What Should You Do If You Experience Writer Burnout?

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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.

How Writers Can Turn Envy Into Motivation

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Have you ever listened to someone read from their recently published debut novel and think, “Gosh, I wish I could have my novel published.” Or maybe you read someone else’s work in your writing class and thought, “I wish I could write like that!”

If so, you’ve just been attacked by a little green monster named Envy.

Envy shows up in your life when you perceive others having what you don’t have: talent, power, prestige, money, popularity.

Envy is usually tied to some other hidden emotion. It may be a sign of competitiveness or insecurity, for example. You want what others have because you fear you don’t have enough of it yourself. Or that you’re not a good enough writer to ever be published like your friends and colleagues. You subconsciously compare yourself to others and fall short. Envy steps in to fill the void.

Envy also shows up when you compare your sense of self with your ideal self, writes Mary Lamia, Ph.D., in Psychology Today. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to project that ideal on someone else. If your personal ideals are exaggerated and unreachable, you will always feel that you are never good enough.

David Ludden, Ph.D., also writes in Psychology Today that envy has a dark and light side. On the dark side, we may harbor ill will toward someone who appears to have more of what we want. Benign envy – the lighter side – can be converted to motivation to improve ourselves. We can use envy to learn from others and observe how or why they have become successful. For example, maybe they got published because they took the time to research the publication and figured out how to pitch their story to the editor. Maybe that other writers gladly accepts feedback from an editor while you are reluctant to accept their critique.

When envy shows up in your life, there are several ways to deal with it. For starters, you need to be aware of when it shows up. What prompted its entrance? Most important, what can you learn from it? Here are three ways writers can deal with envy.

1. Embrace the emotion. Accept the fact that it’s normal to feel envious of others sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just a signal that you might be feeling insecure in your own abilities. Accept the fact that it will show up on occasion. As author Elizabeth Sims suggests in The Writer, envy loses its power over us when we tell ourselves that it’s okay to be envious.

2. Keep a journal. Ask yourself probing questions, then write down the answers, says writer Amy Torres at The Writing Cooperative. For example, ask yourself “Whose talent do I wish I had?” “What does this person have that I don’t?” and “I wish I could write as well as [fill in the blank].” As you ponder the answers to these questions, note what emotions rise to the surface. Then embrace those emotions. Allow yourself to really feel them. Then write about what you feel in your journal.

3. Be the best writer you know how to be. Show a confident front, says Sims. Even if you don’t feel secure, put on a brave smile. Fake it until you make it, as they say. Then go out and be the best writer you know how to be. Don’t worry about what the other writers are doing with their work. Focus on your own craft. Smile and keep working.

Envy and its ugly cousin jealousy are bound to show up in your writing life. That’s normal. When they do, recognize them for what they are – signs that it’s time to refocus your energy on improving your own writing practice. Observe what the object of your envy is doing. Maybe you can learn from their example. Then use the benign energy of envy to motivate yourself to work differently.

Once you embrace envy as part of the writing process, those periods of envy will shrink so you don’t notice them anymore.

 

 

 

 

12 Ways Reading Every Day Can Improve Your Life

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February’s theme is “For the Love of Books”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written about our collective love of books – from finding books on a budget and downsizing a book collection, to honoring our libraries and independent bookstores and showcasing the best resources for book clubs.

The good news – perhaps the best news – is that books are alive and well, thank you very much. It doesn’t matter if you read books with an E-reader or the traditional print version, reading is more popular than ever. One wonders what any of us would do if we did not have books to read.

Much has been written about the benefits of reading, including scores of scientific evidence of its neurological and physiological benefits. Studies find that reading just 10 or 15 minutes a day can alter your brain’s functioning power.

A recent Lifehack article outlines some additional benefits to reading. Here’s how reading books can transform your life.

1. Reading stimulates the brain. Recent studies show that reading can slow the cognitive decline in dementia patients. The brain may not be a muscle in the traditional sense, but it can act like one in that it must be worked frequently to improve different cognitive functions, such as memory and math skills. The more you read, the stronger your brain becomes.

2. Reading expands knowledge. The more you read, the more you increase your knowledge of the world. Non-fiction helps you understand current events, science, technology, relationships and even your own pets. Meanwhile, reading fiction gives you insights into human behavior and motivation. Reading expands your view of the outside world.

3. Reading helps increase vocabulary and writing skills. As any professional writer can tell you, if you want to improve your writing and vocabulary, read a lot of books. Be aware of the writing styles too. As you read, it’s helpful to keep a dictionary handy in case you come across unfamiliar terms. Author Susan Reynolds in Psychology Today suggests firing up your writing brain by reading complex literary and non-fiction subjects, like science and art, which forces your brain to think more deeply, a skill that will help you become a better writer.

4. Reading is a form of relaxation and helps reduce stress. The most relaxing activity I know of is reading. Even reading for 15 minutes a day can slow down your heart rate and help you find your center again. Reading provides an escape from the pressures and problems of your day.

5. Reading increases tolerance for life’s uncertainties. A study cited in The Atlantic magazine finds that reading and writing can increase a person’s tolerance for uncertainty. Study participants who read short stories were less likely to need cognitive closure – to reach a conclusion quickly or were less likely to have an aversion to ambiguity and confusion. Reading teaches them that sometimes there are no clear cut solutions to problems and that not all stories end happily or at all. Fiction readers, especially those who were avid readers, were able to think more creatively and not get tied down to one idea.

6. Reading teaches empathy. An article in Real Simple magazine suggests that reading can help you understand a person’s emotions and motivations. By reading about different characters, whether fictional or true, readers can observe human behavior in action. When dealing with real life scenarios, they’re more likely to empathize with people going through difficulties.

7. Reading provides quality “Me Time.” Life can be stressful, and sometimes you want to get away from it all. But if you can’t take a vacation, immersing yourself in a good book is the next best thing. Think of it as a vacation for your mind. And because reading is a solo activity, it provides the quality “Me Time” most people crave.

8. Reading improves critical and analytical thinking skills. If you’ve ever read a spy thriller or a mystery novel and followed the clues to figure out “whodunit,” you’ve learned to use your analytical skills to solve the mystery on your own. Likewise, quietly observing plot development, character development, dialogue and story structure as you read along improves your thinking skills. But you don’t have to read just mysteries to achieve this. Non-fiction books can do the trick as well.

9. Reading helps improve focus and concentration. When you spend time alone with a book, the rest of the world just seems to fall away. When you read, you block out all outside distractions. It helps to turn off the TV and the radio too, which do little to build your brain’s cognitive function. The more complex the book, the more concentration and focus will be required.

10. Reading sets an example for kids. A friend of mine, who is an avid reader, once told me that she reads in front of her two young toddler sons so she can set an example for them. Studies back this up. Kids can develop an interest in reading early on simply by watching their parents read, or better yet, hearing their parents read out loud to them.

11. Reading can help you sleep better. Studies show that reading before bedtime can improve the quality of your sleep, as long as you read a printed book rather than an e-reader or tablet. The light from these devices can interfere with sleep. I’ve had nights when I lie awake at 4 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep. After reading for a half hour or so, I’m drowsy enough to get back to sleep.

12. Reading provides cheap entertainment. Reading is one of the cheapest forms of entertainment you can find. It doesn’t cost much to read a book (unless you purchased the book brand new). The only cost is the cost of the book, but even that can be minimized if you buy second-hand or borrow it. If you’re on a budget, reading is a low-cost option to entertaining yourself.