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Top Five Hacks to Overcome Writer Burnout

Hacks for Hacks (sense of humor required)Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

You love writing. It’s your passion. Why, the only thing more fun that writing is telling people you’re a writer [1]! But lately you feel like a fraud saying that. Not because of impostor syndrome [2], but because the thought of spending another few hours working on your book makes you want to set your house on fire. And while arson can erase a great many writing sins, that’s a subject for a future column. Today, we’re only dealing with metaphorical fires, by which I mean burnout.

Burnout is sometimes mistaken for writer’s block, but they’re quite different. Writer’s block is like when you’re hungry and you look in your brain’s Idea Fridge and find nothing but some leftover Hamburger Helper. Burnout, on the other hand, is when you open and close your well-stocked fridge for ten minutes knowing you need to eat but can’t muster the energy to make anything but cold cereal (I am once again speaking metaphorically, but burnout often leads eating cereal for dinner literally as well).

Burnout happens to all of us, myself included. For instance, do you know how much torture it was to write this very column? (Note to my editors: I am kidding! Ha ha!) So whether you need it now or later, here are five ways to deal with writer burnout.

Read. Recharge your creativity by reading the great works of others. Replace your disdain of the creative process with the despair that you’ll never be as good as your heroes.

Clear your desk. Get rid of the clutter, trinkets, pens, papers, computer, your big monitor. Move the desk outside to the curb. Wait for it to get stolen or hauled away by garbagemen. When you feel the itch to buy a way-too-fancy writing desk [3], that’s when you’ll know you’re ready to pick up the pen again.

photo by Tim Vrtiska

Reconnect. Reach out to the people in your life you’ve been too busy to contact. Schedule a lunch with a friend. Call your folks. Patch things up with a certain someone to see if the magic is still there. There’s a chance you’ll feel better about life in general, thus inspiring you to write. There’s also a chance you’ll see how thoroughly you’ve burned your bridges with the people in your life, in which case writing won’t seen so bad by comparison, will it?

Get a life. There’s a whole world out there that you can interact with, if you could just step away from your word processor for once. Take some time off from your daily word count and catch up on the ol’ to-do list. Mow the lawn. Fix the front stairs. File your two-years-ago taxes. Getting reacquainted with your crippling adult responsibilities will give you a new appreciation of why you need your writing to escape them.

Take up a hobby. Imagine, if you can, a reality where you didn’t spend every moment of your precious free time trying to further your literary career. You could take up painting. Go birding. Build a ship in a bottle. Your inner perfectionist will protest that you’re just a dabbler, just a hobbyist, and that you’ll never be great at these activities. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that it’s okay. You are still a good person if you’re not amazing at everything you do. You’d even have value as a person if, say, you admitted to yourself that you weren’t very good at writing. But what a wild thought that is, though, right? Right?! Ha ha ha!

How do you cope with writer burnout? Share your advice in the comments!

About Bill Ferris [5]

After college, Bill Ferris [6] left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.