Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Block vs. Burnout

I've been a very bad blogger these last several months, missing days, and frankly, phoning it in on others. Not just here, either, but on the other three group blogs I belong to as well. I owe all of you an apology for that.

My dirtier little secret, though, is that during those same months, I haven't been any more productive as a writer. Really, it's been almost a year since I put any significant number of words down. At that point, we're talking about more than mere writers' block.

I've tried all the writers' block "cures." Mind games. Timers. Word count goals. Hell, even NANO, which should tell you exactly how long it's been. Walking it off. Changing up writing locale or rituals. BICHOK. Nothing worked. Partly, I think, because I hadn't yet realized the difference between block and burnout.

A few years ago, I released 14 books in a year. In eight years as a published author I've sold 53 novels, short stories and novellas. 1 will come out in November, one is in edits, and one is the book that just won't be written. The one I've been trying to write for almost a year. And before you say, "ditch it and write something else," that didn't work either. Nothing wanted to be written this year. Nothing. So I took some time to really examine the situation, and my life as a whole. That's when I realized it wasn't block. I have a serious case of burnout.

Some of that, I think,is because writing, especially writing romance, IS emotional. It's draining. Eventually you run out of energy. I'd been writing a lot, and fast. Burnout was probably inevitable. Other reasons include a spate of rejections, making me seriously doubt my ability as a writer. Finally, there were other, unrelated stressors going on in my life. Things in our household have been a little more difficult than usual this past year, draining even more of my creative juices. Truthfully, I haven't even wanted to read much lately, which almost never happens to  me.

So what the hell is a writer supposed to do? I'm not exactly in a position to run out and get a day job. Positions in my former career as a naturalist are few and far between, plus I can't really hike for a living like I did up to seven years ago. My new profession is a lot kinder to my ankles, knees, and hips which are all pretty much shot. Besides, I love writing. I love being a writer. I don't want to be a greeter at WalMart or a substitute schoolteacher (another former fallback position.) Therefore it's time to come up with a PLAN.

So, here's the plan.

Step 1: Cut myself some slack. It's time to stop beating myself up about the past year, so that self-disgust quits being one of the stressors. It happened. Move on.

Step 2: Write. As much as I can, as often as I can. In small bits, if necessary. But I'm trying now to write at least a page every day. Baby steps are still steps.

Step3: Mix it up. Yes, I still have the major contracted project to work on, but I'm adding in some small, short fun projects. That way, I can write whichever the mood suits, which will make it feel less like work.  Also, if I finish one or two of the small projects, I'll have SOME sense of accomplishment, which might build more momentum.

Step 4: Ask for help. I have to remind myself it's okay to ask for a little encouragement now and then. That's what my writer friends are for, right?

So if any of you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them! I can't be the only one who's ever doubted themselves or run out of steam. Thanks for listening!



Sandy said...

Hey, Cindy, don't be hard on your self. It happens to everyone. You have done so much already.

I went through much the same thing, Cindy, and I didn't nearly as many books as you have. I'm writing short now, too. I think it helped, too.

Do you happen to belong to Amy Atwell's GIAM groups? If you do they have a group that writes 100x100 every day. One hundred words are doable for everyone. I have friends who belong, and when writing gets too tough for you, it's one of the things that can jumpstart you.

I wish you the best, Cindy.

Jody W. and Meankitty said...

One of the easiest ways I've found to get words on the page is to write complete kaka--deliberately! Write the absolute worst thing you can. Well, I didn't say it was PRODUCTIVE, but it's strangely liberating... Heh.

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Both great ideas. Sandy, I don't belong to that one, but one of my critique partners has the page-a-day group, and it is helping. Jody, that's brilliant. I didn't go for ka-ka (yet) but did go for silly, funny and fun. Hopefully that will do the trick!

Jane Kindred said...

Ditto what Meankitty said. I make myself write crap and then I give myself permission to edit it the next day to see if it's salvageable, but even it's not, it stays in the book until the draft is finished.

I'm not nearly as prolific as you are (my average is 1K/day), and I hit burnout last year, after 5 solid years of writing, when my cervical spine rebelled against the abuse. I've given myself permission to write slowly, and it's going *very* slowly, but it's going. I can't write 3-4 books a year anymore while holding down a day job. I just can't. If I get 1 full-length book written a year, then so be it. Less than 1? Whatever. I'm not going to kill or cripple myself for this business. I used to write because I loved it and couldn't stop. After I complete my current contracted works I'm going to work on something that gives me that same original rush, and I'm going to take however long I need to take to do it.

Paris said...

I think one of the most important stress relievers, is to give yourself permission to do something else. Life takes you to strange places and weird times but I believe everything happens for a reason. I've had to step back and figure out what it was because I was afraid was getting stuck and then I realized that it was that fear that had me frozen. I'm writing something different now and the world didn't fall apart. Every problem is an opportunity. Meanwhile, a few cyberhugs never hurt:) Big hug sent your way, sweetie.

Paris said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Darcie Wilde said...

