When the dream meets reality, you have to deal with real problems that the dream could never actualize. Many days I romanticized about being able to spend all my time writing, living in a solipsistic wonderland inside my brain, sipping coffee and vodka while I wore turtlenecks and a disdain of all worldly things. But right now I’m on about year four of a long-term writer burnout, a time in which I often wondered exactly why I was writing when seemingly most of the joy had been sucked out of it for years. Since I was 19 years old I’d been writing daily, with hardly any breaks except to work to earn money or to practice being miserable. “Real writers write every day,” I told myself, and so that became a chain around my neck that I used to hang myself.
It turns out that if you force yourself to write every day, fueling yourself on self-hatred, misery, and misaligned goals, you’re eventually going to burn out. And getting back to having fun writing again may not be an easy, or even possible process. However I can say after an arduous and painful few years, experimenting with different ways and modes of being, I’ve found a few things that can bring back for me the enjoyment of writing.
Assess your priorities.
Most of the other parts of this blog are optional and can be done in mostly any order. Not this one. This is the most critical part, and must be first. Don’t skip this step, even though it sounds boring and is a lot of work. If you want to have fun writing again, you have to understand why you started writing in the first place.
For myself, this was difficult to determine, because I’d been writing since I was 6 years old and it’d fastened itself so deeply into my identity that I no longer really thought about why I was doing it. Quitting writing, or doing something else, didn’t feel like an option to me. But I had to live with the possibility that maybe writing wasn’t giving me what I needed as a human being to thrive. Ultimately, i decided I did want to continue writing, because when I was able to get into the flow I genuinely enjoyed the process, and because of feedback I’d gotten I did see a real future in it.
So, close the door, take a deep breathe, and look deeply through the multi-varied mirrors of your consciousness. If you can, avoid the cognitive-dissonance disco. Don’t think about how much time you’ve sunk into writing (Google sunk cost fallacy if you’re not familiar with it.) Just think about what you want and need moving forward and how that intersects with your personality.
If you began to write for money or because you liked the idea of writing, that doesn’t mean you necessarily need to quit, but you have to be open to the real possibility that another endeavour or hobby might suit you better. If you wanted to write fiction and you’re trying to scrape by a living writing articles for the Internet, maybe you’re unsatisfied because you’re using too much of your writing energy on something you don’t enjoy.
Ignore the bullshit
By that, I mostly mean social media. Focus on what you want to accomplish and Ignore what other writers are saying or what publishing deals they’re getting, ignore those ignominious word count tweets, (Okay, don’t feel too bad if you do this, even Cory Doctorow tweets his wordcounts) ignore whatever outrage zeitgest is sweeping its way through the blogosphere, and just write. I use the Freedom blocker when I’m writing to help me avoid distractions. I’ve figured out that not just that it gets you “out of the zone” when you tab over, but also that it can redirect your energy and emotions. I’m a particularly sensitive person and social media has a tendency to be negative. I don’t want to be “soaking up the vibes” of some bullshit racist twitter post when I’m trying to write my dystopian horror-sci-fi novella. I noticed that if I took a break to look over at Facebook it could throw me off for quite a while. Even though I wasn’t looking at it constantly, my brain was churning, trying to respond to whatever nonsense I’d seen.
I also like to use FocusWriter to minimize distraction. I keep some Mp3s offline in case I need to unplug from the Internet.
Get Dressed Up
These days I just sit in my hotel room, rarely go outside or interact with other people. The compulsion to act like a sack of garbage is strong. Still, taking a shower, putting on makeup, doing my hair, and wearing something other than a lacy bra and sweatpants does something to me psychologically. I feel fresh and prepared, and more ready to write. Like it’s actually my job, and I’m a real person, not a personified piece of trash.
However, there are days when I just want to jump straight to the computer and start typing away. I don’t force myself to take a shower then – sometimes I can ignore bodily hygiene and do what my body wants me to do. Write. I consider those days a win.
Figure out your rituals
There’s a reason human likes ritual. Rituals give an action a special time and place in the day, providing context for what you’re about to do, and preparing your brain for whatever challenges may lay ahead. Maybe you write at a specific time of day. Maybe you need a cup of coffee, to light a candle, put on headphones, warpaint, do some cocaine. Whatever rituals you decide to have, they’re unique to you, and can make writing something special again.
