September is traditionally a time when school comes back to the forefront of our lives. Whether it be shuffling your own children to the bus, returning to teaching, or settling into a new project, our focus shifts away from summer fun to books and schedules. While you may not be in the classroom yourself, you are enrolled in the School of Writing, which doesn’t observe weekends or holidays, and often causes a lot of stress. This relentless and unforgiving schedule can lead to what I call Writer Burnout.
Writer burnout feels like your brain is a tangle of fried wires. You’re sick of the entire writing process, of writing draft after draft, and editing only to edit more. You know you’re supposed to put your head down and keep working, but you’re so tired that you don’t even want, or care, to try. And because we put our hearts and souls into our work, as well as spend time away from family, friends, and children to produce work that often ends up being rejected, the burnout can be detrimental to your goals.
Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. You may think the weight of never having all the answers is too much, but everything you need to know to write a great picture book or YA novel is out there, if you have the patience and understanding to accept that you’ll must become a life-long learner. Being a forever student may sound like a curse, but it’s actually very liberating. Immediately, it removes the pressure you feel to know it all. Imagine if you took a breath and said:
I will remain a student of my craft forever.
I’ll never know exactly how to start a project.
I’ll never finish a project and have all the answers on how to write the next one.
I’ll never know how to edit my draft perfectly.
Allowing yourself to be a forever student makes it easier to approach your work with a sense of wonder instead of a test you don’t know how to ace.
You don’t need to have all the answers now. You must be willing to say, “I don’t know.” And to keep saying it over and over. It’s alright to be confused—it’s what keeps you hungry for answers and willing to explore. It’s what makes writing challenging and creative. Like any journey, the small moments of victory, when you do find a solution, are sweeter because of the work it took to get there.
Slow down and take a seat. Whenever you don’t know something, you seek out resources. My primary resource to increase my writing knowledge is books, but you may want to join a writing group (in person or online) to get real feedback, or go to a writer’s conference for some professional opinions. Sometimes all you need is to revisit the fundamentals of writing through reading blog posts, or the encouragement that comes from knowing all writers encounter fear of the unknown. The benefits of any of these methods can’t be denied—anytime you invest into your own knowledge you won’t come away empty-handed.
If you’re committed to writing come hell or high water, then make a promise to yourself that you won’t let burnout thwart you. Instead, you’ll pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue to learn. This will separate you from the writers who reach their goals from those who will not. Through continuing to be humble enough to be a lifelong student, you’ll train yourself to see each setback as an opportunity to school yourself and improve.
How do you overcome writer burnout? Share in the comments below!