Boundaries and Burnout

I have been noticing lately that the word, “work ethic” has been coming up a lot among writers, all of whom seem to be pursuing the vast pots of wealth seemingly just on the other side of a completed manuscript.  No longer do you even need a contract to hit the big time—just look! Every week another superstar explodes out of obscurity onto the top of the e-book charts, then the New York Times.  Every  month, another Horatio Alger, another starlet, another Big E-Publishing story.

Watched pot by Brandon Christopher WarrenThere are also those writers (and I am one of them) who have made a lot of fast cash on books that were out of print for ages.  The potential is gigantic for new work, building on that old work.  Many of us still are writing for New York (again, I am one of them) and also trying to feed the “yawning maw of the Internet beast,” as one friend of mine put it.

A lot of opportunity.  A lot of possibility.

A lot of pressure, and a lot of potential for burn out.

One of the things you learn by simply staying in the publishing game for a long time is that today’s sudden superstar may or may not be writing and/or publishing three years from now.  In a decade, who will we remember? Who will we still be reading?  I’m startled by the big money publishers are paying out to untested writers—how can they possibly know if that writer can follow up with a second, third, fourth book?  I hardly blame an author for taking a great deal, but again—it’s a lot of pressure.

I’m also astonished by the schedule some of us are setting up for ourselves—doubling the word counts every day, adding to the number of books published each  year.  I get it—I am doing the same thing—but in the back of my brain, I keep hearing the foghorn warning of —


Working writers are under a lot of pressure these days to produce, keep producing, produce more—and also keep up with their blogs(s), Tweet, post to Facebook, maintain a mailing list and newsletter, and show up at any writer’s conference that asks, because you can’t miss a single sale.

It’s exhausting to even write it all down.  It’s exhausting for the girls in the basement, or the muses, who cannot be whipped into producing and producing and producing without some consequences.  A runner can’t keep running indefinitely; neither can a writer keep writing without some rest and refueling.

As creative professionals, we are charged with setting our own boundaries, knowing what works and what doesn’t and knowing how to protect the work.  Remember the work? That thing that only we can do?

Yeah. That.

For a couple of months, I’ve been fighting off one bug after another, one minor health issue after another.  I had bronchitis, then a cold, then allergies, and I’m usually the one who is robustly healthy when everyone else is falling sick.  It’s true I have had a baby coming in here regularly, but it’s also true I don’t get sick, and I was falling to everything that came through.

After six weeks of this, I stepped back and took a week off of exercise and work and everything else, to see what I could see.   Where was I out of balance?

Illuminating exercise.  Mainly, I was letting a lot of minor, unimportant things get in the way of my work.  I was working out too many days a week for one thing, in an effort to meet a societal standard of middle-aged fitness.  I was coming home overly exhausted and unable to do a single other thing—many of which I missed, like puttering in the kitchen and spending afternoons at the movies or the bookstore.  I haven’t been visiting my mother enough.

And the girls in the basement were as exhausted as I was, all of them staring with glassy eyes out the windows of our world, depleted and weary.

So I went back to the questions I pose to myself at such times—because I’ve had them before.  What can I do to nurture myself? What can I do to nurture the work? What things do I love?

What does it take for me to create my best work? What kind of environment do I require?  What time of day, how much time? How much rest do I need—not only each day, but between projects?

The cold hard fact of it is: I have more work to do than I used to.  Even more than when I was first starting out and eagerly wrote several books a year.  Even as I’ve hired two different people to help me with various aspects of the business end, even as I’ve farmed out almost everything I can think of, there is just more to do than there used to be.  That’s a fact, and one might as well deal with reality head on.

What else? I wasn’t feeling the sense of fun and adventure quite as much. Writing was feeling like work, only work, not thrilling and playful and full of possibility—and isn’t that what all this new freedom is meant to be about? Enjoying the freedom to play in a lot of different camps if I so desire?

