When we think about becoming a professional writer, it often seems like sunshine and bluebirds. We’ll spend a few hours a day at the computer, where the words flow easily onto the page. When the book’s done, we’ll land a six-figure-advance publishing deal with a major press and wait for the royalties to roll in. Maybe while sitting by the pool in that new mansion in the Bahamas.
The reality can be a little different. In today’s publishing ecosystem, it’s extraordinarily rare for a first-time author to land a publishing contract with the Big Five publishers in New York at all—let alone get a lucrative advance. Royalties are tiny—sometimes as little as 6%. And you have to sell enough copies to earn back that advance before you even see them!
Self-publishing seems like a better option for most writers today, but it’s not all roses, either. You have to manage the publication of your book yourself, which adds a lot of time and many moving parts. You can work with an independent publisher like TCK Publishing to take a lot of the load away, but then you’re still left with the hard work of writing the book and then marketing it when it’s finished.
Burnout Is Real
No wonder writers tend to suffer from burnout at a fairly high rate. We push ourselves hard and, even though we might not be lifting heavy objects or swinging hammers all day, our work is demanding. Creating coherent outlines and offering useful, actionable information as a nonfiction writer is not easy; neither is creating a vivid, engaging new world completely out of imagination and will when you’re a fiction writer.
If you also have a day job that requires you to think and perform at a high level, it’s easy to see how burnout can hit—and hit hard.
6 Signs of Burnout
Here are six signs of burnout that you should be on the lookout for and address immediately.
1. You’re Tired All the Time
Are you having a hard time dragging yourself out of bed in the morning? Does it take 12 cups of coffee just to get through the afternoon slump? Are you dreaming of your bed by 6pm? You’re probably pushing yourself too hard.
Being tired all the time can be a mental state, too. If you feel like your creativity has gone down the drain and it’s all you can do to figure out what to have for dinner—cereal again!—your brain is exhausted. It might be time for a breather.
2. Writing Feels Like a Chore
You used to be so excited to wake up at 4am and start writing. All day at work, you were scribbling notes about your next chapter on sticky notes and scraps of paper, counting down the minutes until you could get home and start writing again.
Lately, though, you’re finding excuses not to write. Instagram won’t update itself, you know. And the dog definitely looks like he needs a bath…
When you do manage to write, you resent every single keystroke. You find yourself glaring at the enter key, daring it to say something about how you’re not writing enough words daily. You’ve considered chucking your laptop out the window for the crime of beeping at you funny.
Losing your motivation and enthusiasm for something you used to love is one of the biggest signs of burnout.
3. You’re Constantly Grumpy
So yeah, about your laptop beeping at you funny…if you find yourself on edge all the time, snapping at friends, family, and inanimate objects alike, you may be burned out.
Of course, it might not be all screaming bouts and throwing things. Maybe you’re in a constant, low-level bad mood where it feels like nothing’s worthwhile. Why bother writing, anyway? It’s not like it makes a difference. Your book isn’t selling, or it’s not selling fast enough, so why write another one? What’s the point in marketing if no one’s listening? Grump grump grump.
Yep, you’re in Burnout Land.
4. You’re Not Doing Good Work
Either in your writing, at your day job, or in your daily life, your standards are slipping. You missed that deadline, screwed up that report, or just forgot an appointment. You’re rushing through things just to get them done and you don’t really care if they’re done right.
The cat doesn’t care if the litterbox doesn’t get emptied today. Bob in Accounting can wait on that email. The world won’t end if you’re 10 minutes late to the meeting.
You’re drained. And the world can tell.
5. Your Health Is Suffering
More telltale signs of burnout? You’re not sleeping, or you’re sleeping too much. You’re eating poorly. Maybe that bottle on the bar is looking really tempting a little too often. The folks at the gym have forgotten what you look like. Regardless, you’re not taking care of yourself the way you used to.
When you’re suffering from burnout, taking care of yourself feels kind of pointless. You’re exhausted and nothing feels like it makes a difference, so why shouldn’t you just order Chinese for the fifth night in a row?
Stress has physical consequences, too. Some of us get terrible headaches; other folks get upset stomachs or digestive issues. Anxiety can cause a racing heart or achy muscles. If you find yourself suffering from frustrating, unexplained, low-level ailments, burnout might just be the culprit.
6. Your Friends and Family Are Worried
Our loved ones know us better than we’d like to admit sometimes. Often, they’re the first ones to notice the signs of burnout—especially crankiness and slipping health. They know when you’re not feeling like yourself, when your passion seems to have evaporated and you’re just slogging through each day.
Maybe you’re fighting with your significant other more. Maybe you’re spending less fun time with your kids. Maybe you’re finding excuses to lie on the couch instead of joining your friends for brunch.
If someone in your life has pointed out that you don’t seem like yourself, or that you’re kind of not fun to be around anymore, it’s worth listening. It’s hard to hear what sounds like personal criticism, but your friends and family have your best interests at heart. If they’re worried enough to actually say something, you might be burned out…and showing it.
So You’re Burned Out—What Now?
Okay, so you’re burned out…or close to it. What now?
First of all, breathe. This doesn’t make you weak; it doesn’t mean you’ll never achieve your goal of being a professional writer.
It just means you’re human!
We all feel burned out sometimes, and having high standards and setting high goals for yourself increases the likelihood that you’ll push yourself so hard that you hit burnout.
It’s okay! This is natural and normal. And there are ways to cope with burnout and come back refreshed.
The first step is to accept that you’re burned out. The worst thing you can do right now is to ignore the problem—it’ll only get worse.
Next, take a breather. Give yourself permission to unwind a bit and to take a few days off. The world won’t end if you don’t meet your word count for a week—but if you stay in Burnout Land, you might never get that book published. Take care of yourself now in order to get stuff done later.
Plan some self-care into your life. Just like you schedule your writing time and your appointments, schedule some time for yourself every day. Even a 20-minute break with a cup of tea and a magazine can be incredibly refreshing.
Burnout happens to everyone. Learn to recognize the signs and give yourself permission to take a breather in order to be your best self.
If you find yourself struggling with burnout, give these tips a try to get back on an even keel:
- 4 Ways to Practice Mindfulness and Master Your Mind
- How to Calm Your Mind by Moving Forward—A Simple Tool for Getting Unstuck
- What to Do When You Get Writer’s Block, Feel Stuck or Just Don’t Know What to Write
Kate Sullivan is an editor with experience in every aspect of the publishing industry, from editorial to marketing to cover and interior design.
In her career, Kate has edited millions of words and helped dozens of bestselling, award-winning authors grow their careers and do what they love!