Wednesday, August 18, 2010

About Writing: Job Burn Out

Burn out is a problem that anyone can experience in any activity. It is generally associated with work.

Even freelance writers experience a little burn out now and then.

Burn out usually means stress, and a lot of it. Maybe it's from staying up until 2 a.m. to finish an article. Maybe you've spent 10 to many hours on the telephone with an editor. Maybe you've sent out 100 query letters in 10 days. And maybe these activities have left you feeling frustrated, unhappy, and unfulfilled.

Maybe you feel overworked and undervalued. That can easily happen if you're working 40 hour weeks and making very little headway in the financial department.

Whatever the cause, symptoms generally include a little depression, disillusionment, and internal strain. It can also manifest physically with aches, pains, colds, or other problems.

Burn out isn't just stress - it's beyond stress to a point where the person feels empty, unmotivated, and beyond caring. It is an emptiness that comes from feeling used up.

And when you're burned out, any problem suddenly becomes a big problem. Burn out can create a vicious cycle because the sufferer loses motivation and has no hope of moving forward or making a change. The person feels trapped.

A writer suffering from burn out might find herself spending more time staring out the window or playing video games than writing. She might find start hating deadlines, particularly for projects that hold little appeal. "What is the point?" she might think.

She might find herself becoming more irritable with colleagues, friends, and family. Instead of welcoming an inquiry from an editor or a new job, she might be irritated by it. If a writer starts resenting the people who help pay the bills, suspect a little burn out.

Another sign of writer burn out is avoidance. Have you been cleaning instead of writing? Rearranging the bookshelves (first alphabetically and then by subject)? Is any excuse not to write a good one? You better check for burn out.

What Now?

So you think burn out might be the issue. What to do?

A change of scenery might be the answer. Perhaps you need to haul the laptop to the library or the coffee shop and get away from the home office for a while. Maybe you need a bigger change, though, like a vacation (particularly if you haven't had one in a while).

Try to find a balance. Maybe, like me, your writing is your life 24/7. If that is the case, perhaps you need some down time (I find this difficult when I see every event, every person, and everything I read as either a learning experience or a potential article. If you do this, too, you may need a little attitude adjustment.). Go out with your friends. See a movie (and don't analyze the plot, for heaven's sake!).

Other things that might help:

  • Meditation or other relaxation. This is especially helpful at the start of the day. Instead of hopping out of bed and going straight to work, spend time in prayer, writing in a journal, doing stretches, or reading something inspirational.
  • Be healthy. Exercise, eat right, and take Geritol. Long walks are highly recommended.
  • Get some sleep. Insomnia can be a big problem for heavy thinkers. Try visualization exercises when your eyes won't shut. Imagine something peaceful, and then think about particular body parts and imagine them relaxing.
  • Learn to say no. You don't have to accept every writing assignment.
  • Step away from it all. When you're taking that long walk, leave the technology behind. You can't experience all the bounty that reality has to offer if someone is blabbing in your ear on your cellphone. If you must have it for safety reasons, leave it in its case by your side. Unhook from technology and rejoin the world.
  • Be creative. Yeah, yeah, writing is creative, you're all about being creative. Try a different type of creativity. Play a musical instrument, paint, crochet, or find some other project (preferably one that doesn't involve words).
  • Learn to manage your stress. This is a big one and learning this can take a while. The above tips will help with stress, but so will things like balancing your schedule, stepping back from commitments, cutting back on over-time (even 15 minutes can make a difference), taking regular breaks (stand up and stretch every hour; it really helps), prioritizing your work, breaking big projects into smaller segments, and delegating responsibility when you can (honey, can you do the laundry tonight?).
Job burn out can be serious, and even home-based workers need to recognize the symptoms. Just because you get paid to write in your PJs doesn't mean it's all peanut butter and bananas, you know.


  1. Great advice for the writers of the world, and for those who don't like bananas, try the peanut butter on top of ice cream or a stick of celery perhaps.


  2. I forgot to say it looks nice over here.

    I do get writers burnout and have learned to say no (on occasion).

  3. The symptoms for burnout and major depression look remarkably similar. Hm. I've found, as a salary slave, that getting away for a week lessens the symptoms; as a freelancer, that's harder.


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