I also noticed that a lot of my time was getting eaten up by things I’d allowed to creep into my schedule.  To keep my trainer, I had to agree to certain times of day—and that noon meeting was interfering pretty drastically with my work flow.  If I dropped down to one day a week, the one day when it was later in the day, and then fill in with exercise I really liked and felt like a treat rather than something exhausting, like swimming or  yoga, I could also go to the steam room and have a nice shower and it would feel like a carrot I could dangle in front of myself for the hours of work.

When I dropped those sessions, a tremendous amount of pressure fell away with it, revealing a simple truth: I need a lot of time to myself. Lots and lots and lots of it.  I need to not have to talk to other people at all for many hours, every day.  I need the freedom to write and nap and putter outside, and let the stories arrive.  I need space to cook and listen to music, and most of all—read, read, read, read, read.  I need a lot of reading time, and it feels like nothing, but it’s everything.

I also love to start the day with some minor art pursuit. Usually it’s my camera—shooting flowers or birds on the feeder or the kitchen. It puts me in a creative mood, and it underlines the luxury of having an artist’s life.  I’m adding that back in.

I also really love the afternoon I spend with my granddaughter each week.  I spring her from daycare and we spend the day playing, and it’s wildly fulfilling.   I need to work in my garden, or in the winter, spend time with crafts.  I go to the movies. I leaf through magazines.  I make collages and dream up new plots.

By making time for these things, I am much more able to meet the increasing demands of my work load.  I am also much more likely to actually have things to write about—details that have been gathered, ideas given space to grow and expand, and better energy to sit for long periods of time.  By setting boundaries, I’m able to avoid burnout and illness, and write and enjoy the process much, much more.

What does it take for you to create your best work?  What kind of environment do you require?  What kind of time, what time of day?  How much rest do you need?  Have your boundaries gone soft over time? Where can you reclaim your space? 


About Barbara O'Neal

Barbara O'Neal has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life, which landed her in the Hall of Fame. Her latest novel, The All You Can Dream Buffet has just been released by Bantam Books in March. A complete backlist is available here.


  1. says

    I’ve experienced burnout myself. At the time, I was 18, and I was trying to break into screenwriting in Hollywood. A well-meaning person told me I would need to write a script a week, so that’s what I did. A script is complete story, so I essentially wrote a “novel” a week. After 20 weeks, my creativity completely died. No ideas, no words, nothing. I was like that for 2 years. I always get on people when they declare “There’s no such thing as writer’s block.” Try having burnout.

    My best work has been to completely ignore anything like daily word count goals. It’s hard because this, so much of writerdom is geared towards, “How much did you write?” This week will be one scene on the protagonist, plus some noodling on that character’s storyline and characterization. Both those were important because I’d been having trouble with the protagonist, and spending the time may keep me from major revision.

    I don’t want to be the writer who produces a tremendous amount of books and loses quality — and readers — in the process. There are many writers I don’t revisit because production is there, but quality is not. I’ve abandoned a lot of series writers that I have liked in the past for the same reason. Everyone seems to be sacrificing production for the bottom line of money, but not seeing the bigger picture.

    I do take breaks where I don’t write. I try to go see things, even if it’s just flowers or a waterfall and make sure I walk around (I hate the gym, by the way. I’d much rather do something like walk a lot and see statues than watch myself in a mirror at a gym). I’ve gone on vacations and not written. And I’m also reassessing social media time. I like Facebook because I’m finding because I can enjoy working with pictures. I’ve been backing off Twitter because I find I really hate it and trying to use it is exhausting me. Blogging has changed, too, because I’ve stopped trying to market and have just tried to focus on enjoying myself. Marketing is exhausting, and maybe there’s too much pressure on writers to do it.

    I’m thinking that eventually there’s going to be a backlash for all this “creative productivity.” Too many people are thinking about the money and not the readers.
    Linda Adams – Soldier, Storyteller´s last blog post ..Rule Q – Always ask Questions when you critique

  2. says

    Thank you for writing this post!

