I didn’t take a big break after Father’s Creed drafts. Avoiding downtime from writing was my approach to maintaining skill and momentum, and since my determination is to write several more books in the next few years, time away from the keyboard hinders my efforts to reach that goal.
With that in mind, I started a second book. I also began another story which would support the writing exercises I was creating for the writer’s group I volunteered to lead every two weeks. That is separate from my critique group where I read several other writer’s work, noting my reactions and offering suggestions for improvement. Combined with this blog, a full-time job, and a desire to be a good husband and father, I am stretching my limits.
You can push yourself, and to be a better writer you should push yourself, but at some point you risk the dreaded burnout.
I was handling it all well enough, but about a week ago I tried to up my daily word count to 1500 in preparation for NaNoWriMo. I hit a wall. Rather, the wall hit me.
I’m capable of hitting high word counts in a day; I’ve written 2000 words in one sitting before, but that’s a rarity. My comfort zone is 800. When I get to 800 my brain gets squidgy and I feel the wall’s presence pushing near. Sometimes I stop. Sometimes I press on and hit the 1k mark. It’s when I move beyond that milestone that I suffer.
There’s nothing wrong with trying harder. You can push yourself, and to be a better writer you should push yourself, but at some point you risk the dreaded burnout. Life is already very stressful. Writing can be stressful. Even when it’s exciting and confusing and rewarding, it can be stressful. The worst thing for your writing and for your life as a writer is to lose your balance.
When stress tips the scales, it becomes too easy to abandon writing to avoid the stress. The problem is that even when you lessen the stress, you lessen everything else. All the joy you had for creation, the challenge of solving a scene, or finding just the right phrasing for some key dialogue is now all gone. When you stop writing, you so aggressively remove the source of your misery that you end up creating an empty void in your heart.
If you love writing, you must do it. It doesn’t need to be every day. It doesn’t even need to be good. What it should be, however, is fulfilling. I am slowly returning to writing, and I still want to do NaNoWriMo, but I won’t be doing 1500 words a day. I’ll be doing whatever I can do, and I’ll be happy doing it, and that’s where I want to be forever.
You should take the time to define why you write and what your goals are as a writer, then do your best to find a balance of pleasure and perseverance. Strive to improve and do more with your time, but be aware of those walls. Some you can punch through. Some will break your knuckles. When you start to hit those unbreakable walls, take a break before you burn out. The world needs your words, and so do you.
What do you do to avoid stress and burnout? How often do you take breaks from your writing, and when do you know it’s time to get back to it?
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