Freelance writer burnout is an occupational hazard for people who make their living with words. This condition is more than just feeling tired at the end of a marathon work session, and it is not to be confused with writer’s block. True burnout is born of feeling stressed out to the max, and it makes everything look bleak.
How do you know you’re truly burned out and not feeling stressed out or experiencing writer’s block? Here’s how you can tell the difference.
Writer (or General) Stress
Stress is about feeling overwhelmed. There is just too much of everything going on. You feel pressured, physically, mentally, and emotionally. You may describe yourself as being snowed under or buried in your work, and that’s a good way to describe it. When the walls start closing in, your emotions can go into overdrive and you may not have a lot of physical energy.
Writer’s block is a different thing altogether. It’s when your mind goes blank and you can’t. make. the. words. show. up. The harder you try, the more elusive they are. (Slippery little things, aren’t they?) It’s not a sign that you are burned out, though, since you should be able to get back on track by either making yourself plug through or taking a break.
Early Signs of Writer’s Burnout
You won’t wake up one day to realize that you are a burned out freelance writer. This condition will develop over time, and you may not realize that you have started down this slippery slope until you the process is well underway. How can you recognize the signs of writer’s burnout? Here are some indications that you should be aware of over time:
- You’re bone-tired exhausted no matter how much sleep you are getting at night, and catching up on weekends is not helping.
- Every day at work is “one of those days.” You just aren’t feeling the love, in the groove, or whatever metaphor you use for enjoying your work anymore.
- You feel as though your writing is dull and you feel detached from your writing.
If this sounds like someone who has blown a creative fuse, then you’re right. Writer’s burnout is about lack. People in this state feel empty and need to take steps to get filled up again.
How to Deal with Writer’s Burnout
If you are feeling burned out from freelance writing, here are some suggestions to help you cope.
- Since one of the signs of burnout is that you are thinking about work even when you’re not at work, step away from the job (literally and figuratively) by scheduling some time off.
- Start by blocking off an afternoon a week if you can’t bring yourself to schedule a whole day off – and stick to it.
- Personal care tends to fall by the wayside when people are experiencing burnout. Make sure you are eating a balanced diet and getting enough rest. Make sure you are staying well hydrated by drinking plenty of water though the day. Turning to alcohol may seem like a good idea when you’re generally feeling icky, but it will only make the problem worse.
- Take time out to read for enjoyment. Words are writers’s stock in trade, and during times of burnout, it can be hard to appreciate their beauty. Spending some time with other people’s words can take the pressure off and be a way to help you press your own personal “Reset” button.
- When you are writing, try to change topics if you can. Some writers focus on specific niches because they find it easier to specialize but during times of burnout, each assignment can look the same. If it’s not possible to switch to a completely different topic, then spend part of the day working on assignments for different clients.
- Tell your inner editor (you know the one) to take a step back and let you get something down. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You can work with your words and polish them up later on. When you’re trying to recover from burnout mode, you want to work with baby steps to just get your work done. Tell the story, whether you’re working on an article, a blog post, a white paper, or a chapter in a novel.
- When you’re finished telling that part of the story, reward yourself in some way. Have a cup of tea, go for a walk, do some meditation, read a chapter in a book you’ve been dying to read, but do something is giving you a treat. You want to reward yourself for the accomplishment by replenishing your emotional and spiritual well. Over time, it should get easier to write, but that doesn’t mean that you should stop doing nice things for yourself.
These small rituals are an important part of avoiding writer’s burnout. Make them part of your regular routine.
For more tips about dealing with professional burnout, check out these online resources:
Warning Signs of Career Burnout
Barbara Bretton: I was a Burned-Out Romance Writer
18 Tips for Recovering from Writing Burn-Out
OMG this is so essential. I’m new to the world of freelance writing. I used to practice law. The first thing I realized was that one of the reasons my law practice burned me out had nothing to do with the law. It was my way of working. Thinking about work when I wasn’t working like you said. Getting really keyed up and overdoing it when I was marketing and looking for jobs. Rather than just querying a handful of jobs everyday I would go all in until I worked myself into the ground.
Although you wrote this as a post to help recover from burnout, I think it’s also got critical information to help freelancers avoid burnout from the get go.
Thanks for sharing!