Five Things to Do to Combat Burnout


Hello, SEers, it’s John with you again. Today I would like to discuss a condition whose very existence is hardly ever acknowledged and certainly not discussed openly. The condition that I mention is an affliction with many labels but is most commonly known as burnout.

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Burnout can happen to anyone on any occasion and any activity. Burnout can occur at a point in a task where the individual has spent too many hours facing the same situation with the same unsatisfactory results.

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So, what does burnout have to do with writing? Like any activity, writing is not immune to stress-inducing situations that require diligence to overcome. For example, think of drafting a 96,000-word manuscript and then realizing that the ending falls flat. The ending left unfixed would ruin the entire book. Depending on the amount of work put into the document, this realization could push one over the edge and create the desire to quit. I have had bouts of burnout that I thought would be terminal to future writing.

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Burnout should not be confused with the so-called “writer’s block.” Writer’s block is a temporary lapse in creativity that a little bit of time can fix. Burnout is quite another animal. It is a realization that to continue doing the current activity would be more painful than quitting. It is a pretty extreme place to be in and requires measures to counter. Otherwise, the result could be disastrous to a writing career.


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Symptoms of burnout could include

Feelings of fatigue.


Feeling listless.

Low mood.

Difficulty concentrating.

Lack of creativity.

Certainly, not good feelings for a writer

I have experienced burnout and it had me convinced I never wanted to write again. So obviously, I did not give in to the conviction and am still writing. What did I do when I thought burn out was staring me in the face? I took action to eliminate it. I did five things, which I think would be useful to combat the effects of burnout should it ever rear its ugly head.

Unsplash Image by Ryan Johns

Five things to do to fight burnout

1 Leave the work and do something else. By ‘leave the work,’ I mean close it up, walk away and find different activities.  Different means activities that are not related to the specific writing project.

2 Stay away from the work for at least a week. Do not open the file or go near the book (or whatever is causing the burnout) until a week has passed.

3 After a week, go back to the work but do not tackle the most pressing problem. Do a side project connected with the work. Maybe write a blurb or fool around with a cover idea.

4 Take one more week away from the project.

5 Return to the project and make a note of how you feel about it now. If you are anxious to begin working on the project, then do so. If you have the same feelings of dread about the project, then take some more time away. The critical point is to permit yourself to shelve any part of your writing that causes you to believe burnout is an issue.

I would never recommend a writer quit writing entirely. Usually, an author can remedy the feelings associated with burnout.

I hope you found this post irrelevant to your situation.  However, if you experience some of the symptoms, I hope this post offers a useful path.

Did you ever have a bout of burnout? If so how did you deal with it?

77 thoughts on “Five Things to Do to Combat Burnout

  1. Pingback: How to Restart Stalled Creativity the Easy Way | Story Empire

  2. A lot of great tips to overcome burnout in this post. Thanks for sharing about your experience. I often find it good to detach from the reason behind being burnt out. How long would you say is too long in taking a break from anything such as writing if burnout?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I did a micro-blog post about creative burnout on my Instagram account last month. It can really sneak up on you if you’re not careful! I was amazed how many writers and other creators had experienced the same things. These a great tips! Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A timely and useful article! I’ve struggled to focus this year and wrote myself into a standstill to the point where I couldn’t face returning to it. I decided to back right off and I’ve done a variety of things without succumbing to the guilt I sometimes feel when I’m not writing. For the last few days I’ve felt twinges of excitement about going back to my WIP but I’m holding off for a little longer. Your words made a huge amount of sense to me. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent advice for combatting burnout, John. I’m sure everyone could come up with their own lists, but yours is very spot-on. I find that if I walk away and give it some time, then I can look at it with new eyes. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, John you are right this isn’t talked about much. I’m pulling out of a burn out slowly right now. It will be a relief to get a longtime project done this week. I think doing some thing new for the NaNo next month has lit that missing spark a bit. I’m stressed about it but have ideas that keep me awake, which is a good thing thing. We have a lot of support in our writing community, I find that holds me up when I wonder why I’m doing this. Thanks for your part in that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think a NaNa project can work wonders. It is like a slap when you need it. Your last short story idea was one that had legs as far as I could see. A murderer and victim die together. Just how did that happen? Yes our community is great for helping us stay to the grindstone. Thanks for your part in that as well. 🤗

