Posted by: Kerry Gans | December 11, 2018

The Great Burnout of 2018

I never thought it would happen to me. It seemed impossible. That constant flow of ideas, that itching to get back to whatever project I was working on, that could never stop. It had been there my whole life, it was inconceivable that there would be a time when it would not be. And yet here I am, in the midst of the Great Burnout of 2018.

I find myself in a creative desert. I have projects to work on, but no motivation to actually work on them. I clearly see that I am avoiding them, while at the same time beating myself up for not putting my nose to the grindstone and getting it done.

This burnout didn’t happen overnight. Looking back, the slowdown started after my daughter was born 9 years ago. Only it wasn’t apparent back then, because I had planned well. I had multiple manuscripts I had pushed to finish before her birth, so I could edit rather than create from scratch. So I remained productive for a number of years.

I started feeling it more acutely about 5 years ago, when I suddenly realized the ideas weren’t coming like they used to. When I had something to write about, I could still write, but the ideas were slower in coming. It was rather frightening to feel the spigot turn off. But my book The Witch of Zal got picked up by a publisher, and I was revising another older manuscript, so it all worked out well, as I kept busy.

Two years ago, things started getting rocky. My creative writing took a plunge. I managed it in fits and starts, but not consistently. I did squeeze out a new draft of a novel, and a complete re-edit of another manuscript, so in the end I didn’t do badly, but it was a struggle.

This year has been a disaster. My total words to date are about 87,000. And 68,000 of those are blog words, rather than creative writing words. I have had many outside pressures this year, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that my energy and focus has of necessity been used elsewhere. But to have no desire to write? To actively avoid it? That’s unlike me. The joy that always drew me to writing is gone, and in its place is burnout. I just have nothing left.

It is clear to me that the two main culprits are exhaustion and anxiety. I have been sleep deprived for months. There were weeks at a time I would get six hours or less of sleep a night. No wonder I have no energy for creativity. I have never in my life been a high-energy person, and dragging around on not enough sleep doesn’t help. And anxiety is my constant desire-suck companion. My anxiety is exacerbated when I am tired, plus I have had outside events ratcheting up my anxiety as well. October and November saw full-blown panic attacks from me, which have not happened in a long, long time. Anxiety, for me, often manifests in not wanting to do anything, to just curl up and hide.

So how do I get my mojo back? How do I find the joy again? The desire? The focus? I think the first order of business has to be to rest. Get more sleep. Say “no” to people more often. Do only the things that need doing. But mostly get more sleep. My hope is that more sleep will shore up my emotional state and my anxiety will recede. Then maybe I can move out of this mental fog and get something going again.

There is hope for this approach. On the long ride down to North Carolina over Thanksgiving vacation, new ideas, characters, situations popped into my head. I never actually wrote them down, but they came to me—the first inklings of creativity in a long time. So maybe, as outside events resolve themselves and I try to do better at self-care, I will feel that urge to write again.

The term “burnout” sounds like a sudden onset problem, but for me it wasn’t. I bet it wasn’t for many of the other writers who have experienced burnout. While it may have come to a head in an onslaught of overwhelming events, I would bet the signs were there long before it reached critical mass.

So pay attention, fellow scribes. Step back and look. If you’ve been experiencing slowdowns or hiccoughs in your writing, it may be a sign of something larger looming. Ask yourself if you need to do something to refill the well, to take care of yourself. Figure it out now, before the burnout hits. Because when a writer can’t write, it’s a very empty feeling—and a long road back to finding yourself again.

Have you ever experienced burnout? How did you revitalize yourself and your writing?

 


Responses

  1. […] 8. The Great Burnout of 2018 […]

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  2. […] have talked about being in the midst of a great burnout. No creativity at all. 2018 was horrific, writing-wise. I totaled 89,672 words—and 73,218 of them […]

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