There are two main roadblocks for writers: writer’s block and writer’s burnout. Writer’s block is an obstacle where you aren’t sure what happens next in your script — or even which script you’re going to write. It’s a puzzle to overcome and it could be combined with some form of resistance based on intimidation of the unknown.
Writer’s burnout is much more severe and can last much longer. The definition of burnout is a “state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accompaniment and loss of personal identity.”
Let’s go over how to identify the signs of burnout and what you can do to recover from it, or better yet, avoid burnout altogether.
Identify the Signs
Symptoms of burnout can include becoming overly critical of your work, feeling like you need to drag or force yourself into writing, becoming irritable with a lower threshold for triggers, finding it hard to concentrate, increased physical symptoms like change in sleep patterns or headaches, and a loss in satisfaction or joy from writing and creating.
Recognize the Causes of Burnout
Burnout can result from a variety of factors for emerging writers and seasoned veterans alike. Burnout can be caused by:
- Extreme activity: If you’ve been trying to write under a deadline for a sustained period of time — either jumping from one job to the next or trying to meet the deadlines of back-to-back competitions and fellowship applications, you could be at risk of burnout.
- Work-life imbalance: Maybe you have a full-time job and you’re burning the midnight oil writing or maybe you’re working on multiple scripts at a time. If you don’t have the energy to spend time with loved ones or do relaxing and enjoyable activities, you could burn out quickly.
- Unclear expectations: Maybe you’re an emerging writer and you feel like you’re constantly trying to find the path to a writing career — you’re writing, revising, networking, hitting up social media, sending queries to agents and managers, spending money on competitions and festivals and fellowships…and you just don’t know if any of that work will pay off in a satisfying way, you could reach a state of burnout.
- Dysfunctional work dynamics: You might work in a writers room with a bully or you may have a rep who is rude, that relationship could undermine your self-esteem, confidence, and motivation, which will negatively impact your stress levels.
Prioritize Recovery Time
Burnout is a result of a sustained period of exhaustion — not necessarily just from stress. Remember, some stress can be good. You may have been hired for your first writing job or perhaps you’re creating a package to submit to an industry contact — those opportunities will naturally arouse your body into a more heightened state. That particular stress will help you feel energized with increased concentration.
If, however, you remain in that alert state for a sustained period of time without rest and proper recovery, it will begin to have negative effects on you. Your body can’t tell the difference between the stress needed to submit a package to a TV fellowship and the stress needed to run away from a cave lion.
Knowing this, it’s important that you prioritize your rest with the same devotion that you prioritize your work. Remember, you cannot perform well if you are burnt out.
Decide when your quitting time will be every day and stick to it so you can unwind, spend time with your pets or your family, and just relax. Build in downtime over the weekend or set aside time to do the things you enjoy like going for walks outside or hitting the gym. Take time for you.
Evaluate Your Priorities and Options
You can do anything but you can’t do everything. Maybe you’re trying to submit to the spring TV fellowships — that’s great! It requires three new scripts each year (a combination of two pilots and a spec script). If you’re then also trying to submit to Nicholl’s (which requires a new feature film) and that director’s lab your friend did and you want to get last year’s short film into some festivals and and and…it all adds up.
Prioritize the projects you want to do and that you can most realistically do, then let the rest go.
Find Your Support System
It helps to reach out to other writers and co-workers to navigate your experiences. They might help you cope, they might have suggestions for you, or they might just reassure you that the stress you’re feeling is natural. Maybe they’re going through something similar and you can set up weekly walks. Exercise is a great stress-reliever — and companionship is what keeps us alive.
Take a Break
If you are burnt out, it may simply be time to take a break from writing. Give yourself a few weeks or months off. Let your mind rest and tend to your other responsibilities, including your health. Let go of the perceived opportunities you could miss and give yourself the freedom of reduced stress. When you’re ready to come back to the page with excitement and curiosity, it will be waiting for you.
Burnout is real, it’s stressful, it feels heavy and frustrating — and it can be overcome. The most important thing is that you remain self-aware enough to recognize your heightened states of stress and take the steps necessary to care for yourself.
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Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!