How to Overcome Writer’s Burnout

by Kellie McGann | 40 comments

Have you ever experienced writer's burnout? Although I call myself a writer, the last few months I haven't been writing. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but somewhere between ghostwriting projects and blog posts, I just stopped working on my own writing projects.

Writer's Block: How to Overcome Writer's Burnout

I couldn't put words on a page, and when I did, the words barely made sense. I stopped writing for a total of three months, and no matter what I did, nothing seemed to help. None of my usual writer's block tricks were working.

It took me a few weeks to realize that it wasn't writer's block I was dealing with. It was writer's burnout.

Writer's Block Versus Writer's Burnout

Burnout is something that happens when someone is stressed and overworked for too long. Writer's burnout lasts longer than your typical writer's block and is a lot harder to overcome.

Writer's block is looking at a page, unable or unsure how to put what is in your head on the page.

Writer's burnout is looking at the page, hating the page, and questioning your entire identity as a writer, all for an extended period of time.

Why Writer's Burnout Happens

Writer's burnout can happen for hundreds of different reasons. For me, it happened in the middle of ghostwriting my third book for someone else. After a year of balancing writing for myself and writing books for other people, I had lost my voice and purpose. I'd lost my own creative energy.

Being a freelance writer (especially if that's your full-time job) can be an exhausting as you consistently use your writing skills and problem solving to help clients. It's extremely rewarding work when done well. 

Maybe you're burnt out even when writing for your audience. I found myself locked in a loop of writing for my own website only to watch the engagement and traffic fluctuate. 

When traffic was down, I started thinking that my words didn't matter and no one needed to hear what I had to say.

I know I'm not the only one who's been here.

I've talked to writers even recently who are just sick of the entire process. For them, it was the writing and publishing industry that became a game they were sick of playing.

One contributing factor to creative burnout is perfectionism and driving yourself to unreasonable lengths (and even mental exhaustion) to pursue an unrealistic version of what you think your writing life should be. It's a lot of pressure. 

Everyone has a different reason that might lead them to this place of frustration and resentment, but if you resonate with this feeling, you've probably been or are going through a period of creative burnout.

How To Overcome Writer's Burnout

The last few weeks, I've finally gotten out of this writer's burnout thing. It doesn't last forever—there is hope for your temporary animosity towards writing!

Here's the pathway to get out of the pit:

1. Recognize the Problem

This might sound like the most obvious and cliché first step, but it's true. Name the problem and then you can solve it. You've heard that advice dozens of times, but that's because it's true; you can't move on without first recognizing that something is wrong.

Have you ever thought,

I just have nothing to say, no words to write.

I don't care about writing anymore.

I have no new creative ideas.

I never want to write again.

If these thoughts have persisted over time, you might want to consider that you're burned out and not facing only writer's block. 

2. Don't Stop Writing

When you realize you're burning out, you might think you should stop writing. But that's actually the most devastating thing you could do for your writing. Writing is hard; you know that. And when it gets so hard that you're not sure you can go on, the worst thing you can do is give in and stop completely.

It might be a good idea to put down the projects that are making you stressed and frustrated, and give yourself time to work on something with no pressure or expectations. This will let your creativity flow in new ways.

Give yourself a short break to do something creative outside of writing, go for a walk or other activity that benefits your physical health or mental well-being. 

Then revisit your writing schedule and plan shorter writing sessions or try writing in a different writing style or genre. Do one of our practice exercises to get the words coming in a different way. 

But most importantly, do not stop writing. You've worked so hard to become the writer that you are. Don't let the temporary frustration stop you from doing what you were meant to do.

3. Find Yourself (again)

At the beginning of every writer's professional career, they must find themselves. It can take weeks, months, or years for a writer to find themselves and their voice. Once you find yourself, it's impossible to lose yourself. But it is possible to forget what you've found.

When you're feeling lost in your writing, try taking a moment to remember who you are as a writer, and more importantly why you write. Remember your audience, your message, and most importantly, your voice.

It can be helpful to revisit writing pieces that felt most like you. Flip through old journals to remember that you've struggled before and came through that period of doubting your writing dreams. 

4. Don't Try to Explain Yourself

For me, the hardest thing about overcoming burnout was publishing again. I hadn't posted articles in months and had no idea what to say to my audience. I stressed over how to explain my silence for days—until I realized I didn't have to.

