There are many ways to describe the birthplace of your inspiration – mojo, muse, goddess, inner voice, inner writer, enlightenment, eureka moment and epiphany, to name but a few.
When it comes to writing, the phrase “writer’s burnout” can encapsulate that numb sensation experienced when the little guy/girl in your head, who works the levers and pumps the gas, runs out of steam.
We’re not talking about writer’s block here, where the words won’t come and you’re stuck before you start. Writer’s burnout is more akin to fatigue, as if you’ve exhausted your supply of words and your inner writer has stuck a sign on their door that says:
“Run out of words. Will return when supplies are plentiful.”
It’s also possible you may find a note slipped under that door:
“Inner Writer has been kidnapped by Burnout Demons Inc. We do not accept credit cards, excuses, mitigating circumstances or reasons for failing to help your precious mojo in times of need. Payment in words only. Remember, you brought this on yourself. Shame on you. Thanks!”
Never let it be said that Burnout Demons Inc. aren’t polite or have no sense of humour.
But first, guest post news.
Before I talk about how to combat those burnout demons, I invite you to hop over to SarahPotterWrites where she’s hosting a guest storyteller post by me!
Sarah kindly invited me to submit a short fictional piece for her monthly spot. I chose an extract from my novel, The Range, since it works as both flash fiction piece and appetizer for the novel.
I’m happy to admit I know little about poetry, yet Sarah writes some beautiful Haiku’s which I’ve found most uplifting.
Now, those pesky burnout demons!
This post was partly inspired by a post Beating Burnout by Susan Johnston who likens writer’s burnout to a virus like the flu.
Obviously that sort of talk is folly, though the idea doesn’t stop me from pondering why I myself have felt somewhat fazed by my inner writer’s lack of energy and enthusiasm of late.
In my recent post, The secret lives of characters, I whined on about struggling to get to grips with my new writing project, The Holt, the follow-up to the soon to be published The Range.
I say whined because that post was primarily for blog therapy to help get my head around why I was having such a hard time (yeah, play the violins, right?) making my inner writer sit up and get to work.
Burnout Demons Inc. are always busy.
Many writers are plagued by these wretched creatures at one time or another. Given my previous post on the subject of writer’s angst, it may seem hypocritical that I have some ideas on how to keep the demons from snatching your inner writer in the middle of the night.
To help keep the filthy hands of Burnout Demons Inc. away from your mojo, here are some ideas worth swishing in your wok of creativity.
# 1. Don’t push your limits too far.
Years ago, when I was younger and stupider, I was content to sit at my PC all night, merrily typing away until the sun popped up. Sleep was something that happened to other people. If I tried that these days I’d suffer the next day, and the day after until my sleep patterns returned to normal.
It doesn’t matter if I’ve hit the Zone, where the words flow like magic as if the screen and my brain are in perfect harmony, when my bed time alarm rings I save my stuff and shut down the computer. Google will still be there tomorrow. Emails, Tweets, plots, characters ideas, research – it can all wait until tomorrow.
By all means push yourself to find out what your limits are, but push too hard too often and Burnout Demons Inc. will be waiting to make you pay.
Just like leaving a chapter with a cliffhanger, I give myself something to look forward to tomorrow.
Stick within your limits and your inner writer will bless you with wordy goodness.
# 2. Get off your arse.
In other words, take a freaking break now and then. On occasion I’ll plan an entire day of writing, which is something of a luxury these days. Sadly that doesn’t mean I write for 8 hours straight. It includes mucking about on YouTube, checking Twitter, lolling at silly pictures and other forms of procrastination.
The problem here is the sitting. By the time I give my inner writer a kick to get started he’s gone fishing or sulking in a cupboard. Even using willpower to ignore the lure of the procrastination fix, and I do begin to write, I know that sooner or later I’ll grow weary of punching the keys.
