his heart. We’ll have a nice healthy pot-luck buffet followed by a bon fire–complete with drumming. Connecting to the earth is a powerful tool for healing–both for us and for the earth. If this seems a little too “pagan” for your liking, I highly recommend finding time to observe some holiday rituals that feed your soul and your spirit, parts of us that are often abandoned to our “online” lifestyle. Yes, I’ll be celebrating Christmas with friends and family, but it comes with it’s own kind of stresses as most of you can attest. Gathering with like-minded women to share our love of nature has such a different energy and I’m really excited for the opportunity to reconnect with my “heart-centered’ community.

The point is, find something to get excited about that has nothing to do with your writing life.

4) Prioritize and organize. I don’t know about you, but my desk space can quickly become overrun with paperwork, notes, notebooks, and bills. As all the clutter encroaches, I can feel my stress level rise. It’s worth it to take a half a day and just clear the debris. Get your space organized and start fresh on a new to-do list. Anything that has been put off from your previous lists must go at the top. I know this is a challenge because there are so many more pressing issues than re-designing and ordering new bookmarks. But trust me, those insignificant naggers will weigh you down. Clearing out the bottom of the to-do bin gives you a sense of completion. What you find there might also prove to be the tasks you can hire out or ask for help with from some creative type in your tribe.

5) Lastly, try to remember the joy of writing.

You know that quitting isn’t the answer. The characters talking in your head that want their story told will never allow that. But if writing everyday is making you miserable…stop. If you love writing but hate marketing, don’t do it for a while. Give yourself a week or a month away from promoting your work or forcing yourself to write. Yes, sales may suffer, but try not to focus on that. The numbers will come back around when you publish that book you’re working on. Do what you can do, do it to the best of your ability, and keep breathing. Be a part of the life that is happening around you, and be gentle with yourself and others through the holidays.

Peace and blessings, friends.


How many of you are suffering or have suffered from burnout? What did you do to treat it? 


23 thoughts on “Top 10 signs of Writer Burnout”

  1. I’m trying to recover from burnout. My day job is stressful enough but I didn’t schedule my writing stuff well and had back to back to back deadlines because I had a hard time saying no to things that might propel my career. But all of that made my brain tired. I don’t even want to read! For about a month I’ve just been vegging out. Watching cartoons. Spending way way too much time on Pinterest. I have ideas for books. Lots of them. I just haven’t been able to get my butt in gear and shake this dead feeling. The good news is that I’ve started writing again tonight. Five pages. A little over a thousand words. I need to get back into that routine. I heard that traditionally published authors shouldn’t even consider leaving their day jobs until they have ten books in print/published. That means I’ve got to get cracking!

    1. Try not to feel too guilty about taking time away from the writing. Even beleaguered soldiers need a “leave” once in a while to decompress. I think if we force the writing, the quality suffers as well as our health (mental and otherwise). it may take ten books, or it may only take five, but as i said; if you’re in it for the long haul, slow and steady wins the race. You don’t have to write them all today:-) Glad you’ve found your way back to writing, Sugar.

  2. I just keep plugging along. Feels like shoveling the tide sometimes, but it does get the job done in a slow, painful, sluggish way. Eleven published novels, and I realize this is as much part of the process as those great days when you can’t wait to get to the computer. The balance is hardly equal, but that’s just the way it is. If writing books was an easy thing to do, every human would be an author, right?

  3. Paula, Uh oh, I refuse to suffer from burnout. I have paid my dues through the years. No more burnout for me. All your viewpoints are great. The paragraph that you wrote, “let go” is a super answer, along with the others. I still have my work at the museum that takes lots of time away from my writing. But what can I do? It is an obligation and responsibility that I said “yes” to many years ago, before I began to write. When I am working for the museum, I let go of my writing, and when I am writing, I let go of the museum work. And what about all those other things we have in in our lives, like husbands and children and friends. What about friends? Don’t give any of it up, the things that make a person, and you are a terrific person. I love that you wrote on your palm when your list got wrecked. And that’s ok, keep those lists, it takes the pressure off your memory and when you start crossing off as things get done or don’t need to anymore, it feels like a miracle happening in your life. Like you pointed out to Sugar, never, ever feel guilty. Oh yes, one more thing that I try to do is to say, “NO!” Change of subject–you know what I did this morning while watching the gorgeous snow flakes dust the earth? I baked, lots of delicious cookies to give to others. Others that fill my life with joy, wellness, and friendship. The writing will wait for me. I treasure each comment you make on my posts, and I treasure yours as well. Thank you for another beautiful post Paula. You are amazing.