First of all, I'm really sorry you're having to go through this. I've had blocks, but haven't (yet) burned out, except maybe on the SF, but fortunately, I wasn't on contract or deadline when that shift happened. I like having multiple projects, so that when my imaginary friends stop talking to me (which invariably happens multiple times per project), I can go into another room with another set of friends, until whatever it was was the problem with the first one sorts itself out.

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Jane, Paris, thank you! Big hugs back. It's so good to know I'm not alone. Wishing you both the best in your new endeavors.

Pam Stewart said...

Feed the muse. Watch a weird documentary about competitive eating, listen to some funky music, read a historical research book outside of the area you normally write. Get that muse excited about a project. Another suggestion, do you have a trusted group or a friend you could brainstorm with. Someone that always gets you excited for the concept or could suggest a twist that gets your imagination on board. The worst thing you can do is to stress, because stress will hog tie the muse and leave her bound and gagged in a closet. Lastly, I found a book by Steven Pressfield called, "The War of Art." It's fantastic and got me so very fired up. It addresses the resistance to your own art that is crippling you. DON'T GIVE UP. And remember you are awesome!!

Kathy Otten said...

I can see how burn out can happen. I've heard it discussed among published authors at conferences. I know of one author who just flat out told all his fans that he was taking a year off from writing anything. All his fans on Goodreads were very supportive of his decision, though as a fan of his work it was hard to wait the year for him to start writing again. But the days of authors writing a novel every year or so are over. Subsequently, the pressure is on to keep producing product without sacrificing quality. I think you just have to give yourself permission to not write. Maybe do some teaching on writing at an adult ed. center, worshops at confereces, talks at libraries, etc. to stay visible and involved in writing without actually writing. Best of luck,

Veronica Scott said...

No suggestions to add to the excellent variety above but wanted to say I support you! Sending hugs and good thoughts and be kind to yourself. There was a lot of change in your household this year too as I recall and even positive changes are stressful to some extent. HUGS!

D'Ann said...

Been there. Sometimes, you just have to take a break. The body and the mind need time to rejuvenate. It's tough when it's your profession, but forcing things sometimes make them worse.
Good luck!

Berengaria Brown said...

Hang in there, Cindy. I think the advice about stepping away and doing something totally different is great. Like Anny Cook and her sock knitting. My method is to completely switch genres. I wrote some lesbian romance even though everyone warned me it didn't sell and I was wasting my time. It happened to be what I wanted to write at the time. Do what pleases YOU.

Janni Nell said...

Hugs Cindy. Burnout sucks. Everyone's given you great advice. I'll just add in a)yoga breathing/meditation tapes and b) magnesium supplements.

Take care!

VenusBookluvr said...

Cindy, I wish I had something profound to offer but I don't. I think you should take it one day at a time and perhaps enjoy some downtime with your grand-daughter. But know that I'm here whenever you need me.

WildAboutBones WAB said...

Cindy, have you considered the reason you're letting the feelings of burnout get to you is that you aren't excited about any of the current projects? Do they possibly feel more like "work" than creativity and art and fun so the story nor characters are "talking to you" anymore? I think your decision to "mix it up" is a good one.

You have a good plan. I would add to your current items by trying to write at the same time daily for 3wks so that the writing urge becomes a habit again. Even if it is only for 15 min in the beginning.

I have an author friend who tends to get overwhelmed with the stories and characters sometimes and freezes in a panic and can't even write her grocery list. When this happens, she goes to www.flickr.com and looks at the photos. (Don't add any friends and a boatload will scroll on the home page as well as there being several pics to "explore" on the right sidebar. It's free to use.) The point is the pics clear her mind and she just writes what the pics tell her. She actually turned two of them into full length novels - just from looking at the pics (one was a gate and one was a lake) and the small things they said to her. Try it just to get the juices going.

Hugs and best of luck!

Melissa Keir said...

Everyone has given you some fabulous ideas. I can be supportive in that you will find something that works for you. And I do want you to know that everyone burns out on things..jobs, marriages, passions. It happens and we find something to kickstart our love and excitement again. You are not alone and you will to get through this. Finally, sending hugs and love. Always here if you need a coffee break!

Molly Daniels said...


I've been experiencing burnout on my own blog lately, and a good day for me is when a minimum of 300 words get logged. Be nice to yourself and give yourself permission to have 'days off'. That internal pressure is a bitch, so kudos for recognizing it and letting go. The words will return and you know your friends are here for you:)

E. Ayers said...

Great advice. Sometimes we have to accept that life gets in our way. When that ends, we can usually jump right back in the saddle.Maybe take a little time and look at what you've written. Is it really what you want to write? If not, why not?

If you are merely chasing the dollars and not writing what you love, try writing that other book that it inside of you. The one you pushed to one side because it wasn't worthy of your time. We all have the opus that will probably never be written, but we'd love to write it. Maybe now is the time for you to do that.

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Thanks everyone! I did get a short story written this week--something silly and fun. Hopefully that will build some momentum!

Ashlyn Chase said...

Wow! 53 books and 14 books in a year? No wonder you hit burnout!

Your plan sounds perfect. My only advice is to make it a habit. Sit in that chair every day at the same time. After a few weeks it will feel weird if you're not there, doing what you do so well.

You ARE an awesome writer, Cindy!