    We naturally focus on word counts and keeping ourselves in the chair to write, but can too easily forget the ‘me’ time we need to remain truly creative.

    A couple of weeks ago I started housesitting and the change of scene gave me opportunity to reevaluate what I need to remain creative.

    Space, time and quiet are things which had been in short supply but are essential to my workflow. Having more of all three for a few weeks has made a noticeable difference.

    So thank you again for writing about such an important subject! :)
    Jessica Baverstock´s last blog post ..Boosting Creativity With a Change of Scene

  3. says

    Thanks for sharing these personal, revealing and instructive thoughts. I like that you expanded into a further ‘ring’ of writer universe. First is writing, second is relating the writing to your audience through various marketing techniques, third is in soul-land beyond writing, selling writing, obsessing about writing, etc. Tending the garden of inputs should not be neglected. It is, after all, where the grist for writing originates.
    alex wilson´s last blog post ..White Space

  4. says

    Remember the work? That thing that only we can do?

    I had this conversation with a friend just yesterday! I do think we owe it to ourselves to do “that thing that only we can do.” I also think it’s become easier to forget what that thing is. Maybe it’s time to write it on a piece of paper and stick it to my computer, add a new note to my collection.

    What I need most to be productive and at my best is loads of uninterrupted time. It’s hard to come by, but it’s not impossible.

    Thanks, Barbara!

  5. says

    I try to keep a schedule to balance my life. One thing I force myself to do is turn off the computer at 8:00. No checking e-mails or the Internet. I write in long hand and type in the morning or read.
    Mary Jo Burke´s last blog post ..Hello world!

  6. says

    I just took a break to read this, and it was perfect as I was deciding ‘Do I go to the gym this afternoon or keep writing?’ I really don’t like to interrupt the flow, and I’m taking off the entire day Friday to spend it with a friend–I know, an entire day!–so I want to keep writing. But then I feel that middle-aged fitness pressure you spoke about, and going to the gym simply makes me look more fit than a leisurely bike ride alongside the water.

    But if I step back from my self-imposed pressure, the better choice for my creativity and state of mind is to take the bike ride at the end of my day, and to savor it.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this post. :-)

  7. says

    Thanks for the lovely post, Barbara!

    I too have struggled with that feeling – this strange stigma of write, write, write… as if there is a drill sergeant on my shoulder screaming at me to “get something done.” But I need to putter and I need rest. Like Linda said above, I hate the gym, too, because it is not rest – it’s unpleasant (noisy) work most of the time. Being in a wellness program at work is great, but there is a sort of self-bullying that comes with the gotta-keep-fit mentality. I’ve turned to yoga recently, and have days where I don’t go to the gym but walk in the evenings, because walking stokes up the creative fires.

    And that thing about Twitter – I think it’s fun, but I too find it exhausting. I take it in little bits and don’t tweet everyday – only when I have something worth tweeting. It takes the pressure off so that I can just be, so that I don’t have to worry about people other people think.

    So that’s what I strive for these days – rest!
    Jillian Boston´s last blog post ..Gamine

    • says

      “..there is a sort of self-bullying that comes with the gotta-keep-fit mentality.”

      There is, definitely, and I do believe in fitness and exercise, but maybe some of what we’re doing to ourselves is aiming so hard for perfection that we can’t see the good. Walking really is such a lovely pursuit.
      Barbara O’Neal´s last blog post ..The end of one cycle…the beginning of the next

  8. says

    Loved this article. So important to find time to read, or go to the movies, or cook.
    Or read. Or play with the grandchildren, clean the basement, take the muse out for lunch.
    And did I mention read?
    Chris´s last blog post ..Girl trouble. Period.

  9. says

    I was just having this conversation with several friend/colleagues the other day, we’re all, as one of them said “still with Traditional publishers.”
    It made me feel like I was at the Alamo.
    We’re all working like crazy all the time it seems. I write in two different genres and I knew I had to step back for a minute the other morning when I wandered into the other genre while I was writing a scene. It was a bit unnerving.
    So thanks for the reminder. I’m going to take some time to fill the reservoirs, maybe in August..

