Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Writer's burn out, and how to avoid it

Writing the second book of The Darkest Hand trilogy very nearly killed me. I am not kidding. Chest pains. Sleeplessness. An inability to focus or concentrate. Uncontrollable coughing fits leading to vomiting. Sudden urges to crawl under my desk and curl up foetal style. Moments of terror, panic and feelings of worthlessness.

You get the idea...

I had burnt out. Writing had become a joyless exercise, a job, when writing to me had always been a joy. After all, like most writers I wrote, first and foremost, because it brought me such pleasure. Now it just exhausted me.


My brain was mush. I had no good ideas. My prose, amongst other things, was flaccid. My scenes were workmanlike rather than radical. My descriptions and hooks were repetitious. I used the same literary tricks time and time again.

I needed a break from the endless tap of the keyboard, the (mis)firing of the imagination and crunching of my tongue in the corner of my mouth - something I have finally managed to (sort of) have.

We all need a break from time to time. We're like cars, burning around the track at a hundred miles an hour. If you don't occasionally get into the pits, you will break. My problem is that I've never really stopped in the last 13 years. Something in my working life always needs sorting, tweaking, 'only five minutes will get that job off my desk', 'that's been hanging around for so long I won't be able to sleep until I get it done'.

I've been taught a lesson this year that all of us need to stop, just now and then.

The stop doesn't always need to be for long. Sometimes all it takes is something inspirational to lift the haze of fog, tighten the heart chambers and tickle the creative parts of the brain. A book, a film, a magazine article, a chance meeting, a night out, one too many bottles of wine, a headline is sometimes enough to lift you from the malaise and recharge the batteries.

But that said, nothing I think beats time away from the manuscripts and the blank screens, a change of scene and routine, a physical move to break the cycle which burn out so loves and feeds upon.
I have to keep reminding myself that I should see these breaks not as time away from writing, but as a chance to recharge, reinvigorate, flourish and grow, in order to come back more inspired and driven than ever.

I get my agent's feedback and edits to The Fallen, book two of the Darkest Hand, tomorrow. The break is then officially over. Hopefully I've done enough to give my pen and my mind a bit more edge, compared to the charred one burn out had blunted all those months ago.

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