So You’ve Burned Yourself Out. Now What?

So you published something brilliant, filmed a book trailer, did the podcast circuit, the blog tour, local readings, and a slew of conventions. You’ve hand sold at outlet stores at a table fit for a three-card Monte hustler. You ran out onto a football field wearing nothing but a book banner. You did everything to promote your writing.

Now you’re out on parole, slouched on the couch, utterly spent. You never want to go through that process again.

Yet the shadow of Stephen King looms over you, a modern day Moses commanding, “Thou shalt write every day.”

So you dab your worn arthritic fingers upon the keyboard until autocorrect spits out some sentences and you find yourself questioning your own literacy. The spark of inspiration has fizzled to ash. What you once did for relief now feels like a chore. What should you do?

Exorcise your anger by exercising it

If you hate doing something your audience will feel it, maybe not consciously, but they’ll sense the resentment between lines, so why not put that resentment to use?

Last summer my personal life took an unexpected turn (i.e. went to shit). The last thing I wanted to do was dish out writing advice. This damn blog felt obligatory, but I kept on for fear of losing my following, and the show went on all right. All my sincere advice turned into sarcastic jabs at my whole damned format.

I found myself writing articles like: How to Write Blog Spam, How Not to Write, and How to Pretend to be a Writer. I was tearing down what I’d been doing for five years and it was therapeutic as hell.

Most writers exhaust themselves with self-promotion. If you feel burnt out blogging, try switching up your format (maybe even mocking what you hate about it).

Go informal

For me the more formal my writing process the less I get done. I know Patrick Rothfuss writes in total silence in a blank white room disconnected from his home, but I do my best work in loud spaces amongst friends. I’ve tried writing at the kitchen table, with earplugs, and a glass of pinot, but I found myself staring at a blank screen at the end of the evening.

I don’t like to say, “Okay, now I’m starting my writing day.” I like tinker with some ideas until I find myself saying, “I guess I’ve started my writing day.”

Switch up your goals

I used to have word count goals. I wrote a lot of chunky chapters trying to live up to them. All those days I skipped out of the coffee shop proud of my numbers were proven pointless when it came time to edit. For all the stress they brought me my word count goals added up to a slew of superficial Subplots, directionless dialogue, and flimsy flashbacks.

I’ve since shifted my goals to reflect the hours I spend writing.

What to do with digital distractions

Most articles on burnout will tell you to put away your digital devices: your smartphones, exercise monitors, and pacemakers. Kick all that noise across the floor. Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill write freehand so they can avoid those notifications.

I like this idea in theory, but here’s the thing about those distractions; the more you try not to think about them the more you will. It’s called negative suggestion. It’s like trying not to think of a purple elephant. Seriously try it. Try not to think of a purple elephant with a lace umbrella in its trunk, a summer bonnet on its head, and a hoop skirt on its butt. Try not to think about it trouncing through the courtyard of a vast palacio estate, shattering ice sculptures, and stomping the string quartet to death. Try not to visualize any of that.

I say screw it. Leave your phone on the counter right beside you. You don’t need me to tell you that most notifications are nonsense. Likes, hearts, and retweets are not interactions. Only comments, mentions, and direct texts count and they’re so rarely urgent. So that’s one less writing formality it’s safe to ditch. Go on and invite the purple elephant into the room and I assure you it will get boring after a while.

On the other hand, some digital distractions are too strong, even if they’re not on. You probably shouldn’t write in the same room where you do your binge watching, marathon gaming, and ritualistic wanking.

You can’t serve two masters, for you will yearn for easy entertainment while despising your creative challenge. Ye cannot serve your imagination and your entertainment system at once. I’m pretty certain that’s in the bible somewhere.

Change up what you do when you’re not writing

I know a handful of writers who moonlight as paranormal investigators. They’ve strolled through abandoned asylums, corroded castles, and moldering mansions. They’ve yet to find a full free-floating apparition, but the sight of all that atmosphere must do wonders for their writing.

Take on hobbies that are in tune with your story.

Veg Out Smart

When the urge to slouch on the couch proves too powerful then veg out to something that will inform your writing. When I’m stuck I feel a lot less guilty binge watching Netflix’s Myths & Monsters or Amazon’s Lore because I’m not turning my brain all the way off.

As a horror writer I’m a big fan of documentaries like The Nightmare, Killer Legends, or HBO’s Beware the Slenderman. They may not inform my stories directly, but they show how fear affects people and which notes to play to entrance my audience.

If you want to write more read more

It’s so obvious it almost doesn’t need to be said, but I do my best writing when I’m engrossed in what I’m reading. Perhaps I’m intrigued by a storytelling technique I’ve never attempted myself. Perhaps the rhythm of what I’m reading rubs off on my writing. Perhaps I’m just jealous and that’s enough to get me back to work.

Nothing will remind you why you got into the writing game more than a well-written fiction.


My new short story The Pigeon King is now available on Amazon!

2 thoughts on “So You’ve Burned Yourself Out. Now What?”

  1. Great article. I love the suggestion of taking on hobbies that are in tune with your story.

    1. It doesn’t hurt to work hobbies you already have into your stories too. I go to an 80s themed dance night every week and good chunk of that DJ’s playlist has made its way into the plot of something I’m working on.

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