  10. says

    The beautiful thing about prioritizing your me time and allowing yourself distractions from writing is how quickly we re-juvenate. It’s like some sort of well of stories builds up during the non-writing hours. As much as I complain about distractions – the time in the barn, spent with the kids, or taking a walk – is time that I’m paid back with creativity, plot twists, and characters that push and demand that they get their time on the page.

    And I agree – dump the trainer and do the things you like to do. Not the things you think you should do. Unless that’s eating more veggies and less coffee.
    Lynn Guelzow´s last blog post ..Wednesday already?

  11. Neroli Lacey says

    Barbara – that was a terrific post. And a brave one, in my opinion, from someone who has as big a name as you. (i’ve loved your books btw).

    I was stuck in a deep hole these past two weeks. And just yesterday went back to my meditation practice. And bingo – re-found my joy in writing. It’s when it comes from somewhere deep and quiet that the real work happens – for me at least. Thanks again. And good luck to you

    Neroli Lacey

  12. says

    Your post came at just the right time for me, Barbara. I’ve been struggling with the glassy-eyed demon of creative fatigue lately. Pushing and relentlessly sitting in the chair with my hands on the keyboard doesn’t work.
    With a much needed vacation coming up in a couple of weeks, doing something I love, exploring new places, I’ve been feeling a little guilty. Worried about all the time I’ll be “wasting.”
    It helps so much to hear that other authors, especially one as accomplished as you, fight the same dilemmas and pressures as a struggling beginner like me. Thank you for your insights. I’m going to relish every moment of my vacation and come back, hopefully, filled with the old drive and joy to write.
    Christine Carminati´s last blog post ..Home

  13. says

    Barbara, thank you for this. It is an eye-opener and “future reminder” for me, still working at a full-time, non-work-related job, blogging once a week and writing a freelance article a little over once per month at this point; beginning to glimpse what publishing and the writing life are these days, now that I’ve finally started to focus on them. Novel in progress, no Twitter account, no newsletter or even mailing list yet…but still an eye-opener. It is almost hard for me to imagine the writing life you live, and I’m not sure it’s what I will actually end up wanting to do full-time. But I will remember this post and come back to your advice, I have little doubt.

    Linda Adams said: “I’m thinking that eventually there’s going to be a backlash for all this ‘creative productivity.’ Too many people are thinking about the money and not the readers.” Yes. Wise words. It seems there’s always an extreme, and consequently a resulting backlash at some point. We never learn, do we? It seems to be in our nature to “go to extremes.” Thank you both for your observations.
    Lucie´s last blog post ..I Used to Be a Poet

  14. says

    “I need a lot of reading time, and it feels like nothing, but it’s everything.”

    Love that! It *IS* everything. It’s the love that brung us to this crazy-making dance, right? Thank you for saying all of this, Barbara. It’s all so very wise, and needed to be said, now more than ever.
    Vaughn Roycroft´s last blog post ..Writing To That Spooky Feeling

  15. Janet Church says

    I have been more productive the past couple of weeks and I owe it to my general health improving and sunshine – at long last! I have mobility issues and this winter was (literally at times) killing me, or at the very least, killing my stamina and creativity. I write in the mornings, before I get distracted by the day in general, but my husband who works nights comes home and wants to talk – at length – about his night. (Boring to the max but relationships need to be nurtured, even after 30 years). Then I go feed my horses and clean. As it turns out, that is my only true ‘me’ time, but I do work out plot problems, etc. Even growing up, I never minded the mindless chores of lawn mowing, ironing, etc. because I could daydream. I wasn’t even writing then except in my head for my own entertainment. Wish I had some of those thoughts back.

