These tips for avoiding writer’s burnout will help you recognize the best time to take a break from a hard day of writing (and let’s face it, fellow scribes: 15 minutes can feel like a day!).
This article is by publication coach Daphne Gray-Grant; she offers three tips on taking a break from writing. If you actually have the opposite problem – you’re burnt out on writer’s block – you better read Need Motivation to Write? How to Stop Procrastinating.
And remember that you need to show up for work every day, regardless if you’re burned out or freshly squeezed. “I don’t sit at my desk because I have an idea,” said the great American writer Flannery O’Connor, “but in case I do!”
It’s possible that simply sitting at your desk is one type of writing because you’re allowing yourself to be receptive to new ideas. But, if you’re serious about avoiding writer’s burnout, you do need to step away from the laptop once in a while…and here Gray-Grant shows you how.
What sort of breaks or rewards do you give yourself for writing? We all need breaks. And if we don’t plan for them, our bodies and minds have ways of forcing us to take them. These are usually inconvenient ways like getting sick or having our minds refuse to produce any more words.
Over the last six months, as I’ve been watching my own writing, I’ve noticed that I often seem to go “blank” just after I’ve had a particularly fluent patch of writing. Does this sound familiar to you? Your fingers can barely keep up with the sentences your brain is spewing. Writing seems easy. The words just flow. And then, ka-boom. Everything stops.
3 Ways to Avoid Burning Out as a Writer
It’s like a marathoner, hitting the 18-mile wall. You’ve reached the end.
When this happens to me, I notice that I usually switch to editing the piece I’m working on. Or, failing that, I turn to that universal procrastination device: email. The trouble with both these strategies is that they break momentum. Writing and editing don’t belong together; they’re two entirely separate jobs. As for email, well, I don’t need to tell you that it’s insidious and a time-eater. No, when you “hit the writing wall,” what you need is a mini-reward that gives you a 3-5 minute break.
1. Take a brief stretching break
The Internet and the public library offer a litany of at-your-desk stretches that will give you a much-needed break from hunching over the computer. If nothing else, stand up, grab your hands behind your back and try pushing your shoulder blades together.
2. Take a brief reading break
Keep a book on your desk that’s well written but that isn’t going to be terribly hard to put down after a couple of pages. I find books of essays a good choice. Currently I’m dipping into William Zinsser’s Writing to Learn, but I think it’s probably wiser to dabble outside your usual field. Once I’ve taken my mini-break, I come back refreshed and ready to write again without — and this is key — having lost my momentum.
3. Stop in the middle of a sentence
Like many people, you may set yourself the goal of finishing a certain section of writing before you move on to another task. Maybe you want to get to the end of a segment, scene or chapter. Sounds logical, I know. But it’s a mistake.
Instead, I recommend always trying to stop in the middle of a sentence. Why? Because it’s an invitation — more than that — it’s an enticement to continue when you sit down the next time. It’s like having a toasty car to climb into on a cold winter’s morning. Stop in the middle of a sentence, and, when you begin writing again, you’ll waste much less time “warming up.”
To learn how published authors cope with writer’s burnout, read 8 Time-Tested Personality Traits of the Best Poets and Writers.
Have you experienced writer’s burnout? If you’re willing to share your story and tips, I’d love to read it!