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My house gets a thorough clean when I feel all the things your burnout list, John. I go on lots of long coastal walks with husband and talk trivia on any and every subject with him. Sometimes I think he’s glad when I get my mojo back and the house gets a little dusty, our walks consist of him taking photos and me scribbling notes on what I see. Not to diminish this serious topic, though – it’s something we all dread. A great positive post. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post John (despite me reading the title as “5 things to do to deal with combat burnout” and then expecting a story about green berets or something). I have/had/am experiencing burnout re my current series, simply because it’s so BIG. Book II is massive (in scope) and requires me to give so much to get it written. I am combatting that currently by turning my hand to a few short stories. I will come back to Book II, and it still bubbles away in the background of my brain, but at the moment, I NEED that break from it. Basically, what I’m saying is, good advice!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have not had any significant writer’s block but have experienced burnout. It was only once thus far, and it was bad regarding one project. After turning over 200 words of a novel I had worked on for 10 yrs. She had so many criticisms that I couldn’t get through them all at first. I knew I could write: I had lots of encouragement all my life, and published in lit mags and compilations in a variety of genres. It didn’t occur to me to not write. But that one novel…
    I just could not face rewriting the novel for the 20th time. I spoke with the editor and she still encouraged me to re-think it. But I was over it for then; it had taken so much time and energy by then.
    I put it away for the past 6 years. Just recently I have thought: I know where and perhaps how I might begin again. And so maybe I will. Or I may not. I have still written almost daily over the years–just lots of other work has gotten done. Maybe that was how it was meant to be. We will see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Take a look at it. If it still looks unfixable set it aside and look again in a week. You can keep repeating this cycle until you either kill it or bring it to life. I have a 110,000 word manuscript out in the garage that I do peek at from time to time. It is still properly placed out there in case I need to hold a door open. Best wishes. Thanks for sharing your story. 😊


  10. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    John Howell has an excellent post on Story Empire today on how to combat Burnout! I suspect many of us have suffered with this to one degree or another, and John offers some very useful commonsense tips you might want to take note of. I did. Hope you’ll stop by and check out his suggestions and then will pass this along so others can take advantage of them, too. Thanks and thanks to John for a timely and helpful post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Excellent post, John. I haven’t yet experienced total burn-out, but I have certainly struggled with writing during this pandemic. (Which I originally thought was going to HELP with writing. Silly me.) I have, however, been experiencing a much-reduced ability to focus on what I’m trying to write, even when I’m enjoying it. I find I can only write a few sentences at a time, and then must get up and do something else for five or ten minutes. Then I go back and write a few more lines, rinse, and repeat. Even if I KNOW what I want to write, I can’t keep going straight through to the end of a page, even. That’s a recent development I really want to turn around.

    What I AM burned out on is having more on my plate than I can finish in a day. It has frustrated me to the point I’ve been struggling with depression. I don’t know if this falls under General Burn-Out or what, but I have now taken steps to ease the pressure I’ve put on myself, and I’ve determined to spend a couple of hours writing each morning before I start catching up on emails and blogging. I tried it Friday, and actually managed to begin writing my next book, something I’d been hoping to start several months ago. I stuck with the plan today, and managed to finish the first chapter, even with my frequent breaks. My spirits are much better and I’m hoping that my ability to focus will start to come back when I fully accept I don’t have to do ten things at once. Dedicated writing time seems to be more productive than my old habit of fitting it in here and there throughout the day. (No wonder my focus has been scattered, huh?)