    In regard to epublishing vs. agent, I am concerned about the industry in general as pertians to quality. I am determined to get an agent solely for the validation of having my work be ‘good enough’. A girlfriend is writing for RH and is not thrilled because of the restrictions, rewrites, etc. yet has no regrets. I have skimmed a few ebooks that caught my eye and was grossly disappointed, not only in the mechanical end of grammar, spelling, etc., but the lack of plot, and no entertainment per se. Do writers feel the need to brag about being “published” over quality or not ready for prime time? I fear readers will become so disgusted over spending (yes, even at a mere couple of bucks) but more importantly the time wasted on looking for something decent to read that they will return to only buying agented hardcovers. The decline in quality really concerns me, and since I have never bought a lottery ticket, still am skeptical about chatter/recommendations. Personally, I was thoroughly unimpressed with “50 Shades” not only as to topic but the style was not the least compelling, Again, personal opinion. Yes, the author was crying all the way to the bank, but there are other agented books out on the library shelves that I have closed after a chapter or two. Sometimes they closed just before hitting the wall, they were that bad. So I guess in that argument, there are no winners, except for a few.
    All in all, whatever approach one takes, yes, we must take the time to look inside for what drives us. Is it the joy of creativity or the search for fame and money? The theme I see here and elsewhere is that writers in general appear to be comfortable and even prefer their own company and thoughts. Pets make terrific writing companions, however.

  16. says

    Its always nice to know we are not alone… that other writers are obsessive too. Adding all of the tweets, Facebooks, autoresponders, blogs (AND youtube) to my schedule is bad enough. But the middle-aged fitness standard? I shot my scale. WITH A RIFLE. Really. Unloaded all the round into it & now its a cyclops in the field. I didn’t stop there, I took an 11-day cruise to Turkey, Greece & Italy, no roommate, no spouse, no chattering tour groups. I told my silent-not-there-roommate that “no I don’t know what heels I am wearing to dinner at which restaurant & I just might order room service & watch a movie. So there demanding former roommates!” Yes I actually talked back to the imaginary roommates of bygones. When I returned, I took”quiet time” every morning for meditation & prayer to the muses who told me I needed a taskmaster to help. I hired one. We made a writing schedule, uh-huh, with actual days scheduled off & I didn’t have to beat myself up if I did nothing on my novel or my “platform” for a few days. You are right, writer’s block ended. Also, dang it, my brother was right when he said “if you weren’t doing all of the blogs & stuff, wouldn’t you have more time to finish your book?” I hate it when he is right.
    Diana Cachey´s last blog post ..Secret Ruins Near Venice Arsenale

  17. Lisa Threadgill says

    Thank you, Barbara, for a very important post. It is too easy to get caught up in everything. I went through burn out when I was 18. I had been attending college since the age of 16 as student of theatrical design. I not only wanted to do everything, I was young enough to believe that I could. I was carrying 18 units, had two jobs, was the stage manager for a traveling production and designing two other shows. One day I just sat in the parking lot and cried, unable to even get out of the car. I took a year off from school and worked in a bank. I learned a very important lesson from that: if you don’t take time for yourself, you don’t have anything to give anybody, including the muses.

  18. thea says

    Sometimes I feel guilty reading. Because I have ‘things’ to do besides the writing. I don’t like that guilty feeling but it’s hard to avoid.

  19. says

    I love this: “And the girls in the basement were as exhausted as I was, all of them staring with glassy eyes out the windows of our world, depleted and weary.”

    I’ve had some severe burnout in the past, and last year I decided not to set any goals and to go with qualities instead, investigating how things worked rather than forcing things to work (which, honestly, was my usual M.O.!)

    I re-read a great book, The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, and I studied more holistic time management with a woman named Cairene Macdonald, of Third Hand Works. What they teach flies in the face of the “productivity or die!” ethos and “cram everything into every nook and cranny of your day” that is so often taught as necessary.

