Monday, January 20, 2020

Writing Burnout and Recovery

Sometimes, it is too easy to do things. Have you ever had that day when things are just feeling in place? Maybe you slept well, you are high on some good news, or the stars are aligned just right, but you now feel strong enough to take on any challenge - so you do. There's energy to exercise, so you have a huge workout. You are able to write, so you set out to create a masterpiece. You feel energized and capable, so you take everything as far as it can go.

Then that energy falls, and your burst of productivity becomes a slow, laborious task with no end in sight.

Now, depending on how this is interpreted, it might sound like a manic-depressive episode. Let's not confuse that with just having a good day and maybe taking it a little too far. For this post, I am talking about the latter, and how to rekindle the spark of creativity.

I went through professional burnout a number of years ago when I was an analyst. I felt at the top of my game, producing quality work and pursuing new projects. Then I shut down. My health took a slide, I lost weight, and it became difficult to function. It triggered medical issues that put me on disability for a few months. I couldn't quite figure out what happened, but for all that productivity and everything I had done, as I rested and recovered, I could not even think about doing my job again. I wasn't even sure it was possible. I was burnt out.

Writing burn-out is like most other cases of excess - too much for too long. It can be caused by a binge of writing that leaves us feeling depleted, which happens to everyone. Sometimes, once we complete a major project, like a manuscript, we get that "I don't want to write one more word" feeling. And of course,  we can have those times where we just get the feeling that we need to do something else. Anything else.  None of these feelings mark the end of the writing career. There's just the need for a timeout, preferably the right kind of timeout that eventually brings us back to the written word.

In a recent post, The Pause That Refreshes, I discussed some ways to recharge our creative batteries. Sometimes we just need to get some creative nourishment for our inner writer. Burning out requires something more. When we are burned out, we don't need a recharge, we need to replace the batteries. It is where we aren't just tired, we are fatigued, and we need to rest what we have used to excess. This sounds a little more drastic, but it does not signal the end of our run. We just need something more than a pause.

Intuitively, we think the recovery for writing burnout is to do something else, just like the cure for exhaustion is just a lot of sleep. Nice idea, but there's more. We need to remember what brought us to become that creative person. We need to find that part that woke up that young writer in our head, and stir those feelings again.

During my case of burn-out, I didn't rest until I felt I could build statistical models again. I read books that reminded me why I loved analysis. Every Tuesday I grabbed a copy of the New York Times and read its Science Times section cover to cover (about eight pages). I didn't try to be an economist; I tried to rekindle my interest in the analytical process. Once I restored that part of me, I couldn't wait to get back to work.

We need to remember what brought us to that point in our lives when we wanted to create. What inspired us? Motivated us? Something moved us to become a new person, and we need to find that. As we explore our lives and rediscover that spark, the burn-out resolves, and the creative embers ignite.

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