Burnout

Can I be honest with you? Like, really, actually, personally honest?

If the answer to that is ‘no’, just go ahead and skip down to the dog pics. You know that’s what you came here for.

I’m in creative burnout. The third book in the Starship Teapot series is sitting there, all plotted out. Only I can’t write it. I can’t even make myself open the file.

It’s not writer’s block per se. I mean, the story’s there. I just have to write it. But I can’t. There’s just … nothing.

As near as I can tell, there are two reasons for this.

  1. I’ve overloaded my plate; and
  2.  My creative piggybank is empty. My artistic well has run dry.

I’m reading Dear Writer, Are You in Burnout? by Becca Syme and a lot of it is resonating with me. The author talks a lot about plates and plate sizes. She says everyone has a plate of what they can handle but not everyone’s plate is the same size. If you’ve got a small plate and you look at someone with a bigger plate and you stress yourself out trying to pile as much on your plate as they have, then not only will you not succeed, but you’ll actually reduce the amount you can fit on your plate because you’re filling it unnecessarily with the stress of trying to make it a different plate.

Now the thing is, I think I actually have a pretty big plate. I can be incredibly productive. My colleagues have always said they don’t understand how I can get so much done. And I’m really good at organising life stuff. How is my plate overloaded?

And then it dawned on me: I have more than one plate. And while my plate for doing business admin and organisational tasks is really big, my creative plate is tiny.

So, while I’m not guilty of looking at other people’s plates and trying to will mine into matching theirs, I’m extremely guilty of trying to force my creative plate to match my life stuff plate. Which is a bit like saying my dessert plate should be as big and as full as my dinner plate. It doesn’t work that way – and trying to force it to be that way makes for an extremely unhealthy lifestyle.

Which brings me to the second point – my creative piggy bank has run dry. Now what?

A few weeks ago, my friend Katrina said to me, ‘Figure out what you need to do to refill your soul and do that. Maybe you need to go for a long walk or listen to some classical music or take some time off to relax.’

I laughed. Partially because she was right. But also because I know what fills my creative piggybank: stress. What fuels my creative drive is phenomenal, enormous, obscene amounts of stress pressing down on me.

So, erm, yeah. I’m not really sure what to do about that. I feel a bit like my creative plate is a bit of a mythical beast. Not like a unicorn – more like a four-leaf clover. It does exist; it’s just rare and precious. It shows up on my table when it chooses to do so – usually in times of high stress.

So, where does that leave me? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m going to keep at it with that novel. And I’m going to keep at it with that flash fiction. Sooner or later, something will click and I’ll write. Legend has it that Douglas Adams’s publisher had to lock him in a hotel room for three weeks (with a supervisor) to make him finish writing So Long and Thanks for All the Fish. Maybe that’s what I need to do.

Anyways, I’ll keep trying.

And in the meantime … have some dog pics.

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Kira

Kira would like you to see how ridiculous she is. Wouldn’t you like to pet her?

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Lemmy

I told Kira not to sit on Lemmy. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted. In response, Lemmy slept.

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Ozzy

Ozzy was chewing on a nice antler. But it was a bit much and so he fell asleep.

9 thoughts on “Burnout”

  1. I’ve written books 1 and 2 of my current series in just over 2 months. I’m now 2 months into the 3rd book and it’s about halfway done. I’ve got ideas for other projects and they keep banging into the room where my current project lives.

    The advice I was given was to just write through it. I guess the process is as personal as our preference of clothing.

    And why are you not suppose to write flash fiction by being inspired by a picture? We are storytellers. We see the way someone wipes their chin and a story comes to us. The sound of a speeding truck, the thumps coming from the other side of a wall, a friend recounting an experience. Everything is story to us. It’s how we embrace the universe. Hang in there and if you need an idea, I’d love to collaborate with another writer on any of the story ideas I have!

    1. It’s not that we shouldn’t be inspired by a photo. Not at all. Rather, it’s that flash fiction is supposed to be fast. We’re supposed to knock it out in a single sitting – not agonise over a thousand words for months on end.

  2. Wow, I relate so much. I’ve been beating myself up trying to write the third book in my current series—it’s even outlined! Despite staring at it all the time, I haven’t even broken 10,000 words on it yet. I’m with you, stress is impacting my creative plate. Also, I’m with you in not knowing what to do about that.

    Best of luck, I rooting for you to get those words out!

  3. I’m no writer (I dabble sometimes) but even I know it’s frustratingly tough when you’re trying to write and can’t. Inspiration and willpower aside, I find the best things to do are (as some leading authors have done) make it like work. You turn up every morning (or what works for your schedule), and your brain gets used to it through repetition, just like school. Even if that ‘work’ is just rewording a rough scene, organising and collating background material or working on alternative scenes/narrative to ones you’ve already done, even something else like drafting marketing material. You never know when that spark will flare, or why.

    Quite often I’ll just not want to write _anything_ and slack off with Netflix/Youtube, but if I play around with some ideas or even completely different concepts (like the flash fiction you mention) that’ll trigger the urge to explore and stimulate the writing impulse again. I’d suggest a prologue but you’ve already done that. Maybe you need a new project and fresh canvas, at least for now.

    Oh, and if you do find a way to reboot your drive and finish, can you please send your tips to GRR Martin? *wink*

  4. I can understand your situation. I have had several books all written, edited several times, yet they need it again before publishing. I did the NaNoWriMo 2021last November thinking I would also finally finish a collection of novellas and short stories meant for Halloween. I passed my 50 k goal in the challenge. But after a few months of fine tuning and hoping to finish the last chapters of the two novellas, I am pulling taffy for every turn, scene and words. Still attempting to KISS it like the rest of the stories, but… One of them is a background story I hinted at in previously published books. And I’ve been shoving along to write the real thing. Since it is 1800s, French Louisiana, trying to write in French and colloquial English of the time like my other books, I get waylaid. Today after a sick week of a cold, I had a dream and got in the studio to hack out the bits for the final chapter. Went great until supper and hungry cat and hubby.
    Gotta start again tomorrow.
    In the between times, I usually don’t read much when writing but at the holidays needed to finish my Good Reads challenge, so I tackled the last 2 books of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. A month of reading her books usually inspires me to pick up and write after a slump or delay.
    So. Go ahead. Read, write, and don’t stress -let your story come to you.
    I have other works going and some days I write scenes, edit or read others of my work which kicks me in the “write direction” to continue- a pun there.
    Thanks for the chat-good luck!

    1. I know what you mean about being inspired by what you’re reading. That happens to me all the time. I’ll read a thing and think, what if they did this instead of that? Or what if you took this basic idea and came at it from a different direction? Or what if you take one throwaway line from someone’s story and built an entire world based around that?

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