East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Five ways to avoid writer burnout

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It’s been a hell of a long time since I did a post about writing.
Well, here goes – this post is inspired by the guest post Elizabeth Bear did on Charles Stross’ blog a few days back.
I suggest you go and read it, as it gives us a perspective on the writing life that’s not usually covered in how-to-be-a-writer handbooks.


Let’s recap – making a living as a writer is hard.
To try and make it, one has to be a prolific writer – one has to write fast and good, and a lot and (this as a side note from a non-native speaker) in a language not their own.
We need to write on spec – meaning, trying to come up with ideas and stories suitable for the market we are trying to break in. We have to spend time scanning open calls and submission guidelines to stay in the game. We face anxiety, rejection, and the often scathing opinion of the readers.
It’s all part of the package.

And no, I’m not complaining – granted, my “real job” should be studying ancient ecosystems and long-dead animals, but as things stand now, this writing thing is a lot of fun, and it keeps the director of my bank happy as it allows me to keep my account (barely) in the green.
And writing is so fun that I’m also keeping two blogs, I’m working on gaming projects, and I keep looking for further opportunities.

But it can be a soul-crushing kind of job sometimes – and it should not.
Add to the mix the way in which Real Life(R) has a habit of throwing you the odd curve ball, and things can get pretty hard.
So, taking my lead from Elizabeth Bear’s post, here’ smy assorted list of strategies to
a . keep having fun writing
b . write more and (hopefully) better
c . hit those curve balls out of the park

Mind you, I’m no guru, and these are no sure-fire systems – but they seem to have worked so far with me, and I hope they may help.

Invest in your tools

And by “invest” I don’t mean splurge a lot of money – investing time in finding the best tools is also part of the plan.
The best suggestion that was given me in a long time was to spend some money on an ergonomic keyboard – my aching hands are no longer a problem, and my typing speed has increased.
Same goes for a good chair – you don’t need anything designed by NASA, just a chair that does not break your back.
I already sang the praises of WorkRave in the past so I won’t be doing it here again let’s just say it’s an  indispensable software when facing long writing sessions. And it’s free software.
Also, regulate the luminosity of our screen.
My current big project is redesigning my workspace so that I’ll be warm in winter and cool in summer – which might mean investing in a screen of some kind to isolate my workstation from the rest of the room.
And move – take long walks, do push-ups, weightlift… move!
All this will make writing more comfortable, will keep aches and cramps away, and will help avoid long-term medical problems that could cripple more than your writing.

Get organized

This is a direct follow-up to the previous point – having taken care of our body, let’s take care of the work itself.
Some kind of organizer might be good – to keep track of projects, to stay within deadlines, to plan future moves.
There’s a lot of software planners out there – or we can go for a physical one if we prefer.
On my planner, I currently jot down
. open projects – including target word count, destination, deadline
. closed project – title, when delivered, to whom, and follow-up (did they buy it? why not? did they pay? how much? response time?)
. list of spare ideas
. odds and ends
I also have a private board on Pinterest where I pin ideas for future posts on Karavansara (yes, this post is one of the pinned ideas).
Also, some tool to remind me to check out certain markets for calls etc, would be great.
When multiple deadlines loom closer, a post-it stuck to the frame of the video is a good flag to make sure I won’t forget anyone.

Mind of your mind

I’m a wayward practitioner of zen and mindfulness meditation – wayward in the sense that I usually forget I should be doing it.
But when I’m in a tight spot, I usually remember, and it helps.
No anxiety-fueled panic anymore. Bingo!
If aching hands and carpal tunnel syndrome are the typical physical drawbacks of writing, our mind gets its faoir share of bruises and beatings, too.
Taking long walks also helps, as does physical exercise.
The blank page/blank wall syndrome is best incorporated in our writing (when stuck, I start writing about why I got stuck), or sidestepped through distraction – reading good books, listening to music, playing some solitaire…
Journaling, free writing or writing practice – that is, writing down by hand whatever we feel like is also a great way to give our writing mind a change of pace.
Which leads to our following strategy…

Get off track

No, really.
Right now I’ve got half a dozen projects that are strictly defined – there were very specific open calls, signed contracts, detailed requests, rules to be followed.
The sense of being trapped, working on somebody else’s ideas or following somebody else’s rules and time-tables can really kill the fun of writing.
So, when this happens, I learned it’s much better to “waste a day or two” working on something of unplanned and unusual, rather than really waste two days procrastinating and doing nothing good or constructive.
Take a brief vacation from the work we are doing for others, and do something for us, for our own enjoyment and fun. Something unlikely and silly, impossible to sell.
Or start some new harebrained project for the blog.
Keep playing.

Give yourself some reward

We should set goals and awards for what we do.
Depending on our goals, on our tastes and on our politics these could be cookies, chocolates, a cheap ebook, or even big things to promote big pushes.
This also serves as astrong reminder of the fact that we are not in competition with other writers, with the readers, the crics or the reviewers. We are only in competition with ourselves, as we try to do better today than we did yesterday. And when we make it, we give ourself a reward, and have a party.
Keep it fun.

And here it is, I guess, as succinctly put as I was able to make it.
Anything I forgot?
What do you do to avoid burning out?
The comments, as usual, are open.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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