    But now, one quarter later, I’ve been feeling “busy” creeping up on me. Thanks for the reminder. Will definitely be sharing this.
    Cathy Yardley´s last blog post ..Sell books (without being an asshat.)

  20. says

    “Protect the work.” That’s a quote from “Smash.” (She sheepishly admits to knowing.) But what a great one. And oh so true! I had planned to finish my 3rd book before I started my job and I just couldn’t–between all the responsibilities I had I just ran out of energy. After I started working, a funny thing happened and I lost the urgency to have to do everything now, now, now. I gave myself permission to take a little break and work and teach and when my class ends May 11 to come back to it. I really think the work and my soul will be better for it. But it’s scary. It’s scary to take your foot off the gas. Thanks for the reminder of the benefits of doing just that. Coasting for a bit. Letting the wind at my back fuel the journey. For just a little while.

  21. Liz Tully says

    I found your post really beautiful. The music, the cooking, the birds at the feeder.

    I hope you find all the time you need for all of it.

    “For I have known them all already, known them all:
    Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
    I have measured out my life with coffee spoons; ”

    T.S. Eliot – The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock

  22. says

    It’s so important to learn how you work–what elements need to be present in your life to enable you to produce your best work.
    It’s taken me a while to realize this but I’m more than just a mind. Duh. I need to exercise. So each morning I go for a long walk. I need to feel connected. So I spend time with my husband and get together with friends. I thrive in quiet places. So I live on a rural island. I need to celebrate my inner child. So I take time to play. I need to be inspired. So I read.
    Occasionally, writing does feel like work. Times like these I take time to remember how to play with words. But I do need to write daily. Without it I feel like there is something missing.
    Leanne Dyck´s last blog post ..Meet A Canadian Designer by Leanne Dyck

  23. says

    Thanks Barbara for these important reminders. Balance is so important and so difficult. I’m as yet unpublished and find myself wishing at times that I’d started down this path sooner (I’m 60) but I remind myself that I wouldn’t have the well to draw from if I’d started writing fiction earlier in my life.

    Thank you for hanging in there – I do love your books.
    Lynda Schuessler´s last blog post ..Book Notes

  24. says

    Barbara, an awesome post and so very timely for me. You have inspired me to post a response on my own blog. That is no mean feat, as I have not been inspired to post for some time!

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and exposing the dark corners where we fear to look. It’s time to address the situation and resolve it at last.

    I love the way you are adding back your creative pleasures too. One must fuel the creative beast. ;o)
    Arizona´s last blog post ..Escaping the Black Hole Sink of Non-Creation

  25. says

    I’ve been in a similar headspace, Barbara. (Thanks for the validation.) It’s why I’m back dancing, why I took a 6-week break from my blog and a fallow month at WU. It’s odd how I can most need a break when I least want to take one–a side effect from the past, I think, when I had no choice but to power through when a rest would have been wiser. But boots-on-the-ground doesn’t cut it for creative work. At least not my creative work.
    Jan O’Hara´s last blog post ..Not Dead Yet. Not Even Mostly Dead (+Writer Unboxed Redirect)

  26. says

    This is such a wonderful and timely post, words of wisdom much needed to be voiced today. Though I am only starting out on the writerly path, though I have few published items to my name and not one a novel yet, I cannot imagine being even able to write a single word unless I had oodles of time to moodle and simply take my ease. If I’m not enjoying the work, if I lose that sense of deep inner fulfilment and joy which only writing can give to me, then it’s time to change something. Whatever else has to go, so far the writing remains. [And the reading too, for unless I make time to keep reading, the well runs dry!] Thank you for this post and I hope having to pen it didn’t add to your workload, though I rather suspect that it did! Love and hugs and hoping you find some time just for yourself, just to be.
    Edith´s last blog post ..Womag Queen, or The Ghost and Mrs Kath

  27. says

    Fantastic post, Barbara. Kudos for finding more balance.

