Monday, July 30, 2012

Beating Writer Burn Out

by Stephanie Morrill


There are days and seasons when I approach my daily writing time with enthusiasm. When my fingers can't wait to get on the keys, the dialogue comes out zippy, and writing feels fun.

And then there are other days...


Days when everything I type feels tired, when my story seems unimaginative.

Or days that come right after I've pushed myself to finish a draft, but I just can't seem to get my head back in the story.

Or days that follow a big rejection, when I'm plagued by self-doubt.

Or when Life Stuff is happening, and writing feels meaningless or trivial in the wake of it.

Or, or, or.

Lots of things cause burn out or writer's fatigue. When you're not really blocked, but uninspired.

Here are some suggestions for kicking your fatigue and igniting your creativity:

Indulge your story-loving self

We love stories, don't we? So go enjoy one! Watch a movie, try a new TV show, or reread a favorite book.  And don't make it your goal to analyze and figure out why this character works or why this plot twist doesn't - just enjoy.

Music with lyrics

Pick a band whose music you enjoy and who has good lyrics. I would probably pull out Florence and the Machine or Muse. Listen to the words of a song and try to craft a story that fits it, just for fun!

Craft books ... but careful with this one!

Sometimes pulling out a beloved craft book, Bird by Bird or On Writing, can bring back my inspiration. But sometimes - I've noticed - I hide in writing-related activities. If I'm feeling lazy and therefore uninspired, I'll find all kinds of writerly things to do - talk about writing, read about writing, blog about writing. That's because those things are always fun and easy.

But like Stephen King so wisely says right before sharing everything he knows about how to write good fiction, "I'll be as brief as possible, because your time is valuable and so is mine, and we both understand that the hours we spend talking about writing is time we don't spend actually doing it."

Some writers, it seems to me, become craft book and conference junkies. They don't write a lot, but they know an awful lot about how to do it. You're never going to find a craft book that magically fixes the sagging middle of your manuscript. You're never going to find one that hands you a great idea you'll never grow bored with. Craft books are a tool in your toolbox, as is your critique group or the Go Teen Writers blog. Even with great tools, you still must do the hard work of building the story.

Get active

Get out in the world and enjoy it! Go for a nature walk. Pick some flowers. Make snow angels. Take a bike ride. Chase your little brother around the yard. It's good for your mental health, which is good for your story's health too!

Enjoy other arts

If there's another art form you enjoy - painting, dancing, music, sewing - take some time to do it. Maybe even try a new kind of art, like decorating cupcakes or snapping some photos. Or enjoy somebody else's art at a gallery or boutique. You're trying to refresh that dried up, creative piece of yourself, so get out there and try something new.

National Geographic

My husband subscribes to National Geographic. I don't read them cover to cover like he does, but the articles are always fabulous and the pictures breathtaking. It's a window into other cultures, to parts of the planet I'll probably never travel. Reading an issue, or even flipping through one, always expands my worldview.

Go somewhere else to write

As gorgeous as my office is, sometimes getting out of it is what I need. If you don't have a laptop, grab a notebook and head to a park, a coffeehouse, or even just a comfy chair in the living room. I don't know what the science is behind changing the routine, but it really can help push through a dry spell. 

Have another suggestion? Leave a comment below!

47 comments:

  1. Wow! Thank you so much for this! Too often do I hide behind the craft. Just reading about it or talking about it, yet doing nothing. This really inspires me to make more of an effort to get more writing done--no matter if I think I'm having Writer's Block or if the words that are coming out just stink. Thank you very much. This is a post I needed.

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    1. I've noticed myself hiding behind it too, Kelsey. I'm glad it was a helpful post!

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  2. Thanks so much for talking about this, Stephanie! Those are great tips which I'll keep in mind next time. :) I think my problem was I was putting to much pressure on myself to finish a story. :( So I started writing a fanfic and writing got fun again. :)
    I like the National Geographic tip, I love learning about other places! In fact, I took an anthropology class last year and it was so fascinating, especially to see how other cultures define family and such. Like in some cultures, you're only related to your female relatives... Eh, I'm getting nerdy, I'll shut up. :P But yeah, other cultures are fun to learn about. :)

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    1. I was just planning to make a comment about too much pressure bc it's been weighing on me

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    2. Too much pressure is an excellent thing to mention, ladies. Sometimes pressure (like a writing deadline) can help push you to complete something, but other times it's stifling.

