We usually think of writers burning out after a long career, or at least after they get half a dozen books published—and then it’s not burnout, it’s just a slump.
Photo by Jimmy Allen Photography
After all, if you really want to be a published author, it goes without saying that you’re driven and goal-oriented, right? You’re probably your own worst critic, too. When you sign a publishing contract, your dream is achieved, so you can relax, bask in the glow and enjoy success, right? Wrong. (See above for “driven,” “goal-oriented” and “your own worst critic.”)
We want each book to be better than the last, and we’re constantly striving to become better writers. Most of us have a day job, so we’re essentially holding down two full-time jobs. Add to that trying to juggle family, and guess how much time that leaves for “alone time”—those precious minutes when you get to read, rest and recharge? And if you’re truly driven, you feel guilty when you’re not writing. A deadline is always looming, so your butt needs to be in a chair, your eyeballs on a laptop screen, and your brain in gear and on fire.Guess what? That’s an author setting herself up for burnout. And guess what? That was me. After I turned in my third book, I realized a lot about myself. I’d always known that I was driven and goal-oriented. That and sheer stubbornness is what got me published (plus perhaps a wee bit of talent). I was proud that I was that way, and I still am.
But I’ve realized that if I’m going to have a long writing career (which I’m determined to have), I have got to be equally driven, determined and oriented on the goal of having a life. Writing is not everything. There, I’ve said it. And if you want longevity in this business, play isn’t just important—it’s critical. We get so intensely focused on having achieved the dream and working so hard to keep the dream going, that we’re blind to the signs that if we keep going down that road at a fast pace, that dream could quickly turn into a nightmare.
It’s called burnout. Nothing strikes more terror into the heart of an author than the fear that his creative well might run dry. And it can happen, unless you take steps to prevent it.I’m glad to say that I caught myself in time. Balancing my life with my work isn’t easy, but I’m getting there. I’m making the time to read, relax, go out with friends, and do the things that I enjoy. I wouldn’t have done any of those things (rest, read or leave the house unless it was on fire) before I saw the writing on the wall and took steps to take my life back.
Remember this story when you sign your own name to a publishing contract. Dreams are meant to be savored and enjoyed. You do have to work hard, but sometimes, the work can wait.