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.
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!
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.