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?