The Truth About Burnout

The Truth About Burnout

Publishing is obsessed with the image of the overwhelmed writer racing to hit a deadline. Media—and writers themselves—perpetuate this narrative that a truly dedicated author will let their house fall into disarray, forgo showers for days at a time, and will hibernate at home until the deadline is done.

This story is so pervasive that we’ve normalized sacrificing our health to meet deadlines—whether those deadlines are external or ones we’ve set for ourselves. We “complain” about how messy our spaces get while we pursue our creative goals, and yet there’s this thread of pride that we’re willing to work so hard on our craft. We tell ourselves that we can visit with loved ones once the book is done, once we get an agent, once we get a book deal.

Except with every milestone we hit, we shove the finish line further down the career path. We create this never-ending hamster wheel of work, and even when we do achieve amazing things, we don’t let ourselves enjoy that success for more than a few minutes.

Enough is enough, friends. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I can feel your defenses rising, but stay with me a little longer. I’m not here to take away your lofty goals or prescribe a regimen of daily naps. I love ambition. I love big goals. But burnout isn’t required to meet any of them. Overworking doesn’t make you a better or more dedicated writer. Plus, it’s way more fun to chase your writing dreams when you’re not walking a tightrope of exhaustion the entire time.

So, what do you do to reduce burnout?

The good news is that you don’t actually have to throw away all your goals. Burnout isn’t actually related to how full your schedule is. It’s not dictated by the number of deadlines you have, how many rejections you’ve gotten, or how many hours you work at your Day Job.

Burnout has everything to do with your mindset.

A Tale of Two Writers

Imagine two writers with near identical situations. They both work full-time, have a novel idea they want to write, and have a goal to query agents by the end of the year. They have the same level of writing experience and talent.

Author A’s mindset sounds a little like this:

  • I should have finished outlining last week. I’m so behind.
  • If I don’t start drafting by DATE, I’ll never be done on time.
  • *Gets invited to lunch* Ugh, I don’t have time for this. I’m already behind on my revision schedule. *Declines invite*
  • If I don’t hurry, I’ll miss the thriller craze.
  • What if no one offers rep? Am I just wasting my time?

Meanwhile, Author B has an internal monologue more like this:

  • I want to finish up the outline this weekend.
  • Ooh, I bet I’ll be ready to draft on DATE.
  • *Gets invited to lunch* I’m actually writing then, but could we get together this weekend?
  • Writing these thriller twists is harder than I expected. It’s fun trying to figure them out though.
  • That bit a dialogue was AMAZING!

Who do you think is more likely to burnout on their path to querying agents? If you guessed Author A, you are absolutely right.

Now, I’m not suggesting you need a brain that’s full of sunshine and rainbows. I’m not saying you will never have any doubts. You will. Even after ten novels (three of which have been traditionally published) I still have doubts, too!

But when I catch myself saying lots of “I have to __” or “I should _____” or “I need to _____”, when I catch myself hating everything I’m working on, I know how to pause.

I can take a second and find the things that ARE working.

I can remind myself why this project is fun, why it’s something I WANT to do. No “need” or “should” required for motivation.

And by making that small shift (which isn’t always easy but is always worth it) I get to enjoy the process of creation. I create better words—and often MORE words—than when I’m stressed and pushing my brain past its limit.

And that’s what I want for you. It’s what I want for ALL creatives.

I hope you’ll join me in shifting the narrative. The more we enjoy the creative process—the more we reject the idea that we have to be miserable and exhausted to succeed—the better chance we’ll have of achieving our wonderfully ambitious goals.

With zero burnout required.

*Feature photo by Tara Winstead (Pexels)

"Query with Confidence: A Survival Guide for the Emotional Rollercoaster of Publishing," presented by Isabel Sterling. Watch now!
Isabel Sterling is a traditionally published author, certified life coach, and host of The Author Burnout Coach. Her latest YA release, THE COLDEST TOUCH, is out now with Razorbill.
More posts by Isabel Sterling.
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