Burnout

I don't think I'm there yet, but I'm smelling smoke. I'm not myself these days. That is to say I'm not the same bottomless pit of energy and focus that I've been for the past several years running. Twelve years to be exact. I've worked very hard to get to where I am in my writing career and I'm not even halfway to where I want to be. I don't want to admit that I'm tired, because I can't afford to be tired. I'm hoping this current lack of energy and focus is a temporary glitch. My creative side catching its breath. Maybe it's a wake up call. Readjust your mindset or you will burn out.

This morning, while googling my symptons in search of answers, I ran across an article by author, Barbara Bretton. She talks frankly about her own professional burnout and recovery. Like I said, I'm not there yet, but I saw a lot of me in her account.

"By identifying myself solely as a writer, I had effectively cut myself off from new experiences and old pleasures and as a result the creative well had run dry. For years I had done nothing but write, talk about writing, think about writing. I'd mastered the art of saying no to invitations from friends and after awhile those invitations stopped coming...and I never even noticed.

In the name of professional responsibility I'd narrowed my world down to the point where there was nothing but me and my computer and a never-ending banner of deadlines waving in the breeze
."

Oh, boy. I'm so close to that I can smell it. But even as I acknowledge the danger of drying up from lack of refilling the creative well, to ease back on my schedule, my expectations, smacks of 'not trying hard enough'. Of 'losing the grip on my dream.' Realistically, something inside of me isn't allowing me to cut me some slack. Being creative is draining. Even more so, being creative on demand. I don't think I ever thought of it in those terms. Ms. Bretton put it beautifully.

"Being creative on demand is tougher than digging ditches for a living and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. We're incredibly lucky to be able to earn a good living doing what we love most in this world but being creative on demand takes its toll.

What we're actually doing is imposing left brain restrictions on right brain activities, the psychological equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. In an ideal world, the writing of a novel would determine its own schedule, the characters and plot would set their own pace.

Unfortunately we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a world of deadlines and due dates and expectations, and if we want to carve a place for ourselves in publishing, a place that will last, we have to learn to make the creative side of ourselves coexist with the professional. The secret to longevity as a writer is found in the balance between the two
."

For an inspiring and enlightening read, check out this entire article. Special thanks to Ms. Bretton on sharing her story. I'm bookmarking it in my effort to avoid burnout. If you don't see me here daily, as is my norm, it's because I'm off finding balance. *g*

Comments

Cynthia said…
Oh thank you for this post, I so needed it. I've been struggling for . . . I don't know how long to put words to paper. I took a break to read a couple style books and I haven't written a word since. Well, not unless you count the outline tweak I did. Typical of me I've created an amazing outline I'm afraid to dive into.

At least I've put some words to paper today. Of course it's just putting a very erotic dream on paper but hey, any port the storm right?

Sorry about your burnout, or near burnout. But thanks for the article, I can't begin to count the number of times I've had some tell me that being a writer is "easy." Same group of people I'm afraid who scoff at my high school and college grades because I wasn't taking "hard" classes.

Don't beat yourself up too hard. We all need to step away, catch our breath before diving back in. Speaking of which, I have a half written scene screaming my name.
Jordan Summers said…
Great entry, Beth. It's so easy to forget. I feel the same way every time I think about slowing down. The guilt is horrendous.
Bethany said…
This is a WONDERFUL post Beth... as is Barb's. And man, is it ever true. You always here that work/life balance is hard to make work. But when you write/work/life balance it gets even harder, doesn't it?
Beth Ciotta said…
Cynthia, I'm sorry for your struggles, but glad you enjoyed the article. At least we know we're not alone... or crazy. LOL I know what you mean about people saying 'writing is easy'. I kind of feel like--it is and it isn't. You probably know what I mean by that. What's frustrating is when someone thinks you can whip off a story with no thought whatsoever. You want to say, "If it's so easy, you do it." Right? ;)

Thank you for the encouragement. I'm rooting for you too. Goooo, Cynthia!
Beth Ciotta said…
Yup, Jordan. The guilt is horrendous. Why do you think that is?

