Burnout, Guilt, and “Productivity”

This post is half explanation, half me yelling at myself.

After my book came out at the beginning of April, my productivity levels plummeted to zero.

I kept trying to tell myself that it was okay, that it was natural, that I’d been working almost continuously since November 2017 and I needed a bit of a break. My husband and friends and editor all told me the same thing.

And you know what? They were right. You know what else? I knew they were right.

But I still felt incredibly guilty.

This is called “burnout,” kids.

And the last several weeks that I’ve been mostly AWOL from writing have been me trying to work through that guilt for just being tired, and why it exists.

I’ve identified two major reasons:

1) Recovering gifted child guilt

This particular guilt manifests in different ways for different people, but for me, it’s the problem of “Well, I didn’t finish this the first time I tried, so obviously it’s never going to work and I should move on to something else.” Which is a terrible way of doing anything, but hey, it worked in grade school, so obviously it should work in my adult life, right???

(No. No, the answer is “no.” And again, “no.”)

2) Capitalist / “gig economy” guilt

Productivity =/= worth as a human being

We’ve all been told the exact opposite by so many for so long that this has to be repeated over and over and over again until hopefully we can absorb it.

We’ve been taught to devalue the pursuits we enjoy if we’re not getting something tangible in return.

But we need intangible things, too.

Doing other things besides earning money is not “a waste of time.” Hobbies—non-money-producing hobbies—are not only important, they are vital. They let you rest, and just enjoy things. It’s so important for your mental health and your emotional well-being.

Writers and artists need rest. We need sleep, and non-creating time. We need to kill the myth of the starving artist…with food. And we need to do fun things for fun.

So in addition to identifying the guilt, I’ve also been working on trying to let all of that guilt go, and instead of beating myself up for not being superhuman, I’m trying very hard to just be kind to myself.

I try to go to bed at a reasonable hour, without worrying about how many words I’ve written that day.

I spend more time in the kitchen, and pay more attention to what I’m eating, instead of grabbing whatever’s quickest that I can shovel into my mouth while I’m hunched over a keyboard. And I keep water around, to lessen my temptation for caffeine.

When I do sit down to write, I set myself a limit as well as a goal. I say, “Okay, I want to reach a thousand words tonight, but I’ve got other things to do, so I’m only going to write for two hours, and then I’m going to go do something else.” I find I work better with deadlines, so giving myself a time limit means I have to get the words out—they don’t have to be good words, but they have to be on the page before two hours are up. And telling myself, “This time is set aside only for writing,” helps to free up my brain from worrying about other things.

I do things that aren’t writing: I go bowling with my husband. We have a weekly board game night where we try games we’ve never played before. I knit baby blankets and watch Poirot. I stay busy and enjoy myself and get away from my desk for a few hours. Sometimes the “You Should Be Writing” gremlin starts poking me, and I have to remind myself, “No, this isn’t Writing Time, and I’m not going to write until it is.”

And that’s where I am right now. I’ve had about six weeks of doing more or less nothing except trying to build myself back up to get back to work, and…it hasn’t exactly been fun, but I’ve learned a few things:

  • Sleep.
  • Eat food.
  • Remember to hydrate.
  • Set limits as well as goals.
  • Do fun things for fun.
  • Be kind to yourself.

You’re the only one of you, and you’re the only one who can make the things you want to make.

Take care of yourself.

I’m trying to do the same. 

How do you combat burnout? Tell us on the forum post for this blog entry!

A. F. Linley

A. F. Linley was born in Connecticut and raised in New York's Capital District. She is a long-time government copy editor and a casual writer of various types of fiction (including government copy). She wrote her first story when she was nine and decided to pursue writing as a career when some well-meaning but foolish elementary school teacher assured her that she could make a living at this. She lives with her partner near Saratoga and is frequently mistaken for a competent adult. You can find more of her writing at aflinley.com or or patreon.com/aflinley.