Burning up the candle

I’ve been really tired of late. Some of it’s good — I’ve had a lot of freelance work on my plate, which keeps me busy. Unfortunately, then I have less time and energy to do my writing, and when I start figuring the time for other things — exercise, family time, cooking, life — well, there’s even less time and energy. So I cut corners. Skipped the exercise because heading out for over half an hour to run, then coming back and stretching out, showering, cooling down, well, all that takes time. Chunks of it.

Today, I read a post Kristine Kathryn Rusch wrote back in 2009 as part of her Freelancer’s Survival Guide, Burnout. In it, she lists several symptoms of burnout — exhaustion, irritability, inefficiency, and more. Hmm. Yes, that’s ringing bells.

Okay, to be fair, I figured I was on the edge of burnout. That’s why I took the weekend essentially off, just doing things I enjoy and don’t stress over (mostly — getting kids to bed has to get done, and there often seems to be stress involved). It’s also why I read her post today; I hoped she had some good advice.

Her advice? Sleep, eat right, exercise. And then worry about whether you’re taking on too much. I’m trying to get more sleep; it’s not always easy with a family, but I’m trying. I do need to get back to the exercise that I’ve been slacking on, though. I mostly eat right — except for the chocolate chip cookies I baked this weekend and ate copious amounts of.

One of the stressors I’ve had is feeling like I have to live up to others’ expectations for my writing career. Whether it’s things I disagree with (like writing taking precedence over everything else in my life, including attending my son’s first band concert) or more insidious things like being a writer meaning I should be writing every day, for more hours than I put in, so I get things done faster. And even if I do want to get things done (and some I need to get done, like the book I’m writing for Moongypsy Press), adding that expectation on top of everything else has made it worse.

I’m still trying to write, but I’m trying to not be down on myself about expectations. I want to write because I want to write, because I have these characters in my head whose stories I want to tell, not because it’s one more thing on my to-do list.

I’ll probably be much more upbeat after even a week of better sleep and a couple times of exercise, but this is a good wake-up call that I need to take care of myself, and that includes managing my expectations.

What about you? Have you been pushing yourself too much recently? Or some time in the past? What helps you get back on track?

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  1. It’s good that you’re seeing this in yourself and dealing with it now. I thought I could draw on will power and force myself through — and that just did not work.

  2. Good luck.

    What helps me is what you did – take a weekend (or an evening, or a week, whatever’s necessary) off and don’t feel guilty about it. I usually find myself slacking off and beating myself up for it, and then it’ll hit me that I need a break. And then I continue to slack and feel much better.

  3. Hugs, Erin. You have been running yourself ragged. Glad you’ve taken stock.

    Me, well, that’s another question :). But I have actually been “laying off” this whole month. Haven’t seen any significant improvement except in the amount of reading I get done, but…

    • Thanks. Yeah, I decided to get out before I started getting sick. 😉

      Good luck with your laying off.

  4. I’ve discovered that the only way I can write without stress is to turn my writing into another job – not in terms of what hours I have to put in and how much I have to get done, but how much time I take off and when.

    For example, I write four days a week. I don’t write Friday through Sunday. I might do other stuff but I don’t write. Monday to Thursday I set aside a few hours each day to write and I’ve become a lot more productive then I ever was forcing myself to write every day.

    I also take holidays. I happily don’t write for a week, two weeks or even a month without a problem. It’s not like it’s going to go away. Plus the breaks get me itching to write and allow my muse to muse and develop ideas in the background without forcing them.

    So now without that pressure of “I must write” I enjoy my writing time and protect it like a mama bear her cubs.

    • Congrats on finding a pattern that works for you!

      Truthfully, I’ve never been a “write every day” person; I’m a binge writer. I even wrote an article for Vision about finding what works for me as an individual, and the need for others to do the same. I think I’ve been seeing so many people talking about treating it like a job — 40 hours a week, rain, shine, sickness, whatever — that I forgot that’s not how I work.

  5. I find it’s very easy for me to turn writing into a job and pile pressure onto myself. I deal sensibly with external pressures, prioritising them and monitoring progress, etc. But needless internal pressures are a different kettle of fish. They sneak up on me and turn something I love into a chore. For me, that’s a direct road to Burnout City.

    I figured this out a few weeks ago and called an immediate break. Now I’m working at rediscovering the joy of writing. Because if it isn’t a joy, I can’t see the point in doing it.

    • Congrats on your prompt detour from Burnout City! I hope I’ve caught my own road trip there in time.

      Because if it isn’t a joy, I can’t see the point in doing it. Oh, yes, exactly so!

    • I agree completely!

      I do what I need to so that it stays a joy.

  6. I recommend enjoying the freedom to write whatever and whenever you like – because when one has a multi-book contract and deadlines to work to, it does become a second job 😉

    I’m another binge-writer, TBH, probably because I’ve always found it very hard to shift mental gears. So I reckon the “write every day” rule is just a guideline, meant to remind you that you need to keep on writing until the story is done. Because unless you are a demon typist, it takes a long time to write 100,000 words, and no writing guru is going to recommend working a 16-hour writing day!

    • I’ve only got the one book contracted — the Mayan one for Moongypsy Press — and already the knowledge that there’s an actual deadline has increased the stress. Maybe I’m not ready for a multi-book contract.

      The “write every day” advice I’ve been seeing recently is from Dean Wesley Smith — who has some wonderful advice on other matters, but, quite frankly, his repeated comments that all people who call themselves writers should actually be putting in more hours at doing it is one of the things wearing at me. Thanks for the reality check on how that does apply to my life. 😀

      And good luck with your multi-book contract!

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