When you decide to take writing seriously—to work towards making it a career rather than a hobby—the self-applied pressure can be enormous. Advice flows freely from successful writers: write every day, publish or perish, engage on social media, rejections are fuel. When you come to writing later in life it can feel like you’ve started a race hours after other competitors have sprinted towards the finish line.
In the past I’ve blogged about the importance of reflecting on your progress. This is vital if you hope to survive the ultra-marathon race of carving out a literary career. However, it’s also necessary to give yourself permission to take time off, to disengage from the writing community for a while. How else can writers hope to avoid suffering from burnout?
Ah, but I love writing; it is my leisure activity, you might say. I’ve certainly been guilty of thinking like this. A friend of mine recently went on a cruise with his family. When I asked him how he enjoyed it, he told me he’d added 6000 words to his work in progress. Even a week away with his wife and kids was overshadowed by his drive to write every day, to make progress on his beloved novel. At the expense of spending precious time with family.
My day job is demanding, and at times exhausting. I’ve learnt over the years to pace myself, to control my hours and schedule regular holidays in order to maintain enthusiasm and avoid burnout. I don’t see why writing should be any different. When you push yourself too hard, your mental health suffers, as does creativity.
And so I come to the reason for the absence of recent blog posts, for my reduced engagement over January in particular. I gave myself permission to take a break from writing, to only do what I felt inspired to do, and to enjoy spending time with family and friends.
After a couple of weeks of reading for pleasure and relaxation an interesting thing happened. I wanted to read the first draft of my novel that had been lying fallow since November, and was able to do so with a fresh, objective eye. I picked up my phone and typed a poetic passage of observation, the seed of a new flash piece, while lying on a poolside beach chair. And I couldn’t wait to return home to tackle the massive task of beginning a structural edit on my work in progress.
Have you suffered from writing burn-out? Do you have any tips for avoiding it?