Sunday, 22 January 2017

Avoid Writing Burnout: this is a marathon

Image source: Huffington Post

One will often hear fellow writers compare notes on how much they have written that day: 3,000, 4,000, even 5,000 words. And, though those figures blow me away and sometimes make me feel like a real slacker, I'm obliged to stop and remind myself that to each their own, and if I tried to tackle this amount of work I'd soon be an inmate of a mental care center.

I could pull off writing 3K words a day. I could do it for a few days in a row, a week even... but then I would be utterly burned out, and in need of a tech-free vacation in some remote cabin somewhere (hey, I could do that cheapo - stay home and turn off the phone). I know I'm much better off writing 1,000 words a day (of creative writing - not blogs, emails, etc) and doing it consistently over time, than writing in short violent bursts and spending my energy unwisely. Trite as it sounds, writing is a marathon, not a sprint - especially with books as long as mine tend to turn out.

I have forgotten this a bit lately, growing very enthusiastic about a new project I took up. Please note this probably isn't a good time for me to take on a new project at all. There's Wild Children, which is soon to be released and about which my publisher and I email back and forth continuously, working out promotion strategies and looking for final typos and inconsistencies. I'm also working on the sequel. There's The Greenlanders, which has just received its first round of suggestions from beta readers. There's querying for my MG novel. And there's all my non-fiction writing.

So I dove into this new novel, The Landlord (a paranormal/historical romance set in Regency England), giving up on hobbies, friends, recreation, and a good chunk of peace of mind, sleep and showers. Healthy? Not really. I soon experienced tension, continued nervousness, recurring colds, and great frustration for being able to do so little... when in fact I was doing too much, and trying to do even more, all at once.

As I've mentioned before, I'm a rural homeschooling mother. I have three children, a husband with a demanding business of his own, a house, a large garden and a bunch of animals to take care of. I'm also committed to healthy from-scratch cooking. I can't push myself to writing over-achievement at the cost of everything else. But I can plow on consistently, producing a reasonable quantity at a reasonable rate, and before I know it, say with surprise, "hey, I've finished a book".

It's all a matter of proportion: too much of a good thing turns into a bad thing. My SmartPhone is great when it enables me to quickly check my KDP account and emails and dash off a quick two-liner reply without starting up the clunky old laptop. But it's bad when it makes me twitchy and obsessive, constantly checking my emails for that World Changing Message. Relax, it won't come. I've waited for a reply from that agent I've queried for two months. They can wait a day or two.

Social media is great as it allows me to interact with fellow authors. But it's bad when it turns to an unproductive, time-frittering activity. I can't read everybody's rant about how the world doesn't appreciate their talent, or flip through the pictures of everybody's pets.

I need time away from the screen. To let my story stew in my brain, no pressure. To work in the garden, do a jigsaw puzzle with my kids, to read for pleasure and not because someone is expecting a review. I'm an indie author. If I feel like I have someone breathing down my neck, it's an imaginary feeling. Shake it off. Be free.

Sit in the sunshine and just breathe. 


  1. I think the main issue is that you have kids. I often read the advice that 'big name' writers give, with a list of dos and don'ts, and I think number one on their list should be, "Don't have kids." Because it's obvious their proposed schedule doesn't take them into account, and they have no idea of the effect.

  2. Yes, Rob, that's pretty much a given. :-) Kids are the number one impediment to career success. I'll still take them over being the author of multiple NYT bestsellers, though.