It's a complicated and messy thing to try to explain why you set aside your most important projects. At first, even you might not know exactly why you had to switch gears, and that's okay.

You don't need to explain why you haven't been writing for a certain audience or where you've been. You just need to start again.

5. Write Consistently

The last thing you need to know about overcoming writer's burnout is that while you're in it and especially once you've moved past it, you need to write consistently.

While you're deep in the pit of burnout, you'll be tempted not to write. (If you've forgotten why you shouldn't give into that temptation, go read point #2 again.)

The best way to fight that temptation is to have a plan.

Write every day, even if it's just a couple hundred words. This habit will be vital to the future of your writing and will help you avoid falling back into a writing burnout.

You CAN Overcome Writer's Burnout

Overcoming writer's burnout is not as easy as a list of five simple steps makes it seem. But these steps are the beginning of the process. If you're feeling frustrated and unsure if your words even matter, I want to assure you that they do and that there is hope for getting past it!

Have you ever felt stuck for months? Ever needed to take a break from writing? What did you do? Let us know in the comments below!

PRACTICE

Have you gone through writer's burnout? What helped you overcome it? What's your best advice for writers struggling with burnout?

Take fifteen minutes to share your story if you've gotten through a time like this. If you've never experienced burnout, share some of the things that keep you motivated to write. If it helps you to write it from a character's perspective to get some distance from your own struggles, go for it. 

When you’re finished, share your work in the Pro Practice Workshop here (and if you’re not a member yet, you can join here). And let's encourage one another wherever we are in our writing.

Kellie McGann is the founder of Write a Better Book . She partners with leaders to help tell their stories in book form.

On the weekends, she writes poetry and prose.

She contributes to The Write Practice every other Wednesday.

40 Comments

  1. EndlessExposition

    At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I went several months without writing because I was too busy with everything else. When I finally got a moment to jot something down, it felt like rain after a drought. I had never realized before how vital writing was to my happiness. If I’m not writing whatever stress I’m dealing with feels ten times worse. So now I make sure I’m always writing, even if it’s just on the notes in my phone.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Writing is so important for us writers to be able to process and express ourselves. I’m glad you’ve found a way to keep writing! Don’t stop!

    • I'm determined

      Rain after a drought – how apt! Well done. Well done to you, also Kellie.

  2. Jennifer Shelby

    I have. Discouragement can be a big burnout factor for me. I have a few exercises that pull me through it. I can’t stop writing either, everything seizes up. One of my best methods for this is going through google images to find a face I absolutely have to write about. I might simply describe the person, or use their face to read more into their character. It reminds me of why I write and how much fun it can be when you let go of all the worries, and pulls me through the burnout. You can read what I mean in more depth on this blog post I wrote a few days ago (if I’m allowed to share) https://thedailystory.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/should-writers-write-everyday-what-do-they-even-write-about-every-single-day/

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Jennifer, I love these exercises! I’ll have to try one sometime!

    • Dr. IS Kalsi

      What I hate most is this filling up of form with name, password and what not. I shut it off quickly. It impinges on my natural freedom. So, like this, as I’m presently involved in: you can say, it’s like using the satellite rocket of someone else–here, one belonging to dear Jennifer, to explore the world. As far as writing is concerned, I don’t get bogged down by boredom or writer’s blocks or blanks. You can daily find my piece on the Facebook. What comes to my mind first, I delve deep into it. The piece gets finished quickly. At times, there are a number of ideas floating in the mind, yet I pre-inform my readers about the release dates—like some new movie on the card—to keep my readers well prepared for the next pieces as well.

  3. cj mckinney

    Good observations about the stage where you just simply can’t face putting another word on the page! Unfortunately, for many writers, the best cure for both writers burnout and blocks is one simple thing: you nave to make the money to pay the bills. When writing is your job, much of the time you simply can’t stop to worry about whether you feel like it or have ideas. The client wants the thing – on time! And if you are the writer you know you are, you deliver.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      CJ, I totally get that! It’s hard to balance being a professional writer and still finding the energy and creativity to write your own stories. I know it’s possible though! Someday I’ll be able to be a full-time writer writing my OWN stories 😉
      Love your thoughts! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Michelle Chalkey

    The thing that has helped me most in recent months to overcome burnout is my writers’ critique group. We submit 5,000 words to each other every month for critique. There were a few months earlier this year that I was getting burnt out with all of my writing and dreading the thought of submitting something new. I thought about taking a couple months off from the group but instead, I did what step 2 says here and kept writing. I turned the focus to a different project, kept writing every month, and overcame the burnout. Having people who count on you on a monthly basis is a great way to ensure that you write consistently.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Michelle, that’s so great! The funny thing is, I actually thought the right answer at first was to take a break. Luckily, I had some people that told me that wasn’t the right answer. That community is so important.
      So glad you’ve overcame that and love writing again!!

