Writer Burnout: Tips for Self-Care

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Feeling stressed and full of writer burnout? I’ve been there.

Just this past fall, I published a novel and the release went beyond my expectations. Then, life happened (in the form of family illness) and the result? Total writer burnout. My plans for writing got completely derailed and, as a result, I got the worst case of writer’s block I’ve had for a while. As deadlines got moved and words failed come, everything else seemed to take its toll. Despite many wonderful reviews, a less-than-favorable review of my book had the ability to ruin my day. My marketing plans seemed to turn to mud in my brain. But was there anything I could have done for self-care to avoid it?

The simple answer is yes. You see, it’s really easy to forget the lows of writing life when publishing is going well or the muse is shouting and the words are flowing. But the truth is, the highs of writing don’t last. Eventually, we all reach a point in our journey when we have to slog through tough times—whether it’s writer’s block, editing, rewriting, killing your darlings, facing rejection or bad reviews, or tough marketing. Knowing that those times are coming can be empowering, though. They give us the ability to prepare. Better yet, they give us the chance to work some self-care tips into our routine to avoid writer burnout. Here are some things to consider:

Comparison leads to burnout

You’ve probably heard the old cliché “comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s a good one, for a lot of reasons, but for writerly self-care, you have to take it to the next level. When we look at the world of books, we tend to see the success of others. That’s because the books on the shelves or on bestseller lists are all successes. They’re the finished products of months and years’ worth of work and effort. What we don’t see when we look at those books, though? Everything the authors had to go to get their books there.

Stop comparing the beginning of your writing journey to the middle of another author’s journey. Most authors don’t hit it out of the park on book one. In fact, the authors that are able to live off their publishing almost always have many books published. Comparison only helps to make you feel as though what you’re doing isn’t enough or makes your accomplishments feel less than stellar.

So breathe. Take some time to remember that before a child learns to walk, they must learn to crawl. And before that, they lay on their back. We don’t look at the baby on its back and expect it to be walking. If your writer journey is in its baby stage, let it be and enjoy that stage. Some of what you want will only come with time and there’s nothing you can do to speed up that process. If you try to rush it, you’ll burn out and quit before you get close.

Schedule = Less writer burnout

When life gets overwhelming, it’s so easy to put your writing to the side. Who has time for something that takes as much mental energy as writing does when there are a thousand things on your mind and demanding your attention? The writer that schedules their writing, that’s who.

Scheduling your writing is a top tip to avoid writer burnout because it helps you place the importance on your writing that it deserves. What’s more, it can be a useful way of making sure the process of writing feels less overwhelming. Say you get up in the morning and write for an hour before work. As long as you show up and give your writing your best effort during that hour, you’ve given yourself a self-care gift. It’s hard to feel guilty about your writing life if you’ve done what you agreed to do for the day—even if some days you write more than others. For more information on how to schedule your writing, check out this post on figuring our if you’re a tasker or a timer.

Take care of your body to avoid burnout

The thing is, if you have equipment for a job, you have to take care of it for it to work well in the future. Leave a tractor out in a field to rust and it won’t work so well when you need it. But you’re a writer—your brain and body are the equipment.

So what does this mean? How can you take care of your own body to make sure you avoid writer burnout? For some it can be a matter of regular exercise. Going for runs or walks can clear your mind and invigorate you. Some writers—including me—even feel that going outside and getting into nature can help dissolve writers block. I often find that ideas come to me about writing when I’m not actively thinking about them.

But taking care of your body also includes what you consume and how you rest and relax. Getting sleep is crucial to brain function. Meditating or prayer can help you feel refreshed. Even the food you eat can factor into feeling good, which can affect your writing. Take a look at this article about writer self-care for your body.

Block negativity and manage your expectations

Above all, if you want to take care of yourself as a writer, it’s really important to block as much negativity as you can. Often, I’ll see writers mention how they never, ever read reviews—even the good ones. Why? Because as easy as it can be to say “don’t let bad reviews bother you,” it’s really hard to divorce yourself from criticism of your work. What you write is personal to you. While developing a thick skin can be useful, it’s not always possible to not feel hurt. For more tips on how to deal with rejection, check out this article on Fiction Fails: Writing Through the Ups and Downs.

Hand in hand with this, try to manage your expectations for what you can actually accomplish. If writing and marketing and your job and parenting and sleep and exercise and social media and a social life sounds like too much—it might be because you’re trying to do too much. Outsource what you can and then set realistic goals for yourself. It may mean hitting pause on something that feels like excess (social media is often the first to go on my list).

At the end of the day, by integrating these methods into my daily life, I was able to get beyond my own writer burnout. And I’m happy to report that the last month has been one of the most productive I’ve been in my writer life for the last few years! But it starts with self-care. Make yourself a priority and everything else will fall into place.

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About Author

Annabelle McCormack is an author and photographer from Baltimore, Maryland. When she's not busy writing, she's chasing around her five kids and enjoying life in the country. To follow her journey, check out @annabellemccormack on Instagram, where she posts regularly about her adventures.

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