7 surprisingly easy ways to fight burnout and recharge your writing batteries

November 8, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Productivity 

fighting writer burnoutDid you see how I mixed a metaphor in that headline?

I’m tired. It’s after 9 p.m. and I’m still working. Frankly, I’m feeling a little burned out and it’s affecting my writing.

I know I’m not alone. You feel it too, don’t you?

Sure, we writers don’t do backbreaking work like moving furniture or digging ditches, but we do brainbreaking work. Reading. Researching. Notetaking. Writing headlines. Turning features into benefits. Proofing and editing. Juggling projects. Meeting deadlines.

It’s tiring. Do this day after day for months, and you’re going to suffer the consequences.

So what can we do? Here are a few ideas.

Take breaks. Just as you can’t jog forever, you can’t write forever. You have to stop and give your writing muscles a break. Walk away from your desk. Stroll outside. Take a power nap. Just stop working for a few minutes.

I’m lucky to have a home office. I can go outside, walk around my garden, breathe fresh air, stroll around the block, and clear my mind. It really doesn’t matter what you do. It just matters that you do something else.

Get physical. There’s something about physical activity that drains away stress and refreshes the mind. And the harder the physical activity, the more mentally refreshed you feel. This has been called “active relaxation.”

It’s partly about doing something mindless. It’s partly about body chemistry. But I guarantee that even mild activity, such as walking, can do wonders for your brain power. Personally, I like go get on my bike and ride hard for an hour or so. It can pay dividends for days.

Turn off. Yeah, you’re smart. You’re carrying around a heavy-duty piece of hardware in your brainpan. But you need to pull the plug now and then and let the circuits cool off.

I’ve already said you can do this with exercise. But you can do it other ways. Get out the PlayStation and kill some zombies. Shoot hoops. Do a little yoga. Play with you kids. Read a chapter from a sleazy novel. Doesn’t matter. Just veg out for 20 minutes or so.

Sleep well. If you’re one of those freaks who can get by on 3 hours of shuteye a night, good for you. But most people need 6 to 8 hours of quality sleep. Without it, you’ll be in a partial daze all day.

You can’t force sleep. But you can set the right conditions for sleep. Go to bed and wake up at regular times to train your brain. Avoid caffeine and stimulants before bedtime. Turn off the TV and keep the bedroom dark. If you can’t turn off your brain, learn some simple breathing and relaxation techniques.

Eat right. Or eat better, at least. A good diet really does make a difference in your writing. That’s because a good diet affects your blood chemistry and that affects your brain. Now I’m not saying you have to go on a nasty soy and tree bark diet. I’m just saying use some common sense.

A big breakfast. A light lunch. A satisfying dinner with reasonable portions. And no late night snacking. Nothing can summon up a night of dreams like digestion. That robs you of the deep sleep you need to be at your best the next day. Yeah, you might enjoy your dreams and come up with some great ideas, but you’ll be too exhausted to wordsmith them.

Say no. This one is simple. Say no to work you can’t handle. Say no to favors you can’t fulfill. Say no to too many ongoing obligations. You can fit more in by being more organized and time-efficient, but there’s always a limit to what you can do.

I’m terrible at this. I’m always involved in a dozen things on any given day. But even I say no on a regular basis. I delegate whatever I can. And I try to stay focused on what’s most important to me.

Stay balanced. You have to remember why you write in the first place. It’s your job or your business, yes. But why are you doing it? Do you live to write or do you write to live?

For people like the late Isaac Asimov, it was the former. He enjoyed writing and spent nearly every waking hour doing that, 7 days a week. He would awake at 6 a.m. and write well into the night. Other than taking time to drink, that was his whole life.

But for normal folk, that’s a terrible prospect. I write to live. It’s better than making a living other ways, but I don’t want to do it all day. I want to spend time with family and friends. I need time for my other interests and obligations. So I’ve made my own decisions about what portion of my day writing takes up. You have to make yours.

In my view, writing can let you make a living, often a good living, while having more time for the things that make you happy.

How about you? How do you fight burnout?

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Smart Comments

2 Comments on 7 surprisingly easy ways to fight burnout and recharge your writing batteries

  1. Vernon on Nov 9th, 2010 4:09 pm
  2. Having spent a lot of time training young people (not in writing, but I think the principals are the same) in an exhausting job, there is one difficult thing that many people have to overcome. You can do much more than you think. It is a belief.

    Since I’ve been getting into writing I’ve found the same for me. At first a couple hours a day seems a lot and you feel physically tired. But as you convince yourself that that is easy, you tire less easily.

    My big battle is with sleep. I can work fine for a while with 3 or 4 hours, but then I have a zombie day every few days. But if I try to sleep 6 or more hours, I don’t feel good, and I start to feel like I’ve wasted a lot of my day. I love those late evenings when the kids are out, but if I use them to much, I pay.

  3. Brett Borders on Feb 14th, 2011 9:44 pm
  4. These are some great tips, I tend to work myself into overdrive and burn-out all too easily.