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  3. Often I find my self doing what I call, "Forced" writing is when I want to do it but I don't feel the pull of inspiration.
    Tip for bored or uninspired writers, Try the old school pen and paper. You'll be wowed when you find out how much a fun colored pen and a fresh, clean piece of paper wil help spark fresh ideas.

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    1. YES. A fresh notebook does wonders for me!

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  4. Something that surprises me is how quickly it all can swing, Saturday morning I was like "I hate this. My story isn't going to work, grrr" Saturday afternoon I forced myself to write & surprised myself with 1900 words. Then yesterday I didn't feel it at all & decided to finsih reading the book I started a few days ago.
    Today, I don't know where I am. My appointments got rescheduled so I'm like hmmmmm.
    I'm really on the fence about my WIP. I'm thinking it needs surgery, but should I get a full ms word count before I decide? Things like idk.

    I've noticed a lot of my burn out & frustrations come from putting pressure on myself saying like - I HAVE to be submitting & ready by xx date. I've been thinking mulling it over & it's a total mental thing. I'm trying to figure out how to overcome it though and just relax and enjoy it, I see a lot of ppl want to write bc they like it. Maybe it's my life stage that makes it feel different but if I ever want to write well those feelings have to change bc there's very little in the publishing industry I have control over.

    I also hide behind craft books and blogs. I'm working on, it's a fake sense of "writing"
    I am my own WIP!

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    1. Tonya, that's a lot of tough issues to deal with! It sounds like you could benefit from removing the deadlines and jsut focusing on the story.

      And we're all WIPs :)

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    2. I've been working on it! It definitely takes time

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  5. I meant my life stage that makes me feel the pressure of writing. Like if I'm ever going to be successful I have to do it NOW

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  6. Excellent post! I'll use this when I reach the "sagging middle" of the book I'm working on ;)

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  7. I've already read two separate blog posts on "writers block." It must be storming the writers world today... as it does every day. This post was great inspiration. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. Awesome post Stephanie! I'll remember this post when I'm having writers fatigue! I was feeling a little down in this area before I discovered GTW, and that lit my spark of inspiration all again! Also, when I read fanfiction, it makes me itch to start writing something.

    My other creative outlet is drama. I love being in musical theater plays! :D Oh, and singing! (I also like drawing, but I'm not the best at that.)

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  9. AHHH THANK YOU FOR THIS POST!!! I am writing this novel... I was so excited about it. I produced about a chapter a day for a month! Came so close to the ending... well guess what... one month later and I've barely written two chapters and I'm two chapters away from finishing the story and I have no desire to sit down and write it -bangs head against desk-

    This blog post today is a big help. I was needing it. I listen to music with lyrics all the time :D I base a lot of stories off of what I get from songs. A Taylor Swift/ Johnny Cash book is my next project xD

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    1. What songs? My WIP was inspired by Taylor swifts "you belong with me". I am mulling over one based on some of Carrie Underwood songs ,too. I just haven't nailed it down to start writing it yet

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    2. A lot of them actually. I'm just stringing her songs into a story. She's the girl and a Johnny Cash like character will be the boy.

      Some songs by Taylor-
      Speak Now
      The Story of Us
      Fearless
      Sparks Fly... ect.

      Johnny Cash-
      Hurt
      Man In Black
      Don't Take Your Guns to Town
      Boy Named Sue

      ...it'd be a typical cliche story though xD Kinda like Bonny and Clyde.

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  10. This is exactly where I am. I've been working on my WIP for a couple of years or more (I'm not sure exactly how long), and I'm pretty close to the end now - closest I've ever gotten to the end of a story, I'll sheepishly admit. For a while, I was really excited about it, writing all the time, loving my characters and thrilling in every plot twist. Now I open my document, stare at the last sentence I wrote, and think, "I am wasting my time. I'm a pathetic writer. Who even cares about this story anyway? I'm going to go write something else."

