This past week on my Facebook feed, a fellow writer was musing about when it might be time to hang it all up. She’s been rolling this boulder up the hills for decades and doesn’t feel like she’s moved up to the appropriate level (I’m paraphrasing here). Luckily, plenty of people, friends, fans, fellow writers made sure to let her know what she probably already knows:
You don’t quit being a writer. Not really.
But burn out is a real thing. Sure it sometimes goes hand in hand with writer’s block, the inability to deal with other people’s BS, or just a need to get the heck away from the day in and day out writing process.
It’s a good thing to take a step back. To take a break for a little bit and let your mind maybe catch up. What’s the old saying “if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life”. Which is true until it isn’t true.
Luckily, I don’t have this problem right now. The current novel I’m working on is fueling the fire quite nicely… although I must admit that it is a daunting task I’ve set in front of me, I know that it is what I’m supposed to be doing.
And there’s the problem… what are you supposed to be doing? Are you beating yourself up when a night goes by that you didn’t get your words in (or morning or afternoon)? Does that guilt compound in your mind that suddenly you are behind on where you should be. Those 5 pages have to come from somewhere, so now I have to do another 10 tonight to make up for the ones I missed out on yesterday. Oh no, I have to get my 25 pages in this week or it just keeps rolling over. Should I go out with my friends? Well, that means that maybe I can’t get the words in…
You see the quandary. Half the time you are writing and the other half you are trying to guilt yourself into writing some more.
And where does all this lead? To burnout… 100%.
There has to be a balance between being productive and enjoying life a little bit, right? I have discovered the secret for not burning out. It’s this device that sits as the focus of the living room for many people: the TV. It has so many options that I’ve subdivided my viewing so that everyone can see where I put my time (waste my time)!
These are the superhero shows for me, but your mileage might be Star Trek or Sliders or Walking Dead or whatever. Not to mention then needing to follow up on the internet rabbit holes for the various spoilers or guest stars or what’s happening on the Flash next season.
At the very least you can claim to other people that you are doing “Research. Honest!”
True Time Suckers (according to my wife)
Wrestling shows are the big one here. I could probably rot my brain 100 times over with some mind-numbing cartoons, but wrestling shows are where she shakes her head and mumbles under her breath. Yet, these shows are those great guilty pleasures for me when I watch (and currently I’m probably reading recaps much more than watching the shows).
For those who don’t bother with any of the sports ball stuff… well, you probably have a ton of free time. Even though I am a big nerd and love comics and science fiction and fantasy stuff, I somehow also fell in love with sports. Did you know that baseball seasons are 162 games a year? Or that there are 16 games in an NFL season? Or there are around 30ish games in a college basketball season?
And don’t get me started on Poker on ESPN. Or my true kryptonite: Aussie Rules Football. You sit down, turn that on, not understand anything that is happening, and two hours later haven’t moved from your spot. Brilliant!
These are like comfort food. You know the ones: Friends, Senfield, Rick and Morty, New Girl, etc. These are the ones you can watch a hundred times (and have) and effectively turn off the non-enjoyment centers of your mind.
However, if you are my wife, you take this to a different extreme. She watches a handful of shows over and over and OVER. She just started watching Jane the Virgin. It is in its 5th (question mark?) season and once she was through the 90 or so episodes… she started rewatching it. BACK TO BACK!
She’s got problems! 🙂
Things I got lucky with
I don’t watch the Food Network. Or the Golf Channel. Or any of the house flipping/renovation/buymyhouse shows. Or any of the news networks. Those are lines I don’t want or need to cross. And I don’t particularly enjoy seeing Pimples Popped.
Call me crazy.
So you see, there is a metric ton of stuff you could do with your time when you are not writing. You can avoid any burnout or really getting anything productive done if you just give it a chance!
I’m not trying to make light of the writer’s struggle, more that I’m saying it might be alright to not eat, sleep, and live writing only. That it is ok to take a break. Even if that is a just a simple vacation from your own head.
John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!
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He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com