What Happens When You Burn Out On Writing?

What Happens When You Burn Out on Writing?

Elizabeth Bear is one of those authors who seems like an incredible writing machine. She's put out a huge number of books in the past 10 years, winning a ton of acclaim along the way. But in a brave post on Charles Stross' blog, she talks about the cost of being that prolific.

Between life stress and overwork, I hit a wall at the end of last year... Somewhere in the process, though, writing went from being something fun — the job I'd always wanted — to a real misery, a thing I avoided and dreaded. I became hypercritical of my own work, and nothing I did was ever good enough. I'd gotten into the habit, in other words, of kicking myself over basically every element of my work and holding it to impossible standards. I figured if I just kept writing I would get through the stuck, and everything would be fine again.

Nine years later, I realised that Things Were Not Going So Well, and were in fact getting worse.

Getting to write science fiction and fantasy for a living sounds like a dream come true, but even a dream job is still a job, and it's possible to burn out. And the combination of too many deadlines and expectations on one side, and excessively harsh self-criticism on the other can be grinding. I've definitely experienced the thing where as soon as you HAVE to finish a piece of fiction by a particular date, instead of just wanting to get it done because you're excited about it, the writing suddenly becomes more of a grind. And hearing people criticise your writing, without taking it on board in an unhelpful or self-destructive way, is a huge, massive challenge.

Bear offers a couple of solutions: Learning to say "no" so you don't get as overwhelmed, and also giving yourself rewards (cookies!). To those, I'd add that it's curiously satisfying to "cheat on" your writing project — if you're grindingly determined to get that epic fantasy novel done, it's a weirdly guilty pleasure to let yourself get sucked into writing that screwball 1920s romantic comedy short story instead. So naughty! And yet, ultimately, way better for your writing, including the epic fantasy novel you were trying to finish.

But it's tough in any case — and it's good to be reminded that your favourite author is not a machine that spits out books on demand, but a human being. (CoughGRRMcough.) [AntiPope]

Top image: Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear.


Comments

    I read this article with great interest, and could identify with this lady in a number of ways as I've been an author for around 25 years. My genre is different to novel writing which is a variety of texts books which I'm pleased to say must say as a self-publisher has resulted in the sale of around 1.5 million sales in Australia during this period. Believe it or not!!

    Apart from the pressures of meeting urgent deadlines due to such issues as changes in standards or the risk of running out of stock and reprint time frames amongst the mix in my field, you can also be challenged by 'the expert', who more often than not is exposed as a person who isn't!! Sadly some of these people hold potentially influential positions within my clients organisations so the pressure can suddenly increase as there's a need to be balanced and very constructive, which can be an issue sometimes when it comes to your explanation as you must try to avoid embarrassing the complainant.

    Conversely, when someone actually does find a mistake within this wide field it can be downright embarrassing. The upside is they can be doing you a favour and you need to realise from the beginning of the constant need to remain open to truths and to remain flexible or otherwise you won't survive as a writer and publisher. Tripping over your ego can be an ugly thing which I've witnessed in others over the years!!

    For me coping at times has been a challenge, especially after authoring a new book, however I've found that the support of my wonderful wife of many years, regular exercise and occasionally escaping to a remote area is a great medicine.

    Sadly though in recent times the level of frustration has increased significantly, for having recently developed and published a very simple innovative and interactive way to help people save lives, it's been extremely difficult to gain the attention of journalists. It seems that saving lives isn't very sexy. I've actually joked about getting a boob job in order to gain attention because they seem to be all over the media these days. :-)

    Yep being an author can indeed drive you mad at times if you aren't careful.

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