    • Kellie McGann

      You got this Pamela. Don’t stop writing!

  5. LaCresha Lawson

    I may have had this before. I am not sure because I get stressed out quite a bit. Trying to re-learn grammar and correcting my kids’ grammar can be exhausting. I forget what I’m doing……..!

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      LaCresha, I totally get that. I think I’ve given up on grammar for the time being. I’m sure glad we have an editor for these posts. 😉

  6. Ralph Hua

    I’m working on my first fiction book this May after my trip from Japan (the writing which I postpone since my return from Barcelona November 2015.) 2 months on, I’m at 21,125 words. Very likely, it will be a novella, it is exhausting enough. I have not written for the past 2 days, and I felt like a loser. Maybe because I’m living on my savings for the past 11 months and my wife is working to support my aspiration. The longest I have stopped writing was 14 days. It was the New Year celebration in my country. We (I) binge on food, drinks, sleep, and lots of TV (and YouTube).

    Oh yes, what helped me beat the block and kept me writing.
    These are some of the tools;
    – Anime
    – Movies
    – Eavesdropping gossips
    – Newspapers comments
    – Yi Jing (the book of changes) the older translated title was I-Ching.

    For the first four tools, they are all about stories. Interesting stories. I listened, watched, then I mixed them with my imagination. Next, there will be words that formed ridiculous events, actions, and reactions on my page (screen).

    As for Yi Jing, it is difficult to explain here. All in all, it is an ancient book on Chinese philosophy which comes with hexagrams, symbols, text, etc. I use these elements into plotting my scenes.

    Why I write? Or why I want to continue to write?
    One word, CONTROL.

    In the fictitious world, I am God.

    I write Hilton to die, Hilton dies. I write Hilton to return as an animal spirit, he will be an animal spirit. I don’t get much control in my daily life (I’m married), but in works of my own fiction, I am God.

    For as long as I’m alive and writing, I am the Almighty, until the ‘block’ visits.

    Doesn’t that makes one want to write?

    Reply
    • I'm determined

      I understand the comment about the marriage partner. I hope your marriage is (mostly) happy. Mine wasn’t. He blocked much of my writing. But he can’t now. And your comment – Hiton Dies. He dies! I am God. Yes, in writing fiction, that is the power over our character’s lives, which balances their ability to stymie our creativity when they need to be convinced to do what we want them to do.
      I remember – some time back – using Tarot to help with plot twists. It worked.

    • Ralph Hua

      Thanks for your concern, we are happily married, with some petty squabbles every now and then, what every couple does.

  7. Jason

    Yeah, i think i have writer burnout too. I did not write for weeks for my part 2 books. I am not sure what is the problem. Maybe I need a rest before hitting the journey again. Or am I giving myself excuses to get delay? But i think i need to start now for my future..

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Jason, don’t stop writing! I thought it was the answer too, but it’s not. You have to push through the toil. It will be worth it!

  8. Gert van den Berg

    I am currently working a full-time job and doing distance learning for a bachelors degree with ten modules a year. These two things keep me quite busy and I am often too tired at the end of the day to do anything. This results in me writing little to nothing in months and when I do it often feels flat and uninspired. I found that it helps to keep a notepad close by so that I can just jot down whatever pops into my mind. Be it entire poems, single line phrases, story ideas or plot lines for stories that I still want to write. After I had done this I found it a lot easier to write something that (although not completely proud of it) satisfies me.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Gert, that does sound exhausting. I love the notepad idea! What a good way to write when time is hard to come by.

  9. Stella

    I’ve not experienced burnout, but I have encountered times when I strongly resisted writing. Once was during Nanowrimo, and once when writing the first draft of a short story for a competition.

