The topic of burnout made news earlier this week when the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized it as an “occupational phenomenon.” Yes, burnout is an actual thing, though the WHO fell short of calling it a medical condition. WHO describes burnout as “a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Burnout is characterized by three factors:
* feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
* increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to the job
* reduced professional efficacy
However, WHO advises that their description of burnout is limited to the occupational environment, not to everyday matters like parenting or going to school.
How does burnout affect writers and other creative types? Do they experience burnout too? The answer, of course, is a definitive yes.
Julie Niedlinger, a freelance writer writing at the CoSchedule blog, says writer burnout happens when you use up all of your creative reserves. “Burnout is characterized by churning out content in a machine-like mode.”
Writer burnout is not to be confused with writer’s block, which is essentially having a lack of writing ideas. You stare at a blank page looking for a nugget of inspiration to begin writing, but there’s no feeling of burnout associated with it.
Other factors may play a part in burnout. Maybe you don’t necessarily like the topic you are writing about. Maybe you notice that the work you are producing is low-quality, below the standard of excellence you normally strive for. Maybe you realize that you pour so much of yourself into the writing process that you have neglected other areas of your life such as your relationships, your social life and your health. Because it seems you are working like a machine all the time, you aren’t totally present with your writing and you no longer enjoy the writing process.
Social media and technology have added pressure on creative types to constantly be “on”. Downtime is not encouraged or even thought about. It’s difficult to know when to turn off your switch.
Add the pressures of daily living – paying bills, making doctor appointments, getting the car fixed, making dinner for the family – and you can see how easily it is to become burned out by life.
If this sounds like you, don’t fret. There are several things you can do to climb out of this cycle of burnout.
1. Remember that you are not a machine. You are only human, and humans need to frequently recharge their batteries, just like cell phones. Otherwise, you won’t operate efficiently. Even better, just unplug yourself for a weekend. Learn to do nothing.
2. Change how you write. Niedlinger suggests diversifying your writing. If all you write are blog posts for low-paying content mills, try writing something different, like short stories or essays. Or write about a topic that has always fascinated you. If you have always enjoyed looking up at the stars and the planets, write about astronomy. Write for the pure pleasure of writing.
3. Alter your language. Stop calling it content or copy, writes Niedlinger. Find another name for what you do. Instead call it “my writing,” “my fiction,” “my essays,” or “my craft.” When you alter the language, you alter your relationship to your work.
4. Celebrate your milestones. Writers can become so trapped in the cycle of doing that they leave no time or space for being, writes life coach Kendra Levin in Psychology Today. Writers today allow no time to celebrate their successes. They have difficulty celebrating milestones, such as finishing a tough revision, finishing a chapter or getting an essay published. There always seems to be more work to do. Instead of jumping into the next project, honor and celebrate what you’ve just completed. Go out to dinner with a friend or give yourself a day off from writing. Every chapter you write and every essay that gets published is worth celebrating.
5. Remember that writing can save your sanity. “Making art can push you to burnout, but it can also save you from it,” writes Levin. “Writing is therapy, writing is meditation, writing is self-care.” I will also add that writing is comfort food for the soul. When life gets to be too much, take your problems to your journal. Use it as a tool to dump all your negative emotions. That’s where you can write to save your sanity, no matter what is happening on the outside.
Burnout doesn’t have to kill your love for writing. When you begin to notice signs of burnout, take note of it. Then make changes that will help you regain a healthy relationship with your writing.