    Does any of this sound like burn-out of a type? Not sure, myself, but whatever it is, I like ALL of your suggestions and plan to remind myself of them, no matter what’s causing me grief. Thanks for touching on a tricky problem and offering concrete solutions. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your situation doesn’t sound like burnout but rather spreading yourself too thin. I’m glad the concentrated efforts are paying off. What I do is dedicate myself to 1000 words a day on the WIP, then and only then do I do blogs, posts, etc. You would be surprised how fast the 1000 words go then you are free for the day to piddle in the other things.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not sure I can do 1000 words in a day, because of problems I’m having focusing. At least for now. I finish 2 or 3 sentences, and have to walk away for a few minutes. It’s very disruptive, and quite different from my usual approach, which is to write for several hours without moving at all. (That’s not a great plan, either). But small steps. I’ll begin with making sure I write something every morning. Maybe a scene, maybe, eventually a whole chapter. I’m hoping my focusing skills return, but only time will tell.

        As for the spreading myself too thin, yep. That has been taking a terrible toll, so putting my writing first and everything else second (at least for a while) is going to help greatly. And who knows? At some point, I might find I can hit 1,000 words or more again. I’m sure gonna try! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Great tips, John — thank you. I’m not burned out, but I am frustrated with my WIP. I like its beginning and other than touch-up edits, I feel no need to change it. What’s a mess (right now) is the middle. I’ve gone down so many different rabbit holes trying to connect the beginning with the end that I hardly know which end is up. Yes, I’m a pantser — can’t you tell?!?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I don’t know that I’ve experienced this as a writer. I’ve gotten a bit of writer’s block and found my own solution. I feel some of this approaching, because I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to wrap up a trilogy. I did give up on a book one time. After about five chapters it was in irreparable mess. The concept is still good, but I’d need to start from scratch. Good post, and I like the tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Yep. Been there. I’d just finished a monster project that took me months to complete (true crime), then the pandemic hit and, well, like a lot of writers, I thought I’d permanently lost my mojo. But I needed to get back to my thriller, which I’d pushed aside months earlier. Every time I tried to write that book, words failed me. So, I turned to my love of research and started a new project. When I gave my permission to work on something else for a while, my joy returned. And I jumped back into that thriller with a renewed passion.

    Liked by 3 people

    • What a great story, Sue. I think that anytime we get the feeling of lost mojo we tend to panic. It is almost like we think it will never come back. I had to learn these tricks to stay ahead of the gloom. I’m so glad you found a way to stay with it. Thanks for sharing your story. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I recently went through this with my WIP. I think part of my problem was related to my day job (it requires a lot of concentration and can be stressful, especially in this year of you know what). I put the manuscript aside, finished a short story prequel, and then went back to the novel. It helped to walk away. There are also times when I intend to write and need to take a day or an evening off. Did that last week and it helped me be more productive over the weekend.

    Great post, John.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Due to my ill health right now, I’ve hit all those points you’ve listed, so I’m making 2021 diaries and planners, as well as perennial birthday books. It’s going slowly, but I’m enjoying it. I’m hoping to get back to writing soon, but I know better than to try and force it when it’s more than simple procrastination. Great points and post, John. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I think I’m there now. Given writing isn’t a hobby or side-job for me but is my actual career, I can’t walk away for weeks at a time. I do, however, try to focus on other projects when one is giving me a problem. I also talk the problem over with writing friends. And sometimes I just have to power through. But I agree with you; the best course of action would be a clean break to clear my head.

    Great post, John.

    Liked by 4 people

  18. Pingback: Top Ten Things Not to Do at the Founding of Harvard College in 1636 | Fiction Favorites

  19. Great analysis, John. It’s given me much to ponder about how I address burnout. My list is similar to yours, but it is also specific to me. I distract myself by returning to myself — through nature, through music, through grandkids, through all that helps me breathe deeply and freely. I didn’t have a name for my experience until reading your post, so thank you. BTW, when I feel this dread, I also focus on mindless jobs around the house like cleaning the garage or painting the deck. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

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