I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop where there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.Ernest Hemingway
If we read over Hemingway’s quote above it will seem, to most, like common sense. You write until you’re tired and then you quit and rest. But, all too often, writers don’t recognize the very real symptoms of burnout when they appear. Any person who does a job that requires you to think for many hours of the day will tell you that this endeavor can be as exhausting as any physical labor you might do. Authors are just as prone to burning out as financial planners, think tankers and analysts. Pouring one’s art onto the page can empty the well, as Hemingway put it, to dangerously low depths.
The landscape of publishing is constantly changing, and authors are finding themselves more and more at the helm of a ship they must learn to steer. There is little time for lessons or a learning curve, and success requires hours of study, preparation and dedication besides the hours spent writing down the stories. Marketing, social media presence, branding and public appearances all drive today’s authors and their ability to make a living in the field. Not only are they putting out books at a faster pace than ever before (thanks to demand and the societal drive for instant gratification) but they’re trying to connect with readers at the same time.
Authors are typically categorized as an introverted crowd, but today’s market requires them to step out of their offices and be known by their fans. This is another layer of pressure that authors face that can add to their already demanding schedules and constant need to keep up with the newest platforms, advertising information and current market trends for the genres they write. Authors are facing more public scrutiny, more demand for social interaction, and the expectation that they can keep up their publication schedules on top of this. Writers are also burning out faster than ever before.
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. Symptoms of burnout can include a loss of personal identity (putting all their self worth into the work) and a constantly diminishing feeling of accomplishment.
Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive? Do you find it harder to start projects you once rushed to?
Do you find it hard to concentrate?
Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
Have your sleep habits changed?
Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?
Burnout can lead to:
Sadness, anger or irritability
Alcohol or substance misuse
High blood pressure
Type 2 diabetes
Vulnerability to illnesses
Any or all of these issues can be signs that authors are approaching burnout. Draining all of your mental resources, or emptying the well, will leave you fighting to see the point in everything that you once loved to do.
The good news is that there are ways for authors to combat burnout and mental fatigue. Knowing the signs is the first step to making sure your well doesn’t go dry.
Evaluate your options. Try to set goals for what must get done and what can wait.
Seek support. Whether you reach out to other authors, friends or loved ones, support and collaboration might help you cope.
Try a relaxing activity. Explore programs that can help with stress such as yoga, meditation or tai chi.
Get some exercise. Regular physical activity can help you to better deal with stress. It can also take your mind off work.
Get some sleep. Sleep restores well-being and helps protect your health.
Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of focusing on your breath flow and being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment, without interpretation or judgment. In a job setting, this practice involves facing situations with openness and patience, and without judgment.
Authors have to remember that they are ultimately responsible for their own well-being and for achieving a work/life balance. Finding that balance is hard, especially for artistic minds driven by inspiration. Acknowledging when it’s time to step back and refill the well is one of the best ways an author can guarantee that they have a long and successful journey.