First of all, I realized that I needed a schedule if I was going to get back into writing. Then I would commit to writing during that time, with the agreement that I’d turn off and relax once it was over. This kept me from being in a perpetual stressed out state that I “should be writing” at all times and so even when I was resting I never truly got a break. My mind was stuck whirring on gears until the gears either rusted or fell apart. Once I started writing to the schedule I was able to relax, get into the groove, and have a break to look forward to.
Some days, I even wanted to keep writing after my scheduled time was up. I couldn’t remember the last time that’d happened.
I also gave myself measurable metrics. I planned out my whole novel, divided it into chapters, and gave each chapter a solid deadline. (I used Trello to do this, which if you want to learn how to use Trello efficiently, I’m planning on writing a later blog post about that) That way I was able to see when I was actually making progress. My brain delighted in telling me that I was useless and going nowhere. Now, I had solid and concrete proof that I -was- moving forward on my goals.
Planning my novel ahead of times also let me do more writing, and less staring at the page wondering what the hell to write next. It’s more
..Or Don’t Plan At all
Maybe you’ve already got your shit together, write three hours every day after work with no breaks, have all your rituals ready, get dressed up, wear cologne
If you’re still not having fun, I recommend you throw all routines, schedules, and plans and do whatever the fuck you want for a few weeks. If you don’t have the compulsion to write, maybe you either need an extended break, or need to fix a few things in your psychological writing profile.
Write Something Else
When I finished We are Wormwood, I was burnt out. Thoroughly exhausted. It had been such an emotional slog to get through that book that I’m surprised it didn’t leave behind burn scars. I started on another novel soon afterwards, a book about a family who started a cult and then got lost on the sea while being stalked by some ultra-dimensional sea monster. It was called “Oculus In The Sea.” Yeah, I couldn’t get into it. I still think that unfinished book was just a materialized version of the confusion I felt about life at that point.
I put that book on pause and started writing a “meta-fictional memoir”, called Fuck What You Heard. It was about 200 pages of complete, wild, writing abandon. It was a story about what I’d gone through the last few years, and how I processed it. It also featured spaceships, personality quizzes, Lacan, witches, Facebook chat logs, and ridiculous pages full of footnotes. I didn’t pay attention to good writing. I didn’t think about my audience. I just wrote. It allowed me to reconnect with how much I enjoyed about the process of writing itself, and incorproate By the time I finished that book, I realized I’d changed as a person, and I no longer connected to this whole psychic-cult-on-the-sea idea. So I started work on something new.
I began writing in the first place because I enjoyed writing. I wasn’t worried about what was publishable at the age of six, I was just experimenting. Sometimes it’s important to hook back into that, to say “fuck it” and write nonsense that just makes you feel good. Because if it doesn’t feel good, what’s the fucking point, publishable or not? So I’d encourage you to look at what you’re writing and seriously ask yourself if that’s what you want to be writing. Maybe the problem isn’t writing itself, but the content matter.
Take Days Off
If you’re really not feeling it, just don’t write that day. It’s as simple as that. Make yourself a little cocoon. Fix yourself a warm drink (or a cold beer), read, watch Netflix, play videogames. Let yourself recharge and try again tomorrow.
“Writing isn’t romantic,” writers like to say, as if they delight in introducing you to cynicism. “It’s hard work and an uphill slog and if you think it’s going to be fun you should quit now.”
If you’re a beginning writer, or even an older writer who’s burnt out, there are writers everywhere waiting to pop out of the woodwork and crush your dreams. I swear, there’s probably a writer hiding behind the refrigerator right now, waiting for the opportune moment to tell me that I should give up because it’s not worth it.
Fuck that. There wouldn’t be so many writers, willing to work for goddamn pennies, if it wasn’t “worth it.” And I didn’t start writing for some Puritan ideal of hard work with little reward. I want to write because it’s fun.
There are few axioms that I believe in, but this is one of them: You should have fun being alive.
So therefore, you should have fun writing.
So fuck all of that, writing should be romantic as hell. I love calling myself a writer, steeping myself in the mythos of it, warping my personality and life around it. I enjoy adhering to ridiculous stereotypes, acting outrageous, and writing the hell out of things. Otherwise, what’s the point?Related posts
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