    I think the key to staying motivated to write is 1) being consistent, and 2) mixing things up. Sounds contradictory, I know. But being consistent is what leads to building a writing habit, which will get you writing even on days you don’t feel like it. Mixing things up – maybe writing at a different place, time, or genre – keeps things fresh, so that your daily writing doesn’t become a chore.

    During Nanowrimo I told myself my goal was to hit 500 words every day. It was a qualified success. Holding myself accountable to that goal pushed me through even on days I really didn’t feel like writing. However, my 500 words were just random scenes featuring my protagonist, with little effort to connect each day’s work into a plot. This taught me that while habit gets you started, you also need to aim higher once the habit is established. Because you can never achieve more than you aspire to achieve.

    And I think that’s why writers are important. We help humanity dream.

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      I love your thoughts here.I think the consistency thing is HUGE. I 100% agree with what you say here, “you can never achieve more than you aspire to achieve.”
      Just keep writing :).

    • Stella

      When I first started writing alongside my day job I worried that one would adversely affect the other. Either I’d love writing so much that I’d resent going to work, or I’d work so hard that I wouldn’t have time to write.

      Instead I’ve found them mutually reinforcing each other. Because of this truth I realized through writing – that you can’t achieve more than you aspire to – I’m thinking harder about setting goals for my day job as well. (Beyond “show up, work hard, get paid”.) Taking ownership of writing helps me take ownership of working!

      And thanks for your encouragement! You keep going too!

  10. Bruce Carroll

    When I first decided to call myself a writer (I had been writing for decades, of course) I had my doubts, which led to a dry spell. I committed to writing every day, even if it was just one sentence. Even if it was simply, “I don’t know what to write!” I found that one sentence generally leads to two, which usually leads to a whole paragraph, which can lead to more and more.

    With my current WIP, I have created a character I absolutely love. I keep wanting to see the movie version, and I’ve realized there will never be ANY version of this character’s story if I don’t write it. I don’t even mind writing crap just so I can get to the good parts. After all, editing is still a thing, right?

    Reply
    • Kellie McGann

      Bruce, I love how you view the writing process. It’s very true. Sometimes you have to write the boring stuff so you can get to the good stuff. You have to write knowing that editing can and will come later. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
      Keep writing!

    • Bruce Carroll

      Thanks for your encouraging words. I’m actually working on my WIP right now!

    • I'm determined

      My really great writing comes when I’m viewing my story on my mental video screen. My fingers have to keep up with the dialogue, the action. It’s great! My current WIP is diverging – knew what I wanted to write but got interrupted, then couldn’t get back. Then yesterday I found myself exploring an earlier portion – mean the short story is not going to be that short. But then editing: Have decided to write it out, then – if needed – I can choose to have a long short story (novella?) or 3 short stories. Or both. Will decide that when I get to edit.

    • Stella

      I’m very tickled at your wanting to see the movie version of a character you’re writing, before you’re even done with her! Tends to be a symptom of readers with a short attention span, so amused that even authors want to “cut to the movie”.

    • Bruce Carroll

      It’s not so much the idea of a movie over a book (although I would watch a movie with this character in a heartbeat), it’s just the idea that I want to know what happens to her. It’s as if I forget her story has never been told.

    • Stella

      Oh, definitely. I have a similar problem. I love my protag and want to get to know her. But she’s so reticent and I have to keep begging her to talk to me. I’ve found that, as with real people, persistence helps. Sit down with her every day and eventually she’s bound to open up.

  11. Cass

    Love this. I’m not completely burnt out with my writing (just taking is slow and working on this and that) but I’ve massively burnt myself out with my art. I draw frequently, and it’s one of the ways I’ve earned income (which is also the reason why I burn out faster on art than I do writing, blegh). I remember when I spent HOURS writing and drawing in my room and I just did it. Didn’t have to ask myself “should I be writing/drawing right now?” Trying to get back to that. 🙂

    Reply
  12. I'm determined

    I have just now come out of writer’s burnout. Because I have finally broken through the barrier that kept me a victim. Even when I kept reminding myself that I was a survivor, it kept dragging me back into the woe is me morass. I am triumphant. So what if people – other writers who I respected – disrespect me. Can’t say that they disrespect my writing when they don’t bother to read my writing. I CAN WRITE. I know it. Gave a fable to a nurse to read last week. Didn’t expect her to relate to it. But she said, ‘Grace. This is good!’ ‘Yes, I replied, because I know it is good. I can write Totally different style to Hemingway, but people also dismissed his writing in his early days.
    And Ruth Parks. Readers had to evolve, to grow up to her – brilliant – writing.