    I find I need long periods of quiet-and-alone time, too. And too much “input” (news, tv, etc) affects my outlook and crowds into that “big empty space” where ideas form.
    A good night’s sleep and long walks with my dog make a huge difference. And reading! (My preferred entertainment.) :)
    Cindy Angell Keeling´s last blog post ..Occasional Fire

  28. says

    I had to laugh at myself – my first thought was complete identification and agreement with everything you said. The second was, “Oh, no! I still haven’t put my out of print backlist out as ebooks!”

    A bit of going around in circles?

    But at least I have just got in from a lovely hour of walking dogs on a bright fall day, and having read your wise words, am ready to go straight to the ms and forget the ‘shoulds’ of marketing etc. Thanks.

  29. says

    “I need a lot of time to myself.” Amen, amen, amen. That adds to my feeling of burn out. (When I don’t have time to recharge.) I could identify with every word of this. Well other than the “writing several books a year” part. :)
    Jamie@SouthMainMuse´s last blog post ..Gray and proud. Or was I?

  30. says

    My best writing time is currently between 10 pm and 1 am, which–as you might imagine–created all sorts of havoc with my day job (I need to be at work by 7:15 a.m.) and my energy levels. Low energy caused me to collapse at home after work, which meant that my personal life and friendships went bye-bye, and I became very rundown and sickly. (But my writing was going very, very well!)

    Still, something needed to change. I realized I was writing so late because I needed quiet, reading time, and then writing time. I’m currently operating on the same schedule as I just described, but I’m trying to turn it all back a couple of hours. We’ll see. I’m lucky to have very understanding people in my life, but I’m sure their patience will not be eternal. I don’t blame them; mine wouldn’t be, either. Currently I’m considering an every other day writing routine.
    Steven E. Belanger´s last blog post ..Marathon Bombing

  31. says

    I’ve always loved to read and write, but never tried to do anything serious about my writing until after retirement. I’ve published one novel and the second one is near ready. It took 2 years for the first one and almost that long for the second, and it has yet to be seen by a publisher. I’ve done 2 magazine articles.
    I can’t sit for long periods, and my vision is blurred most of the time. I have word-finding difficulty – great thing for a writer!
    I don’t have that busy of a schedule, but sometimes having only 1 appointment wears me out. When I am physically tired my brain also takes a vacation.
    I like to plan for at least 4 hours time of uninterrupted writing, but that rarely happens. I planned for blogging on Thursday, but keep forgetting to do it. I try to do a little facebook, but find myself lost in it for the whole day.
    The articles tell you to read books, build a platform, and write. I did not want to bother reading or blogging because that would take too much time from writing. Soon I discovered why I needed to read. It helped improve my writing and word-finding! Most importantly, it helped me to relax and unwind. Through blogging, I’ve met some wonderful and interesting people.
    Now, I’m looking for an agent. Writing that query letter scares me. I’ve read how to do, but, as yet, have not put pen to paper, so to speak. I’ll do it tomorrow, promise.
    Connie Terpack´s last blog post ..New Theme: Twenty Thirteen

  32. Marilyn Slagel says

    I’ll read all the responses tomorrow, but wanted to chime in here while on break.

    I’m 57. When my husband died in 2009, I realized that NONE of us has forever. I love to write, need to be working on my second book, but time for ME things takes precedence these days.

    Life is so short – aging parents, little ones, friends – they all matter in the here and now.

    Barbara, your post is fabulous! Thanks for sharing so much of yourself.

