Getting into the "write" headspace | avoiding writer burnout

Monday, March 01, 2021

I am increasingly more guilty of abandonment. Of launching myself into fantastic projects, typing word after word until I somehow end up with 60,000 words and about 30,000 more to go. I write every day. I have a plan and a schedule. I create a ritual of it with tea or sometimes a glass of wine, a playlist, and a cozy spot at my desk. I don't leave the spot until I reach my goal of 2,000 words. That goal eventually becomes 1,000 words. Then 500 words.

Then I stop.

For one day, I stop writing. And I don't pick it up until weeks or months later when the inspiration has built up again.

I perpetually douse my own flame.

Over-inspired until I become a smoking wick. 

And then I have to find that right write headspace again. I have to reinsert myself into the story. Find where I left off. See where I was going wrong all along but needed to take a step back to see for myself.

Burnout is hard.

That's why I have a new plan.

Writing less to write more

Part of why burnout, for me, hits so hard and strikes so deep is that I force it incorrectly. I'm expecting too much for too long. With school, internships, friends, it was difficult to sustain on a schedule of 2,000 words a day. If writing were my full-time job, I could manage that and more. But I would need to publish a book first for that to happen. 

The new goal I've set for myself is simple: 500 words a day. 

I am writing less every day, but I won't allow "feeling uninspired" to be an excuse any longer, so I will write it every single day no matter how horribly my thoughts transfer onto the page. And, by not having these uninspired days, I'll be less likely to fall into a habit of not writing. I have about 30,000 words left. At this rate, I'll comfortably finish this draft in two months.

Creating writing time

An important thing for me is to find when writing the story works best. For me, most of my writing happens between sunset and dawn. Something about the full light of day apparently turns off my fantastical creativity. Designating time to write between these hours is crucial. If I know I'll have a busy day, I'll plan to wake up earlier and get a head start. 

This will naturally start to become writing time. Not will only will it help build a routine, but you might also find yourself more motivated or inspired at these times of the day.

Closing the project

The bluntest way I can put it: don't. Try not to close your word document or shut your notebook. My biggest offense is having a magical scene play out in my head and then thinking I will remember to write it later. I never remember to write it later. 

Have something open, preferably your novel's file, that takes no thought whatsoever to navigate to and write in. Getting distracted with searching for something to write on or finding the file in your digital folder tends to cost me the idea I had been thinking about. 

I always keep my novel minimized at the bottom of the screen.

Reading the best chapters

My first chapter, for my current project, is my favorite of what I've written so far. It was the first piece of the story that was ever written down. The writing is exemplary of how I wish for the rest of the story to read, and it just excites me to look back on. 

When I'm feeling stumped or just out of voice, I read this chapter. I pay attention to the tone and the details, the characters and their personalities. I orient myself. Then, I continue.

Feeling good

It's easy to forget about yourself when you're living inside another world. Exercise. Drink a smoothie. Have a salad. Sit in the sun. Stretch. Put on a new shirt. Then get back into it.

It's also sometimes easier to write emotional scenes when you're feeling that emotion, but don't carry it with you. Write it out in that one scene and try to leave it there. Not only is this for your own betterment, but it just wouldn't be interesting to have an entire book written from the perspective of a single emotion.

Take care of yourself.

Listening to what you want to hear

Creating a playlist of music that I think would play throughout my novel's tv show or film adaptation is usually one of my first steps. I find a few songs that encapsulate the theme and feel of the story and include lots of instrumental tracks from similar stories made into movies or tv shows.

If music is too distracting try noises. 

Writing about a forest; try sounds of birds and leaves. Writing about a city; try cars and mumbling. Try the ocean. Crunching snow. Wind. Sound bowls.

Being afraid to write something else

If another story keeps creeping into your thoughts, just write it down. You'll be happy you did when it finally is time to work on that project. And you'll also free yourself of the idea trying to take charge.

But consider that maybe that story needs to be told first.

It isn't a horrible idea to write and publish a story that you feel maybe less attached to just to have the experience and the title in your background.

If you were to start a novel from scratch today and wrote just 500 words a day, a fully written first draft would be done before the end of summer. And you could query before the next snow starts to melt.

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