    1. *gggg* You’re making me blush, Gail. Thank you for the kind words. And yes, saying NO is an art form best learned if you want to keep your sanity:-) I’ve gotten very good at knowing my limits and setting boundaries.

    1. Your FB post and many others, Jo. Especially with the holidays coming, everyone is under pressure to “perform”. Writers have a really hard time taking time off, given those dreaded deadlines and the constant voices in our heads. But sharing the load, even if it’s just to vent, can sometimes let off some steam and make the journey a little less lonely.

  4. What a timely post. But now I feel guilty ’cause I’m NOT working on a first job, or second job. Or third. I’m not working at all.

    My stress is emotional and my ship is lost at sea. But dang, I certainly don’t want to see a therapist. Can’t afford it and I know I’ll tighten up and get back on track. Just needed a boost like this post. 🙂

    1. No guilt, Carole! A good therapist once told me that “guilt is an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and unexpressed anger.” I tend to agree. Whether you’re a full or part-time writer, published or unpublished, we artistic types tend to be hard on ourselves, expecting perfection and superhuman performance–standards that are unreasonable and unattainable most of the time. If we could all kick back and relax, write what we want, when we want, burn out wouldn’t exist. But the “writing world” doesn’t work that way. There is always more to do. Always someone’s expectations to meet and exceed, and always someone ahead of us whose getting there faster than we are.

      I keep coming back to my favorite word, BALANCE. If only we could focus on doing the things that keep us happy, healthy, and moderately productive…hmmm…sounds good in theory, right?

  5. Well timed post for me. As an unpublished author, my burnout isn’t coming from pressing deadlines, but from the varied/conflicting advice I receive/read about what to do or not to do along the road to publication, the ups and downs of feedback/rejections, and so on. Sometimes I feel like there is a secret code to unlock the door, but I’ll never be smart enough to figure it out. I have to admit, the nagging doubts have sapped a lot of the fun out of writing lately.

    I guess you might say I’m feeling very Grinchy right now…LOL. But, it helps to know I’m not alone.

    I think I’m going to follow the advice in your item #3 until after the holidays. Hopefully time spent celebrating with my family and friends will give me the boost I need to keep trying. All of your other advice is great, too. Maybe I can ask Santa to clean/organize my desk for me, too! 😉

    1. Hi Jamie, the fact that you keep hanging in there says a lot. The writer’s life, at any stage, is fraught with its own challenges. Pre-published writers have to deal with the pitching, querying, submitting, rejection merry-go-round which in itself is exhausting and demoralizing. Do you have a website first? Build your social networks? Get involved in Yahoo groups? Start a blog? The list of questions is endless, and the answers change daily. You face a gauntlet of information and advice that would discourage the mightiest of cyber warriors. I feel your pain! But I say trust your gut and accept that there is no one way to do it all right. The path is different for every writer.

      Once you make the leap to being published you’re always one deadline, one book, one review, and one promotion away from “climbing to the top” whatever that means. Then again, once you get to the top, staying on top has a whole new set of stresses. It’s so important to keep things in perspective, as I mentioned above. Think of how far you’ve come, how much your writing has improved, and how much you’ve learned about the business of publishing. The break-neck speed at which the industry changes makes it all that much harder to push the boulder up the hill, but just try to focus on the important stuff…the writing and you. None of it is worth losing yourself over. keep breathing and put one foot in front of the other.

      Peace and blessings through the holidays, my friend!

  6. Excellent post on avoiding burnout. I did experience burnout while I was in graduate school and have worked to avoid it ever since. I also did my master’s degree thesis on burnout.

    I have a whole chapter on self-care for writers in The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing, but some quick points I’d add here are exercise–even if it’s taking a short walk, deep breathing, eating semi-healthy and taking vitamins, and focusing on gratitude and the fact that a writing career is a CHOICE–a positive choice.

    1. I have your book awaiting me on my Kindle, Debra. And I totally agree about the exercise. I consider it a non-negotiable to-do! Even 20-30 minutes a day combined with a healthy diet keeps me fit and, most days, as if I can tackle whatever comes my way:-) Thanks for stopping by.

    1. The thing is, Sarra, that getting on top is hard, but staying on top is near impossible without making yourself sick and crazy. I’m always asking myself…is it worth my health? The answer is invariably, NO! Do what you can, and let the rest go, right? In the grand scheme of things, is writing one more book and writing it faster going to change my life for the better? Probably not. Keeping my eyes on the long term goal (for me, that’s a solid retirement income), keeps things into perspective. I figure at two books a year, when I retire in fifteen years, I’ll have at least 20-30 titles out there. If I’m not making money at it by then…well…jeesh!

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