Recognising burnout

It’s taken me a few days to realise, but I’m currently in a state of writing burnout. It won’t last, of course, but it is happening now. The last few weeks I’ve been working my arse off to get two novel manuscripts finished. One into a polished final draft and the other into a draft of sufficient quality to send out to beta readers for their comment and ridicule. I had a deadline for these tasks of “before the baby comes”. My kid is due at the end of October, so I hit well inside my deadline, which was expected, but still very gratifying. I also said to myself, knowing I was likely to meet that deadline with time to spare, that another couple of projects I’ve been holding off could get my attention once those novels were handed in. Turns out they can’t. At least, not right now.

I’ve been trying to find focus the last couple of days, stressing that writing time was slipping away with no writing being done. This morning I went for a long walk on the beach with Penry, my faithful hound. I have two kinds of quiet, personal bliss: walking Penry and riding my motorcycle. These are times when I’m alone with my own thoughts and I give myself space to think. It might be writing related thinking, working through life issues or just brain-percolation time with no fixed agenda. During today’s walk I realised that I need to take a break from writing for a week or two.

I absolutely do not believe that writers need to write every day. That kind of bullshit rule pisses me off, and I’ve talked about that before. But, while not actually writing, writers are being writers all the time. We watch, listen, turn over ideas, imagine all kinds of people and places. We constantly log that stuff. Even when we’re not writing on screen or paper, we’re writing in our heads. Usually I’ll have several days every week where I’m actually writing stuff down. My realisation today is that I need to allow myself a week or two where I don’t have to do that. I’ll still let my writerly brain churn over whatever it wants, but I won’t berate myself for not sitting at the keyboard and vomiting out words. Even though I’m technically doing that right now, but shut up, I’m talking about fiction and you know it.

It’s like physical training, the other professional focus of my life. Working hard, practicing every day is very important. But an integral part of training is rest. Sometimes the active rest of ongoing life, and sometimes a proper break of a week or more. You come back to your chosen field recovered, recuperated and reinvigorated. The same applies to the creative arts.

So I’m okay with having a week or two of not writing. It’s bad timing in some ways, because the due date for my son grows ever nearer and there’s going to be some enforced time off then. But I’m a fucking professional, so what has to be done will be done during that time. But for now, I’m putting my writerly feet up and letting my creative wells replenish.

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