Wednesday, October 05, 2022

When Writers Get Burnt Out

As I'm sure many freelancers have, I've dealt with a recurring cycle of burnout over the years.  The worst was probably in 2010 or so, and resulted in me getting an after school nanny job the following year.  But I've had other periods of burnout too.

Burnout has a way of sneaking up on you - in anything, really, but especially as a freelancer.  When you work from home all the time, it's easy to lose track of time.  You're home with your work all the time, and like many writers, you may choose to "warm up" by checking email, job postings, blogs, social media, or the news.  And then after a while, you realize you're "warming up" progressively longer before you get to work, procrastinating more on projects, and just in general feeling grumpy and lethargic.

Have you ever read the Melville short story, "Bartleby, the Scrivener"?  It's about a scrivener - a writer, essentially, although more of a copyist in the days when those tasks had to be done by hand - who starts refusing to work increasingly more often, with the words, "I would prefer not to."  I often think "Bartleby, the Scrivener" is the perfect fictionalization of what writer burnout (or probably most burnout) feels like.

I would prefer not to, indeed.

For a freelancer, burnout is especially dangerous.  When your entire livelihood is based on timely turnaround and actively marketing yourself to new clients, it's can be devastating to suddenly feel like you'd prefer not to all the time.  At a full-time job you can get away with a little slow work when you need a break.  Self-employment is called a hustle for a reason: You have to hustle, and keep hustling, in order to succeed.

If it's not resolved, burnout can be a death sentence to a career.  Certainly my major case of burnout set my writing career back.  I chose to freelance part-time for a while and worked part-time as a nanny and a babysitter, which did succeed in providing some variety that helped me climb out of the burnout.  Unfortunately, that period of severe burnout is also when I stopped marketing regularly, and when I took the part-time nanny job, I stopped marketing entirely.

Incidentally, I eventually got burned out on nanny work too - for some of the same reasons, but also for some reasons completely unique to nanny work.  I took the lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic as my opportunity to stop nannying and start focusing on freelance writing work again.

I feel like I've learned some things about burnout, what causes it (at least for me), and how to avoid it, and I'll share some of those discoveries in my next post on burnout.

You can find the rest of my series about writer burnout here.

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