    Reply
  13. Bob Gardner

    Your post was money from home. Seeing, once again that others, even pro’s hit a wall, a full-speed, face first, black of night wall was free-ing. My head still throbs from the impact with the wall but the feeling that we are all in this together helps me smile through the pounding.
    I recently read “Ron Carlson Writes a Story” and it had many a-ha moments. Number One: Stay in the room. Shun Google and just write.
    Thanks, Kellie

    Reply
  14. KL17307

    I love reading poems and writing but I never allow myself to try. I suppose you could say that my burnout has been my whole life. For that reason, I gave myself save to believe I can write. Here’s what I came up with-

    Bleeding In

    I stop – remind myself to invite in oxygen.
    I breathe.
    Air laced with invisible weight pulling me closer to the ground.
    I’ve been here before.
    I call it my hometown.
    Remembering the smell, the touch, the – nothing.
    Empty
    Echoes fill the spaces where choirs used to sing.
    “I promise.”
    I taste deception on my tongue and confuse it with honey.
    Sweetness dripping in sync with syllables.
    Longing yet despising
    Trusting yet questioning
    My head and heart go to battle as the knife is sharpened.
    Thoughts have no time
    Feelings have no space
    You- you are the knife slicing through the jugular of my heart and I bleed in.

    Reply
  15. KL17307

    I love reading poems and writing but I never allow myself to try. I suppose you could say that my burnout has been my whole life. For that reason, I gave myself space to believe I can write. Here’s what I came up with quickly-

    Bleeding In

    I stop – remind myself to invite in oxygen.
    I breathe.
    Air laced with invisible weight pulling me closer to the ground.
    I’ve been here before.
    I call it my hometown.
    Remembering the smell, the touch, the – nothing.
    Empty
    Echoes fill the spaces where choirs used to sing.
    “I promise.”
    I taste deception on my tongue and confuse it with honey.
    Sweetness dripping in sync with syllables.
    Longing yet despising
    Trusting yet questioning
    My head and heart go to battle as the knife is sharpened.
    Thoughts have no time
    Feelings have no space
    You- you are the knife slicing through the jugular of my heart and I bleed in.

    Reply
    • Lou Pare-Lobinske

      I like this. I can relate to the sentiment expressed.

  16. Lou Pare-Lobinske

    Have I ever felt stuck for months? How about years? I’m not sure if it was writer’s block, burnout, or a combination…Combine that with depression and I was really lost. I not only didn’t know if I ever wanted to write again, I had my therapist convinced I wasn’t a writer either (she couldn’t see how badly my depression was affecting things). I lost my day job at the end of 2014, and temping hasn’t quite filled the gap, and I haven’t been able to find another permanent position, so in February of this year I finally took the hint the universe was giving me with that 2 by 4. It’s not paying off yet, but I’m not giving up. For the record, I still kept a diary/journal throughout my depression/off-years, so in a way I hadn’t really given up. I went back to my backlog of Write Practice emails from a few years ago, and when I found the Becoming Writer spring contest, I jumped on it. I just have to keep at it and believe I can do this, no matter how long it takes. Thanks for reading.

    Reply
  17. Gina Hunter

    Interesting post! I hadn’t thought there was such a thing as writer’s burnout. I have fallow times, and during those times, I read everything I can get my hands on. Reading for me really recharges my writing batteries, and I never feel like I’m not writing when I’m reading.

    Reply
  18. Aria E. Maher

    Thank you so, so much for this article! I have been going through an intense period of really just HATING my own work, and I was trying so hard to understand what happened. I used to love writing, and had a ton of exciting projects in the works, but then one day I opened up my document and stared at the page and realized I suddenly had no words to put to paper. At first, I thought it might just be my depression acting up, but this state of things has been going on for months now, and I was afraid I’d never be able to write again. Now I think I understand what the problem is, and I’m going to fight through it as best I can. Again, thank you so much for this post! I am greatly indebted to you for helping me understand what’s going on.

    Reply

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