Glad you got something out of the post Bethany. And yes, Wasn't Ms. Bretton's article great? I don't do so well with the balance thing. I've known this for awhile, but I'm really beginning to feel it. You're juggling act is even harder than mine. You've got a wee one. Hang in there!
Finding balance. We all need to have that tatooed on our foreheads, I guess!
Gabriele C. said…
I may end up 'un'professional but I'm not going to play the extreme deadline race. Since I'm working on several projects now I can come up with a book a year for the first three years but after that it's a book every other year at best. I won't make a living by that, but I can keep the fun in what I'm doing. With the employment situation in Germany as it is, I'm going to have crappy day jobs for a long time to come, and I don't want my writing turn into another of these.

Good luck balancing your writing and your life, everyone. :)
Roni said…
This is a very thought-provoking topic, Beth. When I was doing a lot of articles I started to feel stressed with deadlines, etc, so I know what you mean. I learned something eventually which I'll share. Make time for yourself and for pleasure! Just take a day off! You must "replenish the well" with fun activities or you can suffer serious burn out. While it's great to be ambitious, remember to keep things in balance. I know try to get together with aq friend for lunch at least once a month. I also try to take Fri. afternoons to relax and read for a couple of hours.
Beth Ciotta said…
Tattooed somewhere, Toni. That's for sure. :)

Gabriele, that's not 'un'professesional. That's setting boundries. You seem to know your limit and, even better, are okay with it. Good for you! Plus, so important, you're determined to keep writing 'fun'. Yay, Gabriele!

Roni, thank you for the keen insight and words of wisdom. Now I just have to practice them!! :)
Jordan Summers said…
I think it's work ethic. Depending on how you were brought up, you either have a strong one or not. Also, I think we've all been around long enough to understand the level of productivity needed to succeed in this business. Needless to say, it doesn't leave a lot of down time.
Scott Oden said…
That's why I play video games on the weekends, or go out to dinner or movies with friends, or, if I'm really lucky, get in a session of Dungeons and Dragons (man, I'm a geek) -- it gets me away from my computer and out into the world . . . albeit the fringe. I still have trouble with burnout, though mine is more topic driven. For right now, the idea of writing another book set in antiquity makes me literally ill. Thank goodness for the Crusades, eh? ;)
Anna Lucia said…
Beth, Beth, PLEASE take care of yourself. What would you say to a friend who you saw working this hard to the exclusion of all else, and who started talking about how worn she/he was?

Time we need to relax, to service relationships, to refill the well, to live our non-writing lives is just as important as time spent writing, editing, promoting... We HAVE to learn to place the same emphasis and priority on it, and approach those needs in a professional and dedicated way, too.

:-( Please take care.
Beth Ciotta said…
Jordan, that sounds right. Work ethic. I have a very strong one, and I guess that's what rules me. Not that I would trade good work ethics for the world, but I do need to learn balance. I think it's more of a mental adjustment (for me anyway) than anything.
Beth Ciotta said…
Scott, I had a vision of you playing your games and hanging with friends, and it made me smile. :) You also gave me food for thought when you mentioned being more burned out on 'topic'.

Things that make you go, hmmm.
Beth Ciotta said…
Anna, all I can say is a person would be lucky to call you 'friend'.

Thank you for your wisdom and concern. I'm working on it. :)
Charlene Teglia said…
Great article. I'm actually trying to figure out now how many books/novellas/etc. I want to produce each year in order to have a sustainable pace and keep balance in my life.
Brooks said…
I understand "burnout" from the perspective of being responsible for someone else's health care.

For someone experiencing creative issues due to deadlines, etc. ...an idea from someone who probably doesn't know what he's talking about:

Self Publishing!

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