Dealing with Writing Burnout

Some people say there’s no such thing as writer’s block.

Others swear by it.

I’ve experienced a number of times when the flow of words dried up. It can happen for various reasons:

  1. I’ve come to a place in the story where I don’t know what happens next. Usually I just have to wait a day or two until it comes to me.
  2. I’ve written myself into a corner. I’ve listened to my plan for the story instead of the story itself, and written something that was taking me in the wrong direction. I have to back up and get going on the right track again.
  3. I’ve just finished something—a draft, a significant chunk, a whole novel—and I need some time off to recharge before going on to the next phase or the next project.
  4. I’ve been writing full out for a while and the well has gone dry. There again, I need to take time off to recharge.
  5. I’ve allowed life to get in the way of writing. I’ve let other responsibilities impinge on my writing time, or my writing space, or my writing brain. I’ve permitted my creativity to get drained away into the stresspool of daily living.

Every year—usually towards the end of June, but this year in mid-May—I go away for a week for a writing retreat with a small group of good friends. If I’m in the middle of a project, as I usually am, these weeks can be amazingly productive for me. I write for eight or nine hours a day and typically produce upwards of 20,000 words over the course of the week.

Then I come home to work, family, and everything that has piled up in my absence. I rationalize that I need to devote my normal writing time to catching up for a couple of days.

The couple of days inevitably turns into a week. The week turns into a month. Catching up proves to be impossible; I have to settle for triage of the undone tasks.

By the time I put the brakes on and carve out my writing time again, I’ve forgotten what the story is even about and why I wanted to write the darn thing in the first place.

Which, of course, makes it even harder to get to the writing desk the next day.

Eventually, I always manage to pull out of the spiral and get back into the story. But by the time I do, I’ve lost a lot of the advantage I gained by going on retreat in the first place. I need a retreat to recover from the backlash of my retreat!

Has this kind of thing ever happened to you? How do you deal with it?

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This entry was posted in Writing.

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