For me that’s when sloppiness happens. Characters act up, plots veer off at weird tangents and carefully planned scenes (you know, the ones that pop into your head just before you enter dreamland) turn into garbage before my eyes.
To combat this I set an alarm on my phone, assuming I start at a decent hour.
- 11am = Close YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and open document.
- 1pm = Time for lunch – bacon sandwich, refreshing drink.
- 3pm = Quick loo break, drink, snack then back to Imaginationland.
- 5pm = Stretch, walk about, stare out the window, mull things over, back to writing for the last stretch.
This does indeed require willpower, but more than that it trains me to approach writing in a more professional manner. In order to take my writing seriously I treat it like a job with regular breaks, lunch hour and taking time to reflect and think about things.
Remember that being a writer is a lot more than the romantic image some have in their head of an unsung literary wordsmith crafting a timeless masterpiece. It’s hard work and without taking time out to cool your noodle, you may as well ring Burnout Demons Inc. and instruct them to steal your mojo eh sap.
# 3. Be good to your eyes.
Similar to # 2 because taking breaks is just as important for your eyes. In various workplaces I’ve seen colleagues take a break after burning their eyeballs against a screen all morning, only to find them in the canteen staring at their mobile phone!
No! No! No! Eyes crave different stimuli. They need to be reconfigured to a fresh perspective. And no, reading a book isn’t good enough. Or watching TV.
I make sure my eyes get a healthy dose of distance variation.
It might sound obvious but eyes were not designed to stare at something like a screen a foot or so in front of us for long periods.
For a while your eyes will be fine, but one day you’ll discover you can’t read a signpost until you’re stood right in front of it.
And when that happens you may hear a little voice inside your head. That’s your inner writer reminding you once again that you should have taken better care of your eyeballs.
# 4. Swap your space.
My Dad has recently been on holiday to Spain. He took his laptop with him and discovered that change in scenery gave his inner writer the opportunity to feel refreshed and eager to tackle new ideas.
The desk on which my PC sits is set against a wall without a window. When I’m writing I don’t like distractions. And yes, I’m aware that I’m distracted by YouTube, Facebook etc, but to some degree I can control those. If I had a window I’d have to draw the curtains to stop from people watching.
However, when it’s sunny I love swapping my documents to my netbook and taking to the back garden. The feel of the sun on my skin or a breeze can inspire my inner writer, especially when the blank wall starts to feel like a prison cell.
Even simple things like next door neighbours mowing their lawn or the distant sound of a dog barking can energise the writing process.
When word fatigue begins to creep up on you, take your laptop or notepad (pen and paper, not the gadget. Never forget the joy and simplicity of using a pen as a conduit for letting your inner writer speak) out to the sea-side, forest, mountain or canyon.
Breathe in the wonder of nature, let your senses feast on their new and different surroundings and you’ll find your inner writer soaking up every last drop.
# 5. Clean up your act.
I hope I’m not the only one who rises from the dreamlike state of writing to find I’ve built a little fort around my desk. Not the good wholesome type of fort built out of sofa cushions.
This fort resembles a prison made of junk – cups, drink glasses, choccy bar wrappers, scraps of paper, post-it notes, pens, staplers, bits of USB cable that seem to swarm my desk like snakes, and all manner of “stuff” that shouldn’t be there.
It’s surprising how this detritus can slowly build up until I feel hemmed in. It’s only after taking a good break that I return to find these walls have grown up out of nowhere.
Another surprising thing is that once the clutter has been removed, my inner writer feels more relaxed and keen to get the creative cook-book out with gusto.
Maintaining a tidy workspace will help keep Burnout Demons Inc. at bay.
Healthy workspace = a healthy, happy and productive inner writer.
How do you keep Burnout Demons Inc. away?
Until writers learn to care for their inner writer the naughty little scamps at Burnout Demons Inc. will always seek out news ways of capturing your creative mojo.
So, dear blog reader, do you have any tips or methods to keep your inner writer healthy and productive?