We talk a lot about burnout, and in these times, it’s even a more important topic. We need to take care of ourselves because this is our passion, our calling, our gift to be able to give our stories to the world, and we don’t ever want to have to stop.
I listened to a podcast episode of The Six-Figure Authors, and they talked about burnout. We all know what it is, but what causes it? I’ve written about it before, but I never thought to look at the reasons why a writer would have burnout besides the simple explanation of working too hard. Jo Lallo, Lindsay Buroker, and Andrea Pearson gave a few of their reasons why burn out occurs and it gives me a new perspective, and also, new ways to combat it.
One of Jo’s reasons for burnout is not seeing results. I didn’t realize how much I related to this until he said it. I jumped headfirst into the publishing industry, and sometimes I feel like I jumped into the wrong end of the pool. Instead of an easy dive into the water, my head met concrete and I’m flailing. This isn’t uncommon for a lot of first-time authors. They think they’re going to make a huge splash with their first book, or they put out a series to the sound of crickets. So they do it again, and again and again all to achieve the same meagre results. I feel that way, especially when I know I can’t sell books unless I buy ads, and then I only sell in books what I spend in ads. If you don’t see some kind of progress, that can create burnout.
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is also the definition of insanity. We all think writers have to be a little bit insane to take on a career like this, but I don’t think that’s what we have in mind when we call ourselves crazy.
What can you do?
I have to remind myself that this is a long game. A very long game. I mean so long I want to do this for the rest of my life. Success may not have found me yet, but one day it will. Reward yourself for small accomplishments. I’m always on to the next book and I don’t give myself credit for finished projects. I published 300,000 words this year and didn’t do anything special. When book four released, I was already knee-deep in the next book. That’s an awesome mindset, but also consider that writing and publishing a book is no small feat. You should celebrate it – even if it doesn’t sell.
Also realize that things can change and a promo that worked really well last year may not get you the same results now. Indies need to be flexible. We need to try new things. Frustratingly, this may result in losing a bit of money. No one wants to do that, but when you run a business it’s always a risk.
Take a break and assess why you aren’t making any headway. Is the genre you chose to write in not having a moment and therefore there’re no readers? Maybe your covers are off. Maybe you skimped on editing and reviews show that. Maybe you need reviews, period. Running on a hamster wheel won’t encourage you to keep writing. Jump off and try a new path.
Andrea mentioned her health. You can burn out quickly if you don’t feel good. Maybe you don’t want to take a nap because in two hours you can write 2000 or 3000 words. But remember, if you’re exhausted, if you can’t think straight, how good are those words going to be?
Even though you can’t see it by looking at someone, a lot of people have chronic pain they’re dealing with. Back pain, carpal tunnel. Auto-immune disorders and fibromyalgia. Some have depression, some have so much stress in their personal lives it manifests physically.
What you can do?
Keeping up your health is important. A lot of people are high risk if they catch Covid. A lot of us are sedentary — sitting at our desks 10 hours a day, and it might be even fair to say a lot of us could stand to lose a couple pounds. Burnout can happen if you’re writing when you aren’t feeling well enough to write. Take care of yourself. Eat well, go for walks, stretch your arms to prevent carpal tunnel. Meditate. Your writing will sound better if you feel better.
If you have a chronic illness, know your boundaries. Andrea says she needs lots of sleep, and we know that’s always easier said than done, especially if we have children or pets to take care of. She has to work out to keep her weight at a manageable level to help a condition she has from getting out of control, and we know even if you don’t have a health issue that exercise can help; it’s good for you regardless.
Use adaptive equipment. I use voice-to-text a lot more than I have in the past. Stand while you type instead of sitting if you can. Take frequent breaks and drink lots of water. We don’t talk a lot about ergonomics, but if you have a bad back or neck pain, sitting properly can make a difference between getting those words down, or having to stop. I know as a woman without a room of her own in which to write, it’s a constant struggle to find a comfortable way to type every day.
I’ve mentioned Aidy Award a few times in my blog posts. She’s a successful romance writer, and she posts in the romance group I’m in. Recently she shared a video of carpal tunnel stretches that have helped me. Since I’ve had surgery on my left arm, I may not ever feel 100% because I’m of the mind that getting cut open can do more harm than good. So far while it hasn’t taken all of my pain away, I feel better now than before but not perfect. But I do these stretches every day, and maybe you can make them part of your routine too. They help!
Lindsay brought up one reason for burnout that I never thought of before — doing parts of the writing business you don’t want to do. Not everyone can afford a virtual assistant and we’re stuck doing things we don’t want to do. Writing a blurb, formatting books, running promos, setting up ads. It’s drudge work and nothing turns an offer author off faster than knowing you have back matter to change. It’s a bore checking and answering email or keeping up with social media when you’re just not feeling it.
What can you do?
Take a day and get it all done. Lindsay call these admin days. Know you aren’t going to write. Make a list, make a cup of coffee, turn on some music and just get it done. We love to procrastinate and bury our heads in the sand, but that won’t get that blurb written or a Facebook ad set up. Sometimes you have to set aside a couple of hours to go through stock photos, because not every indie can afford to hire out for covers, or if you can, you want to give your designer an idea of what you like.
I haven’t updated my website in a while, and I haven’t added my new books to my Books page. I have over 600 emails sitting in my inbox. It’s such a drag. But reward yourself when you’re done. Dig into that new book. Order your dinner in. Take a bath. Go for a walk.
Having to do admin work over and over again comes with the territory, but there will always be days when there is more to do than others, like a book launch. Sometimes when I blog I’ll do two or three at a time and that will free up my week. Scheduling tools can be a big help, and when I go heavy with Twitter, I use Hootsuite. Sometimes you do have to pick and choose where you want to put your energy and just add what you’re putting off to the next to-do list.
Listening to the podcast was eye-opening and interesting. When we think of burnout we automatically think we’re working too hard, but that’s not always the case. Being able to pinpoint what’s going on can help us take care of the issue, or go about it in a different way. Try a promo site you haven’t tried before or kill your ads and cleanse your palate. Find new keywords and try again.
There are aspects to being an indie writer we just are not going to like. Recognizing the cause of burnout is one step in the right direction.
What causes your burnout? Let me know!
If you want to watch the podcast for other ideas and tips to keep burnout at bay, you can watch it here. Thanks for checking in!