  33. says

    i read this on my iphone on the train on my way to work this morning, and thought, geez, barbara has nailed this so close to what i’ve been experiencing, creativity wise, lately –

    had done raised the kids ;-)

    the things about needing time, lots of time, to think and read and be, all rang very true, as something i need to “resume” in my life

    trying to do too much, well ;-) that’s a constant problem!

    but i have “begun” to slow my first read-through of the finished first draft of my next work, and it’s nice to allow time for unexpected touches that fit and work to become apparent

    so thank you much for the timely article, very much enjoyed it!
    Felipe Adan Lerma´s last blog post ..Paris in 5 1/2 Weeks : Photos # 8 – At the Eiffel Tower (Day 7, 2 of 2)

  34. says

    Like everyone before me, I really appreciate the timeliness and honesty of this post. I think I’m burnt out right now! Not from writing, though, but from all the other demands in my life. I carry around this heavy guilt that these responsibilities are keeping me from my writing, and working on my blog, and other social networking, and submissions, etc. etc. There is jsut never enough time or energy, and the sense of pressure is exhausting. None of this fuels creativity. I need to let up on the guilt and know that I will still have time for writing when I get my ducks in a row.

    It’s encouraging to see so many other writers who have come to it later in life. This is my third career, and when I see much younger and more successful writers I so often I think I have to hurry and push so hard to make up for lost time. That I just won’t make it if I don’t run at it.

    Thanks for the reminder that we need to feed our muses by taking better care of ourselves. And letting go of twitter and trainers if that’s what’s necessary to find balance.
    Mary Ann Clarke Scott´s last blog post ..Elevens Tag: Random Facts About Me

  35. Sarah Strohmeyer says

    Moving from the iPad so I could respond more fully to this fantastic and, as others have said, really timely post.
    A few weeks ago, I left the seclusion of my home office to take a job here in Vermont as Town Clerk. People have scratched their heads and asked why when wasn’t I living the dream?
    What they don’t, maybe can’t, understand is that the writing world as it exists now was turning me into a selfish, self-centered and uncreative animal. It filled me with blackness. Yuck.
    The focus to constantly self promote via website, blog, FB, Twittter, (as you said Barbara) is counter intuitive to writing which imagines and explores the intricacies of other souls. In short, as Bob Dylan once wrote, I needed to serve someone.
    I’ve been on the job five weeks as Town Clerk and already I’ve got a big bond vote coming up in May that might conflict with a book tour. Fine. This is more important. So is helping my neighbors, whether it’s the illiterate man on the other side of our community who cannot read his own land deed, or a widow whose husband was felled during sugaring season by a random branch and must now learn how to take care of her own property.
    I have missed a deadline. And I’m not sure my editor is happy. I have not promoted a book that’s received meh reviews. I haven’t gone to any conferences or even updated my website.
    But the juices are flowing again and, better, I feel more connected to the world. My job simultaneously stresses responsibility and humility, both of which were sorely lacking. When I come home and read all the self-congratulatory posts from other writers (that I know they’re only putting up there under pressure to sell books), I am glad that I have turned my back on this aspect of the business.
    Sorry to go on so long, Barbara, but as you can see from the 70 other posts, you’ve really hit a nerve. I will probably never be as successful as I hoped, but I have enough already. I am grateful.

  36. says

    Great post. I had just arrived at the same decision. Having retired from my “day job ” to write, I found myself overwhelmed with demands to do other things because “you can always write.” Like you I need lots of time to myself. I do a lot of writing in my head before I begin to type a word. I decided to reclaim my time and my pursuits. Like you I love to read, read, read and always have. It has always helped inform my writing. Thanks for validating what my heart told me to do.
    Kathleen Ferrari´s last blog post ..What I am Reading – The Lawgiver

  37. says


    Thanks for sharing your experience of burnout and how you dug your way out. It is great you were able to realize the problem soon enough that you were able to take an honest view of your life during your week of rest.

    My experience with burnout had me ignoring relationships, working many hours (but ultimately not being very productive for all those hours), and losing interest in things I used to love, like writing. Like you, I was able to step away and get some perspective. I dropped some activities and am getting more rest. I call myself a recovering burnout.

    I am glad you are doing better.
    Roger Carr´s last blog post ..Build A Hardy Personality: Challenge



  1. […] hope this never happens to you, but Barbara O’Neal’s (@barabaraoneal) Boundaries and Burnout hit really close to home. I’ve been feeling that burn and not in a good way. Fortunately, some […]