    Thank you so much, Stephanie, for this post. Sometimes the simplest of tips can be like a breath of energizing fresh air. You make me want to get back there and finish that thing!

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    1. I feel like this a lot, Allison. I suppose we've just got to hang in there.

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    2. Oh, Allison, I can't even count how many times I've felt that way! Including with books of mine that are published. One of them I had rewritten and wrestled with so much, a part of me hoped the agent passed on it just because I was so sick of working on it :)

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  11. All right, you got me. I have ideas, but sometimes I'm not sure if they're right. Like, I was so excited for the past 24 hours to write this story, but now it just seems too . . .I don't know, weird. I'm just going to go ahead, because I think it's interesting. Oddly enough, it's a dark story inspired by wood chips (no joke). Thanks for the post, as I think we all struggle with this a lot.

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  12. I always take out a favorite novel when I'm feeling uninspired, it reminds me why I want to write.

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  13. Thank you for the post! One of my weaknesses as a writer is I become uninspired very very quickly. And then out of my uninpsiration, I'll scrap the story and move onto something else. (I guess you could also call that a low attention span. xP)I'm determined not to do that anymore, and you just gave me seven ways to help keep myself focused, and to bring back that fire for the story I'm trying to tell. Thanks a lot, and God bless! :]

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    1. I feel ya, Langston! I love being in that inspired I-must-write-every-waking-moment mood, but just as quickly as I become inspired I can just as quickly become uninspired. Perhaps its my kinda ADD-ish tendencies to just lose all attention span or whatever, but it really can become frustrating at times. But then again I just found 7 ways to help inspire myself and my current WIP, didn't I? So, thank you, Stephanie! ;)

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    2. Echo Sarah! 7 Ways to Inspire...sums it up perfectly. :)

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  14. What I do when I feel like I'm burning out is I write in my Nonsense Notebook. The place where I put all the little bits of story running around in my head, the hidey hole in which I put all of my strangest, most emotional tidbits writing. That's what keeps me going, because if I stop writing, then I lose it. That's key, I guess. Keep writing, even if it's not on your "big" project.

    Ely Gyrate

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  15. Whenever I'm uninspired I listen to Muse, Snow Patrol, and 30 seconds to mars. Sometimes I can't write because something is bothering me, but I don't know how to say it. So I pull out a specially designated notebook and scrawl my thoughts-whatever comes into my head-until I work out what's bothering me and blocking my creativity.

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    1. Kylie, you and are very music compatible!

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  16. This was the perfect post for me. I'm really stressing myself out right now. I'm wondering if the plot I've chosen is too complicated for a first novel (my other tries are too pathetic to classify as novels). I've been so caught up in my short stories, blurbs, and plot ideas, that I wonder if I'm overestimating my abilities. I was first contemplating a tale of a professional thief in the 50's, then I figured that I should probably sink down to the 'write what you know', and have a character closer to my age. So now, it's more of the tale of a runaway teen in 1947 who gets taken in by an older thief, and taught the trade. But now I'm realizing how little I know about 1947, and if I should just keep my first shot a simple contemporary. Any advice anyone? Lol.
    I tend to listen to my 'Oh Snap!' and 'Good Will Come' playlists, bake some cookies, read some poetry, watch some Audrey Hepburn, sketch some me-ness, then chew on my pencil again.

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    1. Lydia, you just have to remember that people like Rachel Coker wrote their first books in a different era. It might take you a little research, but don't give up on yourself!

      I'm probably in the same boat as you when it comes to my story most likely being too complicated for me. I just love the story and have to get it out. My mind's been working on it for over two years. I can't give that up. Not now.

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    2. Thanks for the encouragement dearie. I so needed that. I've been stewing on this one for months now - oy vey. (I take some getting used to - I call everyone weird names - from darlin' to dearie, often use a fake British accent, and say oy vey, ay carumba, and oy with the poodles already, a lot.)

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    3. Lydia, Jodi Picoult has a great philosophy, which is "Write what you can research." And even though her books are contemporaries, it's clear they involve a ton of research.

      Don't give up on your book or your big idea. You have a wonderful "voice" Lydia - just stick with it!

