on Fiction University:
After years of difficult times for everyone, many writers are struggling with burnout.
If you feel discouraged, unmotivated, and tired lately, and that’s making it hard to write, you’re not alone. A lot of my writer friends have mentioned dealing with burnout in recent months. The pandemic and the state of the world has made it difficult for many to focus. Others may have worked more than ever since they couldn’t go out to do their usual activities, only to run out of steam.
One of the best descriptions I’ve seen of burnout and what distinguishes it from normal stress or exhaustion is that it involves a sense of learned helplessness. You feel like what you’re doing doesn’t make any difference or that no matter how hard you work, you’ll never reach your goals. It’s exhaustion plus frustration, with a dash of hopelessness.
Writers can be particularly prone to burnout because the things we do for fun generally all involve stories. We became writers because we liked reading so much that we started making up our own stories. When we want to relax and take a break from writing, we read or we watch movies or television series. That means the part of the brain that creates and responds to stories never gets a break.
Once you start writing regularly, it’s difficult to shut off that part of the brain when you’re reading or viewing something, so while you’re trying to relax, your brain is doing the same work it has to do when you’re writing. You’re trying to figure out what should happen next, analyzing the characters, and taking note of the plot structure. It’s probably been worse for the past year and a half or so because there hasn’t been much to do for fun other than read or watch things.