Burnout- How to Avoid Writer’s Overuse Syndrome

After a long bike ride or run, I stretch out and head for my Normatec compression boots, kick back with a beverage (yeah, sometimes a Kiltlifter), a plate of nachos, and let the boots massage the aches and pains from heavy exercise.. It’s a planned, forced rest.  

Strapped into compression boots, you can’t lie to yourself and say you’re ‘resting’, while guilting yourself into chores. Some vacuuming here, some dishes to put away there. Before you know it, it’s bedtime, you haven’t given yourself any real recovery, and you are too exhausted to care.

Repeated regularly, this pattern is a recipe for disaster.

Overworked muscles and joints can ultimately become restricted, inflamed, and injury prone. In the triathlon world, we call them chronic overuse injuries- pulled muscles, something torn, tendonitis. In addition, your love for the sport can take a hit (a psychological overuse injury). You can eventually burnout on the sport. Focusing just on work-outs, over and over, can start cutting into your enjoyment until it becomes just another chore (I’m exhausted and ache, but I have to do my scheduled 10 mile run today!). Coupled with a physical injury, this can lead to depression (especially as you sit on the sidelines injured, watching the other runners, cyclists, triathletes, etc.).

How do Writers Get Burned Out?

Writers have probably already guessed where I am going with this. I constantly hear writers talking about self-imposed mandatory daily word counts. I’ve heard many say they struggle through days when their imagination has abandoned them, forcing the words onto the paper. This can be especially true after grueling writing stretches, like NaNoWriMo. With multiple WIPs being created at once, the pressures of upcoming pitch contests (Oh! My! Gosh! I have to write a synopsis? Kill me!), plus agent submissions to deal with, some writers have shared they feel too pressured to take even one night off. Maybe they don’t trust that it will be a single night, fear that resting can become the default. Maybe they truly believe they can’t be a writer unless they crunch out a certain amount of product per unit time. I don’t know.

Man holding head  in burnout surrounded by his stressors, including a computer, coffee, a camera, and a scene clapboard
Heading For Burnout

What I do know is that I’ve seen writers push and push, writing and writing, forcing themselves through the ‘workouts’ (3000 words every day no matter what, submissions, writing sprints, etc.), with no chance to reset, no rest for the heart and soul, no chance to let the imagination breathe. I’ve seen some of these same people head down the pathway where writing becomes a chore. Their social media posts begin to include a higher percentage related to writer’s block and self-doubt. (For help with writer’s block click here ;for help with self-doubt click here ). These writers develop a kind of overuse syndrome, a burnout. Coupled with sitting on the writing sidelines, watching happy posts from people finally getting contracts to publish, a writer can head toward outright depression.

Sound familiar?

Have you recently stepped onto the writing pathway, afraid to take a rest day for fear of falling behind? Or have you been wandering the pathway for some time, now feeling a weariness from the seemingly overwhelming task at hand? Keep reading–help protect your creative mind.

Steps to Avoid Overuse Syndrome and Burnout as a Writer

If you really want to be a writer, you must take care of the very tools that make it possible: your imagination and love for writing.

  • Make a commitment to yourself to take care of the precious tools that make writing a possibility: your imagination and your love of writing.
  • Always keep in mind why you started writing and reassess your imagination’s exhaustion level.
  • Promise to take even just one day a week to avoid overuse symptoms- set aside that self-imposed mandatory word count (or submission or 500th edit to the same manuscript), get off of social media, and allow your unfettered imagination a chance to run free. Give your writing muscles a rest. A reset. A new beginning.
  • Be rest directed. What? Sometimes when we rest, we spend most of the time stressed over resting. Try to focus on resting. Make a list of things you give yourself permission to do during the brain-break from writing.

Already Have Burnout?

It’s not too late, even if you already have signs of burnout. If you really love writing, help yourself get back into the mental shape to move ahead. Award winning author Jami Gold offers suggestions for dealing with burnout and re-invigorating your creativity, such as taking a walk, listening to compelling music, or re-reading a book to stimulate your imagination and desire to write. Her recommendations of 12 ways to recover from burnout can be found here.

Don’t force yourself back to writing too soon. And most importantly, give yourself permission to heal.

Give it a try.

And rest assured (see what I did there?) giving your writing muscles a recovery period is not cheating.

It’s actually the hardest good thing you may force yourself to do as a writer.

Happy Writing!


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