Authors (and writers) don’t talk about certain sensitive industry subjects. Not even with each other. Like most human beings, it’s challenging to express vulnerable feelings and thoughts, and, as a rule, they hate to say or do anything that makes them look or feel weak. It doesn’t matter that, if said out loud, a person may find that many people feel and think the same way. Some subjects are simply considered taboo.
Burnout is one of those subjects writers are reticent to discuss. Recently, I’ve seen a lot of comments on socials about how writers feel now that the world is trying to get back to normal after the worst part of the pandemic.
Lockdown gave many of us a chance to devote our free time, which was usually spent socializing out in public, to our writing skills. We wrote more. We learned new software. Graphic design. Studied trends. Learned about marketing. Networked. We did the writer things day in and day out because there wasn’t much else to do if you were a responsible person who quarantined as much as you could.
Many people, though sad that they were at home most of the time, felt exhilarated at the thought that they were finally able (and forced, in a way) to chase their dream.
Many have found that this time devoted to their dream did not produce the results they wanted or expected.
Thousands of hours were devoted to hard work, hustle, and hope. And…it didn’t matter much in many cases. I don’t know if it helps to say that is typical of almost any career path, but I’ll throw that out there anyway. So many writers hustled like the rent was due yesterday, only to find that their work did not pay off in a way that felt meaningful.
People measure “meaningful” in different ways, but in this case, a lot of writers found that the time spent was not compensated in a way that made a meaningful impact on their life. They checked an item off their Bucket List, but with not enough book sales to compensate for that time, they found themselves wondering if some dreams are not just meant to be dreamt.
It’s understandable. No one can blame a person for becoming disenchanted by hard work that doesn’t provide a livable income. Even if you’re doing something you love for work, you expect to make a livable wage, right?
This hustle, hustle, hustle, learn, learn, learn, work, work, work culture has led many writers–sometimes even successful ones–to feel burnout. Even the ones who are/were writing for a living!
“Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.“
When you give every bit of yourself, work hard, and do your best to be your best, it can erode a person’s energy and passion. Even if you’re successful, you can find yourself wondering if any of it was worth it. You’re exhausted. Stressed. Impostor Syndrome might make an appearance. Lack of creative ideas. You’re tolerance for socializing, marketing, and networking might be at zero. You’re. Just. Done.
There’s no shame in that. Every job can lead to burnout at some point. Those that do not compensate fairly seem to have the highest cases, of course. There is no guarantee as an indie author–or even a trad-published author–that your compensation will ever make up for the passion and work you’ve put into a project.
Imagine you spent a full year writing a book as a full-time job (let’s play pretend), and you finally release the book. At forty hours a week, 52 weeks a year, you’ve spent 2,080 hours writing a book. Writing a full novel, doing all the editing steps, designing a cover, marketing, blah blah blah…2,080 hours is a low estimate. But let’s keep pretending. At a traditional job, you’d hope to be compensated at least $15/hr (U.S.) for your time. That’s $31,200. Let’s say you get $2 for each book you sell.
You’d have to sell 15,600 copies to make a “living.”
How many books sell that many copies? Even in the trad world?
And $31,200 isn’t a great living in today’s economic climate, especially if you’re a single person living alone.
Was it worth it? Even if you sold more than 15,000 books…was all that hard work worth it?
Some writers would be thrilled. Others may wonder if they wouldn’t have been better off at a traditional job because we all know writers working full time spend much more than 40 hours a week writing.
Traditional jobs require that you show up, do your assigned tasks, go home, and have set days off, and when you’re not at work…you’re not at work. Being a writer requires so much more devotion. It demands more of you mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically than a desk job at some giant company.
Unless you’re selling at least 40,000 copies of each book, it might not be worth it to some.
And that’s fair. It’s not shameful. It’s certainly not shameful for writers who struggle to sell a single book to feel jilted. Creative work is not for everyone.
It’s not simply the low compensation that is a problem, either. As a creative, you get heckled, torn apart, critiqued, and personally attacked, you’re constantly worried about offending others, and you wonder if one thing you write or say will be the thing that destroys your career. You wonder if you will get doxxed or harassed or bullied–especially if you’re LGBTQIA or BIPOC. You become concerned that people will mistake what you write for who you are and cast aspersions on your character–especially if you write horror or erotica.
Recently, a novel that I’ve been working on for 4+ years has caused me to feel burnout. In going over the most recent draft, I realized that I hated 70% of it. That’s the danger of taking so long on a project. You change. Who you were when you started writing a story is not who you are when you are done…and you might feel you didn’t express what you set out to express. Or your skills grew in such a way that you feel it’s no longer the best work you could put out there.
I’ve realized that I will want to completely rewrite the novel if I’m going to release it.
That was a huge blow to my passion and devotion. I’ve already devoted so much of my time, energy, and passion to this project, I have to wonder if it’s even worth finishing anymore. It’s made me struggle to write on any of my open projects. Honestly, it’s made me wonder if I’m concerned that it’s not worth my time, or if I’m simply not good enough to write the story the way I see it in my head.
Burnout can really fuck with a writer’s head. Probably more than Impostor Syndrome or anything else.
I look back at the writer I was starting out. Starry-eyed and full of dreams and wonder and hopes. I’ve given too much of myself. And now I just feel tired. I’ve used the last few weeks to decompress. Spend time with my family. Consider my options. Clear my head. And I know I’ll be back at the keyboard soon. But I feel the need to express that I. Am. Burned. Out.
I’m a human before I’m a writer. It’s okay to lose your passion from time to time. It’s okay to be exhausted. And it’s okay to sit back, take a breath, and contemplate all of the things you’ve been through over the years of your writing career. Make a game plan. Decide what the best path forward is for you.
Let the burnout force you to consider some hard truths and reevaluate what is most important to you and how you can move forward without destroying the last spark of passion you have for what is, ultimately, a rewarding and exciting career. Maybe you’ll never make J.K. Rowling money, but you can fulfill yourself in a way that no other profession can.
I’ll see you all on the other side when we get there.
Tremendous Love & Thanks,
One thought on “Burnout”
You have written a shitload of books, many of which show that you’ve given a lot of yourself to them. You have published on a huge schedule over the last few years. I hope you come back to writing after a break, but if you do, for heaven’s sake don’t wait till you hit the wall to take another break. And if not, what you’ve written will last.
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