Banish Burnout: Stress Reduction for Authors

“One may achieve remarkable writerly success while flunking all the major criteria for success as a human being. Try not to do that.”

— Michael Bishop

It’s so common in Japan, they have a word for it: karoshi. Death from over-work. If you’re a published author of popular fiction, it’s not a foreign concept to you. Whether you’re wrapping up your first contract or finishing your fiftieth book, you need to keep an eye out for burnout–before it derails your career and your life.

Be aware of these warning signs, compiled by author Kathleen Creighton:

  • Exhaustion
  • Detachment
  • Boredom
  • Cynicism
  • Impatience/irritability
  • Belief that you can do it all
  • Feeling unappreciated
  • Suspicion
  • Disorientation
  • Psychosomatic complaints
  • Depression
  • Denial

If even a few of those symptoms sound familiar, you may be overdue for a break from the keyboard. Put your feet up while you consider these eight steps for banishing burnout.

  1. Be aware that most stress is self-inflicted. You’re in charge of your career. Not your editor, not your agent. You. Take control.
  2. Stop comparing yourself to other authors. The pace of your career will be as unique and individual as you are. The fact that your friend Jane writes umpteen books a year, just made the New York Times list, or got a starred review in Publishers Weekly has nothing to do with you, your books or your success. Don’t waste time on envy and jealousy. Writer Tina Courtney likes to remind herself how Danny Thomas gave daughter Marlo a pair of blinders on her first opening night. The attached note read, “Run your own race, baby.” Put on your blinders. Run your own race. You’ll eliminate a huge amount of stress from your life.
  3. Celebrate. Stop beating yourself up over what you haven’t accomplished yet. Build yourself up by celebrating what you have accomplished. As some wise sage once said, success isn’t a destination but a journey. Enjoy every kind word from an editor, every sale, every fan letter, every award, every perk large or small. Mark these happy milestones in a “Success!” scrapbook and glance through it whenever you’re feeling down.
  4. Stop thinking career, career, career. Remember why you got into this business in the first place? It wasn’t for the awards, conferences, reviews, fan mail–or even for the contracts. (Really, it wasn’t.) You started writing novels because you love to tell great stories. To get back in touch with that simple joy of writing, you may need to eliminate some of the sound and fury that have crowded into your life, starting with step #5…
  5. Say no, even to the contracts, assignments, speaking engagements, autographings, etc. that you’d love to accept. Don’t ask yourself, “Do I want to do this?” or even, “Do I have time for this?” Ask yourself, “Is it healthy for me to do this right now?”
  6. Take a “personal day.” See a movie. Get a manicure. Go to the mall. Eat lunch at a favorite restaurant. (You get extra points if you have lunch with a non-writing friend.) Re-charge your batteries by soaking up a little life.
  7. Take a vacation from writing. It may be time to drop out for a few weeks or months. Take a break from your writing groups, writing e-mail loops, writing magazine subscriptions–and yes, even your writing friends. Vanish for a while. Take a sabbatical. Rediscover all the pursuits and people you used to enjoy before your career devoured your life. If you find yourself thinking, “Oh, I could never do that…” refer to step #1.
  8. Write something different. Indulge yourself in that screenplay or thriller or women’s fiction novel that your editor or agent has been insisting you keep on the back burner. Make it a secret indulgence if you like. Write a story that excites you. Remember when writing used to be fun?

Yes, deadlines and discipline are important. Yes, you’re a professional. But remember that you’re a creative professional. Too much routine, too much structure, too many deadlines can kill your creativity–and your future success. This might be a good day (week, month, year?) to take your foot off the accelerator and coast for a while. Learn to pace yourself and you’ll enjoy a longer, happier–and healthier–career.

USA Today bestselling author Shelly Thacker has earned lavish praise from Publishers Weekly, Locus, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Detroit Free Press and booksellers who have called her “a virtuoso beyond compare.” A two-time RWA RITA Finalist, she has won numerous other honors for her fiction, including a National Readers’ Choice Award and many Romantic Times Certificates of Excellence. There are more than one million copies of her novels in print.

Copyright © 2004 by Shelly Thacker. All rights reserved. Permission is granted for individual writers to print one copy of this article for personal use. Any other reproduction by any means, print or electronic, is strictly prohibited without written permission of the author.


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