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Thursday, November 10, 2016


There's a thing that can happen when you're writing a long piece, like a novel or a collection, or during an intesive writing challenge like NaNoWriMo. You can burn out--which, I think, is literally like fire: you burn through all you've got too quickly, and the recovery can make you stop writing all together, or slow you down so much that you never finish the project.

Burn-out sucks eggs. For me, it makes the inside of my head feel like the forest after a fire has gone through, all crispy and dry and dead. But there's also that feeling of the gree coming back afterward, and now that I've been at this for a while*, I have figured out some things that can help it get to that point faster.

1. Pace yourself
Anything longer than a short story is a marathon, not a sprint--if you try to sprint for a really long time, you'll run out of the ability to get anything done at all. So pace yourself. Don't work to your limits every day, just hit your goal, note what has to happen next, and continue the next day.

Some tips:
  • Knowing what you mean to do each day helps you pace it--whether you plan it all beforehand or just decide at the end of the day where you're going tomorrow, have something to guide you.
  • Developing the habit of writing when you are supposed to be writing helps, too; then you don't have to have the "oh my god i need to get it all down now before it evaporates and i never have inspiration again omgggg" moment. That moment also burns energy that could be spent writing, so another reason to avoid it.
  • Writing until you have nothing left to say doesn't only leave you with no direction going forward, it also skips the gaps in between writing sessions where awesome new ideas happen and makes telling the story harder.**

2. Set your goals low
Just because you know you're capable of writing ten or fifteen or twenty pages a day, doesn't mean you should every single day. Think about a month down the line; can you still see yourself writing that many pages every single day? NaNoWriMo sets the page count for you; it winds up being a little over 6 and a half regular manuscript pages*** every day, so most of the time, aim for that and don't go too far over, so you still have the ability to be writing at that speed at the end of the month. Or, if you know you'll tire, bank extra pages at the beginning of the month so six and a half feels easy at the end, but don't overdo it.

But during a regular writing project, you can't always know when the end will be. And if it'll take more than a month, you'll want to be able to keep up your goals, because nothing kills motivation like day after day, week after week, of not being able to hit your ideal number of words or pages.

After some experimentation and shifting around, I know that I can consistently hit four pages a day (roughly 1000 words) at least four days a week, so that's what I aim for. I had it at five pages five days a week, with weekends off, but life without writing makes Fridays hard, and writing gets really hard by the end of the week! So I gave myself an extra day off.

Also of note: I know I can write around six pages every day, all week long, as a top production speed, but after a week or two--as I learned through several years of NaNo--it gets really hard. I start having to skip too many hard parts to keep the pace, leaving myself with too many of the most difficult things to tackle during the first editing draft, when I fill in gaps. Also, I start missing story beats--like, totally not even noticing that I didn't figure out whole subplots, or that there has to be other parts to make the main plot make sense. It starts to feel desperate, which is not a great way to do creative things.

So I set my daily goal BELOW that so that I know I can hit it easily, and so I know that if I have to take time off or skip extra days, or if deadlines are approaching, I can crank it up without killing myself.

Try your limits and where you feel comfortable! Some people write a lot every single day, while others write little. One paragraph or one page every single day will buile a whole novel just as surely as twenty pages a day for a shorter amount of time. You've got to be true to who you are.

3. Write at the best time of day for yourself
Like finding what works as your daily goals, finding when you write best takes a little experimentation. And it has to work with your daily schedule to make it easy to do, too.

For instance: I write best at night, but starting my pages at three in the morning doesn't work with, like, anything ever in the real world. Now that I'm required to live on standard schedules, I can't do that anymore. So I figured out that the next best thing is early in the day--ideally, before I even get out of bed, but before noon, if that doesn't work. Before I get to work blogging or mixing nail polish, and usually right after I set up my planner page for the day.

Maybe you work best on your lunch break at work. Maybe you do best early in the day and get up an hour before you really need to to have the time. Maybe you do best after dinner, when the kids are in bed. Try different times and see which one most easily helps you to hit your daily goals, and then stick to it! Schedule it in like an appointment and keep it!

4. When recovering, don't stop writing all together
Sometimes, even with everything going well, you still hit a wall and burn out. Usually because writing isn't separate from the rest of your life, it's part of it. If other things are eating up your brainspace and energy, you'll have less to devote to your writing, and run out faster.****

When you do hit your wall, instead of shutting down all together and losing the habit of writing and accessing whatever awesomeness feeds your writing, just go into, like, low-battery mode. Instead of hitting four pages a day, aim for one, or for half of one. Then you're still making foward process, but it takes a lot less time and effort and requires much less deep investment to get done! 

And as you recover, it'll be easier to get back into the swing, because you haven't given up the characters and world and plot lines, you just slowed down.

5. Have other things to do, too
If writing is all you have, and all that writing is only in one project, it's easier to burn out. But if you have smaller side projects to ease the pressure, and you have fun stuff outside your head to keep you having experiences and relaxing, you divert that pressure build-up that makes writing harder and harder. It keeps things in perspective, and reminds you that writing is awesome, but most of the day to day grind of it, it's no more important than any other thing you need to get done to maintain your life--so you just do it and move on.

Much easier!

How do you avoid burn-out in your writing? How do you recover when it happens anyway? Share in the comments!

*I've been writing since I was 12, which is two thirds of my life!
**And it eats up a lot of time, meaning the next day has to catch up with all the non-writing stuff, leaving less time to write, and basically making everything harder instead of being an awesome mind-expanding cretive enterprise.
***Assuming 250 words per page, which is roughly what 12 point double-spaced comes out to most of the time.
****Which is why you need to balance life, work, family, and writing, but that's a post for another day!


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