I would like to talk about a topic very near and dear to my heart today: burnout.
There are days that I crave the blessed mindlessness of a dayjob. Show up, be a robot, go home. Evenings and weekends that I spend without panicking that I’ve wasted five minutes doing…nothing.
To be able to say, “Oh, I don’t feel like writing today” and not be a nervous wreck for the rest of the night.
To not feel like I have 1001 publishing tasks to take care of.
To be ignorant of the constant second-guessing that is marketing. What if something I’m doing or not doing is costing me sales? Should I be patient…or should I panic?
To be able to hang onto my work until I “know” that it’s perfect instead of having committed to putting up something every week.
To be able to give up after an umpteenth rejection because I feel like I’ll never get published again and I’m not getting any better.
To be able to take a vacation where I don’t spend an hour a day doing work.
To be able to spend days and days and days reading other people’s stuff. Without having to ration my reading time in order keep my life balanced.
To be able to look at something and go, “I want it; I think I’ll buy it,” without weighing it against independence.
None of these things are good for me. They don’t make me happy. They don’t make me feel like I’m doing anything challenging with my life. They don’t make me fit.
Nevertheless, my head swims with can’t can’t can’t anymore.
How do you resolve something like that? How do you energize yourself, when every second you spend energizing yourself makes you feel more anxious and less able to go on? Do you push through? Do you concentrate on making everything magically all better…using nothing more than the power of your mind?
I don’t know. I do know that some people are genuinely burnt out and need to find something else to do, and some people just have a weird feedback loop going on in their heads and everything really is just fine. Too many things to do, can’t do them all, no point in doing any of them, even more things to do…
Either way, I suspect the first thing to do is make sure you aren’t being dominated by those feedback loops. Make sure your body is rested, fed and watered, and exercised. Make sure your physical surroundings are cleaned up (my brains get scrambled if everything looks messy). Resolve any outstanding emotional problems that have nothing to do with writing and publishing. Read a book, indulge in a few luxuries. And then look at the situation. When you first start, it will feel like you’re wasting time, but if you’re going to force yourself to do something, this is what you should be forcing yourself to do: give yourself the resources to think and feel clearly.
I’ve been through this cycle maybe ten times, to a greater or lesser extent, since I started freelancing. Often the reason that I go into this cycle is that I’m trying to tell myself something that I don’t want to hear or have identified a problem for which I have no solution. For instance, I recently went through a period where I learned how to stop obsessively outlining every damn thing I wrote…by not being able to come up with story ideas until it was deadline time and I had to write something. I felt like a total loser until I figured out what was going on
Emotions are there to tell me things that logic cannot comprehend. Logic, unsurprisingly, has a hard time understanding and doesn’t handle it well. Is it burnout or is it your heart’s way of saying, “you’re just not listening”?
Probably the latter, most of the time.