“Writing is not everything,” Lisa Shearin said in a 2010 Writer Magazine. “And if you want longevity in this business, play isn’t just important–it’s critical. We get so intensely focused on having achieved the dream and working so hard to keep the dream going, that we’re blind to the signs that if we keep going down that road at a fast pace, that dream could quickly turn into a nightmare.”
Recipe for Burnout
I was very glad to read her opinion piece–and I wish that message was published more often. I wish someone had said it to me years ago. Having a healthy drive is good, but letting yourself be driven–by others or your own inner critic–will eventually ruin the joy you originally brought to your writing.
“Dreams are meant to be savored and enjoyed,” Shearin says. “You do have to work hard, but sometimes, the work can wait.”
Great advice, but what if you’re already burned out? What if–from overwork, juggling too many jobs and family members, a major loss, or chronic illness–your ideas have dried up? I’ve been there twice in my writing life, and it was a scary place to be.
Peggy Simson Curry spoke about this in a Writer Magazine archive article first published in 1967. She detailed the process she followed to “slowly work [her] way back to writing” and discover what had killed her creative urge in the first place.
Face the Fear
I think most writers would agree with Peggy that fear is at the basis of being unable to write–fear that a writer can’t write anything worth publishing. Burned out writers constantly think of writing something that will sell.
“This insidious thinking,” Curry says, “persuades the writer to question every story idea that comes to him. He no longer becomes excited with glimpses of theme, characters, setting, threads of plot. He can only ask desperately, ‘But who will want it?’”
Among other suggestions, this writer said it was very important to deliberately get outside, away from the writing, and just enjoy the world around you. In other words, play. [This is one of the best things about having grandkids living close by!]
Coming out of burnout can be done, but it often takes methodical, small daily disciplines to do it. For me, digging in the flower gardens and stitching small quilted wall hangings finally unclogged my creativity. Things that help will be different for each writer.
Have you ever felt burned out with your writing? If so, what helped you to come out of it and write again? If you have a minute, please share an idea with other readers.