      And "Oy with the poodles already?" Somebody's a Gilmore Girls fan... :)

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    4. I only watched the first 3 seasons, but yes, I am a fan. And I will probably end up with Lorelai's personality as an adult (oh, and that coffee addiction).
      With 1947, I just don't know where to start, ya know? I've done all the 'lazy research' that I start with, at the library, bookstores, and Wikepedia, and come up empty-handed.
      Thanks so much for the encouragement and handy philosophy - it means a lot. (Boy, am I long-winded lately :P)

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  17. Great post, Stephanie! I've been needing this.

    What I usually do when I feel uninspired is listen to music, read a good book, journal, check out some blogs, do some sort of art that I enjoy (such as painting and sketching), sketch some fashion designs that linger in my head, exercise, go for a walk, have a steaming cup of tea mixed with a tablespoon of honey alongside some dark chocolate :) (yum...) , go shopping, spoil myself, meditate or just plain SLEEP! :)
    Lol. (sorry for the long list)

    Anyways, I have an awesome English teacher that seems to have a geeky love for literature just like me. What do you guys think - should I ask her to exchange emails with me so we can talk about my writing. There is absolutely no one I know (teenagers) in my area (or even in school) who love writing like me and would bother to give me honest feedback. I really want to ask my teacher. She's really fun and friendly. What do you guys think?
    Thanks so much! :)

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    1. I'd say go for it! Whenever I find someone great to talk to about writing, I feel so relieved after I get out whatever's been bottled up inside of me.

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    2. Thanks for your answer, Kelsey! You just threw all my doubts out of the window! :)

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  18. When I'm uninspired, it's amazing how industrious I get around the house. :] I even cook (I hate cooking). But you're right, it's hard to find that "happy medium" -- relaxing, but not for too long. Loved this post. It's very...inspiring to get working! :D

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    1. Lol, Cait. Before we had kids, my husband said he always knew whether it had been a good writing day or a bad writing day by how clean the house was :)

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  19. I've learned to live the hard way. Lol. I would push push push, and go brain dead every three days. But, even though I was listless in creativity, Id still push myself. It really hurt me and my plot. Now, I've learned, if it's not working for me, give writing a break. It is REALLY good for the physical and mental health.

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    1. Great point, Ashley. If I know I'm just being lazy, I'll push myself to write. Otherwise, I give myself the freedom to back away from the story for a bit.

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  20. I loved this blog so much! I constantly struggle with "writer's burn out" and never really know what to do. Thank you for the ideas, Stephanie!

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  21. THIS HAS BEEN A LIFESAVER!!!! I'm stuck in my plot and find that I'm alternating between wanting to write but no words to do it with, or feeling just plain sick of the story. I think I've been pushing for perfection too hard (I tend to do that, and I'm only on my first draft) and that's stifling my writing! Now you've got me wanting to go again!
    Another thing that helped me last time I was stuck (that is, last week) was to write a letter to my character. And as I did, the scene I needed just...came out. True, it's in second-person, which makes it awkward to read, but the scene is there. Now, if I could just figure out what happens next...
    And you're right about reading something else. For a few weeks, I had stopped reading, in the hopes that if I didn't have someone else's storyworld in my head, I'd be able to focus more on my own. It didn't work, and the lack of escape from the real world (or my story, which was looming over my head like undone homework) was making me really depressed. Mom insisted I start reading again, and I feel so much better already! Whatever you do, don't stop enjoying other stories. That's why we write, after all!
    ~Amo Libros

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  22. I just wanted to stop by and tell you how helpful this has been. It never occurred to me that my surroundings could be affecting me so much! Once I ventured out of my office at Dish, the stimulation of a different environment gave me a whole different perspective on my writing! Also, the tip on enjoying other arts has proven to work for me too. Another passion of mine besides writing is film. Now when I get stuck while writing, I find it beneficial to immerse myself in a good movie. It doesn’t matter where I’m at since I can access tons of movies on DishOnline.com (most don’t even need a subscription). By the time the movie is over, my mind feels clear and ready to work! Thanks again for all your suggestions.

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  23. This is really helpful! Thank you Stephanie! :)

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