My colleague Owen KC Stephens has a great blog post that just went up about burnout.
Here’s the LINK.
In it, he is specifically referencing burnout in the RPG industry, but I think it very easily applies to any job out there. I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot recently, so his post inspired me to add one of my own. Go read it: I’ll wait.
I’m kind of there right now, burnout-wise. There are no projects pending that I know of that interest me. I qualify that statement because it’s a common occurrence for me to learn about a project I would kill to work on, only to discover that, not only did I not know about it, but the writing is already done so there’s no chance of sneaking in at the last minute. It’s a real downer, and when that happens it makes me feel like my efforts at networking, and the work I put into my writing projects in this business are essentially all for nothing. So that’s kind of a double-whammy that contributes in a negative way to my feeling burned out, compounding the problem.
John Kovalic has a favorite phrase he’s offered me from time to time that I absolutely know is intended to be supportive: “Every rejection brings you one step closer to success.” I paraphrase, but that’s the gist of it. Sadly, saying something like this, while totally well-meaning, does not help at all. It suggests that there is more rejection to look forward to, and for someone feeling down about writing and/or rejection, that’s the equivalent of saying “Once you lose your first limb, the pain doesn’t bother you as much.” Better in my mind to offer something like, “Sorry, Bill, I know it’s frustrating, but don’t give up.” To me, that’s an order of magnitude better: supportive, understanding, encouraging, and most importantly, upbeat. John truly is one of the nicest people I know, but that phrase sends me through the roof.
So how to fight burnout? If I knew that, I’d be marketing it in pricey, sold-out seminars around the country. Sometimes you have to step back for a bit. Vacations are important to help clear a person’s head, and they don’t have to be expensive or require long-distance travel to be effective. Many people who write for a living don’t have that option however, as they depend on their writing income to get by.
Another option that often works for me is breaking a project down into smaller parts, and working on those elements individually. That approach isn’t always possible, however. Sometimes, as Owen mentions in his post, powering through the work is the only thing to do; finding the motivation to do that can sometimes be equally challenging.
One thing that helps combat both burnout and rejection is having a good support network to back you up. Friends, a spouse, or members of a writers group can all go a long way to give you support and encouragement as a writer. Just having someone to talk to can make all the difference. Even if it’s just your gaming group, your bowling buddies, or people you get together with for coffee regularly, having sympathetic ears can help get you through tough times. Just be sure to return the favor when THEY need a shoulder to cry on!
Fighting rejection is even more difficult. You have to grow a thick skin to continue as a writer, and that’s something I struggle with regularly. You really have to love what you do to continue in the face of adversity, and I think that’s part of the secret: you have to love the work you do, or at least love the end product, to find the fortitude to continue. If you don’t, eventually burnout will consume you. Do what you love, even if you have to get a real job to support yourself while you do what you love on the side. It isn’t easy, but few things worth doing are accomplished without hard work and perseverance.