The Healthy Author: Creative Burnout
If you're a Type A achiever like me, I’ll bet the LAST thing you need is someone telling you to get off your butt 🍑 and get to work.
You're already working! Probably too much.
Does this sound like you?
The last "meal" you had was a handful of Goldfish crackers.
You forgot to drink water in between your two morning cups of coffee.
You skipped the yoga mat in favor of writing an Instagram post.
You’re supposed to be on break but you’re seriously considering writing a synopsis…
(That last one might just be me…)
If your candle is burning at both ends, and in the middle, it’s time to step back from building your business for one hot second. Since I’m exercising my right to take my own hiatus, it seemed like the perfect time to blog about how I arrived at this conclusion along with some of the tips and tricks I’m using to get through it.
Let’s start with…
When you need a break
Personally speaking, I knew I needed a break when I started dreading my to-do list. I know this isn’t going to apply to everyone, but for me writing is a lifeline! Is it work? of course. Do I have to do things I don’t like sometimes? Yes. But overall, sitting down to write and create new characters is almost 100% of the time FUN!
There’s a difference between taking a weekend off and taking a week off, and I know that. I recently started earmarking Sunday as a NO WORK day and it did wonders… for a month or so. But when those days off weren’t helping me achieve the “ahhh” I so desperately needed, I knew it was time for a hiatus.
How long should your break be?
Lots of factors to consider here!
How long CAN you take? Usually for me, a break is a few days—rarely a week. I published 6 books in 2018 and that means lots of writing, editing, promotion, etc.
How long do you NEED? Is this a problem you can solve during a weekend at a hotel or relaxing cabin in the woods? Can you hire a dog/kid/cat sitter? How much money do you have? When are your deadlines? Sometimes what we NEED and what we WANT are two different beasts. This time, for me, I cleared my calendar (giving my editor 3 weeks notice that I was doing just that) and took off for an entire month.
Go-to "rules" for your break
What’s the primary ingredient of your burnout? Is social media making you crazy? Are you creatively bankrupt? Can you even remember the last book you read for fun? Consider what you need and make a few rules for the You that’s on break. For me: Type A/workaholic, sometimes life loses meaning when I’m not writing/busy with my business. So I knew I needed a few ground rules going in.
No writing for deadline. My next book is due in a few months but I’m not touching it until my hiatus is over! I was feeling the pinch of having to write 2k a day minimum to keep up with a busy schedule so this rule was a must for me.
No editing for deadline. I talked to my editor about this and I hustled (and I do mean HUSTLED) through an edit + a copyedit so that I could take my hiatus deadline-free.
Out of office! Setting this was crucial to holding my own feet to the fire. I knew I’d be checking my personal email but didn’t want to be bound to it. Also, I knew I wouldn't be checking my business email but didn't want emailers to think I’d vanished, so I my autoresponders for two of my emails read as follows:
personal email/editor email: “I'll be away from my email inbox but checking in periodically now through November 15.
Editors/Publishers: if you have an urgent request, please contact my PA at ____.”
business only email: “Thanks so much for reaching out to me! I'm on hiatus until November 15 and will return emails at that time. If you have an urgent matter, please contact my personal assistant at ____.”
Do write for fun: blogs or future projects (that are not sold!). I knew I’d want to write and therefore gave myself an out to write for fun.
Do take classes. I have a few online classes I’ve purchased that will help me grow my business and I haven’t had time to devote to them. I know they won’t cause any of that overwhelm that I was feeling so this was a no-brainer.
When it's okay to "work a little"
This will come as a surprise to none of you (especially if you know me) but I bent a rule and did a thing I wasn’t “supposed” to do while I was on my California vacation. Reason being? I was so motivated and excited by my surroundings that the creativity came rushing in just a few days into my break! If this happens to you, my advice is GO FOR IT. I took an hour to fill out a plotting form (that I PROMISE will be COMING SOON to the store—truly, it’s a priceless part of my repertoire!) that I knew would help me write the synopsis for my next book/series for Harlequin.
I haven’t written said synopsis yet, but if I want to, I’m going to do it! Creative bursts are gifts that don’t always adhere to our timelines. If you’ve been marinating on a problem that’s staying hidden, rest assured it will come to fruition while you’re not working. Don’t miss that opportunity at some great momentum just because you’ve set some rules.
Lean on a friend who gets it
If you find during your hiatus/break that you’re not any more relaxed than before, or you feel as if you should be doing something, or you’ve laid on the sofa bingeing Netflix for four solid days, plus you haven’t organized your closet or seen sunlight…
It takes time to get used to stopping after you’ve been running full speed for months (or years)! Rest. Relax. Be a sloth. I know, I know. You only have one life and time and precious and #girlboss is your hashtag and Hustle Your Heart Out is your personal mantra… but that might be the problem. Since you’ve been “in it to win it” 24/7, it’s going to take some TIME to unwind and calm the heck the down. When you return from this hiatus, you’ll be more balanced than before and wasn’t that the goal in the first place?
You don’t have to do this alone! Phone a friend—or in my case, text one. I reached out to author bestie Lauren Layne whining that I was creatively barren. Here I was taking time off to achieve clarity and I had NO clarity at all! I even included the hashtag #help on my text!
Do you know what my brilliant friend said? “Read! Relax! Watch Netflix! You took this time off for a reason.”
She was right. And it was exactly what I needed to pull me out of a mini anxiety meltdown in the center of what was supposed to be my relaxing break. But you MUST GO TO THE RIGHT FRIEND. If you have a friend who says something like “Um. Jealous! I’d kill to have a month off!” that is not the friend to talk to! You don't want to feel badly because you’ve put yourself in a position where you can make your own hours, so seek out your tribe, here. Go to someone you can count on to support you when you’re in the dumps.
You WILL be able to come back to it.
The last bit of advice I want to give you is more of a reassurance. Once you return from your day, weekend, week or month away you will be able to come back to the work you left behind. You might feel rusty, though, so I suggest tuning in for a little work. In my case: this blog, my Instagram account, and the simple act of jotting to-dos in my planner help me warm up to coming back. These traditions are part of who I am as a Boss Lady so I don't discount them!
When you sit back down to do your deep work (I.e., write a book) honor those rituals. For me, writing happens best with coffee and quiet, and a 15 to 30 minute timer.