Burnout is a major problem for writers, and artists of many stripes. Sometimes we feel we’re in a race, either to finish this book so we can get to the next one, or to get the words out as fast as they’re forming in our minds. I have often sat at the computer far too many hours in a day, with too few breaks. I’ve come back at it day after day, still chasing the story my mind is creating, and still not managing to keep up.
I could produce at my top speed every day of my life, and I still won’t write all of the stories I want to tell. That’s a lot of mental pressure that can add up to unnecessary and unproductive stress if I take myself too seriously.
I am prone to pushing myself a little too hard, to avoiding friends and declining evenings out, to a focus that can be all-consuming.
In the long run, taking breaks and enjoying the other fun things life has to offer, outside of writing, pays dividends in new ideas and a higher quality of life.
If you want to keep making art, don’t be a slave to it. That way lies burnout central.
Do those things that bring you joy. I don’t know what that is for you. For me, it’s books, including fiction and nonfiction on all sorts of weird topics that I get to read for “research.” Hehe. I also love to window-shop in some of the great walking districts in town, while chatting with my mom, or my best friend. I love to get together with friends and break bread together — with more chatting. I love to take short trips to the many lovely places around my home in the Northwest, to see the natural sights and unwind as I can only seem to do when out of town. That’s me. If you don’t have an answer to this question, here’s your invitation to work on it! FUN!!!
See your friends and family. We need our people. Writing is largely a solo gig, and once you’ve really started to develop as a writer, no one will completely understand what you’re up to. But that doesn’t have to be of topmost importance all the time. We need to visit, to laugh and cry together, to touch and be touched. Don’t turn down too many invitations. Take the opportunity to enjoy the company of other humans — ones who aren’t inside your head.
Spend time in nature. Breathing fresh air is good for the soul. Noting the transition of the seasons, the cycle of the moon, the plants and small animals…these are all signals that we are part of something much larger than ourselves; that not everything is in our control, and that what is outside of our control can be beautiful, surprising, and all-together wonderful.
Play with children or animals (best de-stressor I know!!). Play is something that adults don’t do enough. We need laughter, we need small triumphs and comical challenges. We need joy. Remember to play.
When you pay attention to the depth of your well — all of those experiences and connections that make you uniquely you — your writing will naturally improve.
Have you ever had a writing problem that’s been stumping you, and in the oddest location, when your mind is completely focused on something else (you think!) it all comes together, like magic? Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and it began to feel like a scene in a book, and you get the BEST IDEA EVER?
That is the deep well. That is the permission to be a full human, not just a writing machine. You need it. Human experience drives story.
Go out and live.
Your writing depends on the depth of your well.
For a full list of Own Your Writing Career posts in the order they were written, visit my Writers page. I’ll be back with another Own Your Writing Career post next Thursday. Until then, happy writing!!
“Own Your Writing Career: Your Writing Depends on the Depth of Your Well” copyright © 2015 by J.R. Pearse Nelson