Did I oversell that? I think I might have oversold it. Okay, this may not be the ultimate plan for anyone to avoid burnout as a writer, but it’s my plan for me for right now. Who knows, it may even help.
In case you just arrived here from Pluto (no longer a planet, but still a lovely holiday spot), I should point out the world for the past few years has been rough.
That’s made writing hard. Some days it’s made everything hard.
Early in the pandemic, I tried to do too much with my writing life and I burned out. I didn’t write for two years. I thought maybe it was just me, but when I poked my nose online I saw people everywhere talking about burnout.
I have friends! They may not know I exist, but they’re my friends regardless. Maybe you’re one of them.
If you are, stay a while. Have a cookie.
When I started writing again, I thought about all the writing-related activities I wanted to be doing or thought I should be doing… and freaked out. No one can do all that.
Cue crazed bunnies hopping to escape a sand-nami.
I knew I’d gone wrong several times before, so I thought I’d start slowly. Don’t start blogging, just have a look at what you used to do.
I read some of my old blog posts (were they funny? I think some were funny) and came across something that made me kick myself. I’d written that I wanted to do some writing that day, but first I had to blog.
Working on my WIP comes first. Blogging is about building community that will help with the writing.
Clearly I had some thinking to do.
First, I had to figure out what was important to me. I came up with five main categories.
1. Self care
If I’m not doing well mentally and physically, none of the other stuff matters. So this always comes first.
2. Paid work
Because we all need to eat, and some of us have to pay off the cost of web hosting, this is also not negotiable. If I’m being paid to work for x hours, I need to work for x hours.
3. Nurturing creativity
Stories are ideas given goggles, wings, and a beautiful map that’s kind of hazy about where the dragons are. If I don’t have ideas it’s hard to write anything worth reading.
I need input from life, and fertiliser to help it grow into big luscious story ideas. I might go through periods when words have trouble coming, but I figure if I keep feeding them and singing to them they will return.
4. Writing fiction
I am the creator of worlds.
I am the tamer of dragons.
I am the storm that topples dynasties.
There’s nothing quite like writing.
5. Finding my tribe
I could have called this something like “building my platform”, but that’s not how I think about it any more. The journey of writing a novel can be lonely. This priority is about connecting with friends along the way, and hopefully finding some people who will be excited to visit the worlds I create.
Then it was time to figure out what activities supported each of my priorities. Naturally there were too many.
For self care, I came up with:
- Eat well
- Regular exercise
- Sufficient sleep at a regular time
- Undistracted time with hubby and regular contact with my family in another city
- Social interactions with 3D friends
- Making a contribution through things like mentoring, beta reading, or volunteering
- Play, whether that’s hobbies, playing with my cats, or some real life silliness
Paid work didn’t need to be broken down. If a penguin has a flat tire, I deal with that. If the unicorns moulted all over the couch, I deal with that.
Nurturing creativity needs more experimentation to see how useful I find various things, but I came up with a preliminary list:
- Reading novels
- Idea generation sessions
- Interactions with people
- Reading non-fiction
- Reading short stories
Maybe you’re not an introvert like me. Maybe you don’t need to put on your to do list “go out into the world and talk to people”. Maybe I envy you.
Writing fiction would have been one item, then I had the brilliant* idea of giving short stories a go, hence my list of three items.
* Possibly not brilliant.
- Planning, writing, and editing my novel(s)
- Writing short stories
- Submitting my short stories
And finally finding my tribe. Anyone who’s tried to do this will know there are a million things you must! must! must! do and if you don’t you’re going to die alone as a banana slug.
Another deep breath.
I got my list down to five.
- Brainstorm blog post ideas (a minimum of 10 each week)
- Write blog posts (2 per week, because that’s easier than one per week)
- Respond to comments on my blog posts
- Reach out to people in other spaces–comment on other people’s blog posts, hang out on social media or forums and get to know people, share or cross-post my blog posts elsewhere
- Continually research how to do things better
Yes, but when do I do all this stuff?
Aha! And this is the magic step.
You do it when and as you have time, but prioritising the most important things.
Of all these things I could do, I only have five essential items, things I never intend to let slide for more than a few days: eating well, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, family time, and paid work.
After these I have three top priority items: read fiction (over breakfast and in bed each night for half an hour), idea generation sessions (half an hour a week on Tuesday), and working on my novel (an hour each day).
These come before my less important tasks, and if they are all I got done, I had a successful day.
Next in order of priority are a bunch of tasks that are important to me, but can slide if they have to. They include coming up with blog post ideas, blogging twice a week, beta reading when required, responding to blog comments, another hour each day working on my WIP, and reading non-fiction.
Finally are the low-priority tasks, the nice to dos: researching ways to do things better (half an hour twice a week), reading short stories (two per week), writing 1000 words of a short story each week, submitting any short stories that are ready to go, commenting on other people’s blog posts/hanging out on social media (15 minutes per day), reading more fiction, and a third daily hour on my WIP.
You might notice I said I’d do a few things that didn’t appear in my prioritised list. They’re either automatic so I don’t need to write them down, or happen less than once a week.
And that’s about it.
The central ideas
I look after myself first.
Actual writing comes before writing-related activities.
No guilt, because I did the most important things in the limits of the time and energy I had.
And then all was goodness, light, and a lotus.
Does it work?
It’s only been four days, but it seems to be going well.
How about you? Do you have non-negotiables? How do you deal with all the things you “should” be doing? (Hopefully I’ve fixed the security setting that blocked comments on the previous post.)
Follow my blog so you’ll be first to know when my brilliant plan falls apart.