Taking Time Out
Burnout is a scary thought for many a writer and we all need to take #TimeOut. Nina Singh and Cass Lennox tell us about the things they do to combat stress.
Nina Singh - Stress Management
Until very recently, the term ‘stress management’ would actually stress me out. I didn’t seem to be doing it right. On the surface, I have several outlets to target my stress. I exercise regularly by doing activities I enjoy, I journal often and I’m lucky to have a strong network of friends and confidants. I really had no business complaining. But for a writer under a deadline, with demands of family and other commitments, some days are more hectic than others.
I needed more tools to keep my blood pressure down and the creative juices flowing. So, I tried meditation. Many writer friends swore by the practice. They told me repeatedly how life-changing it was for them. They said I just had to try it. And I really, really did. I did everything you’re supposed to. I put the cell phone on DND, I found a comfortable spot, I tried to focus on my breathing. Sometimes I would go a whole five minutes or so before the land line rang or the dog starting barking or a neighbor knocked on the door. And unfortunately, though it pains me to say it, I was utterly, mind-numbingly bored for those five minutes. I also realized I’m one of those people who has to fidget.
Don’t get me wrong, I totally appreciate and even envy the folks who have embraced meditation as part of a healthy, grounded lifestyle. I’m just not any good at it.
But what was left to try?
The answer came in a completely unexpected way. A close friend happened to get a job at a local yarn store and I popped in to say hello one day. The sheer amount of color that greeted me when I entered struck me immediately. Such vivid reds, bright greens and eye-catching blues. Some of the yarn even sparkled. I had to buy several skeins even though I had no idea what to do with them. Besides, it would have been rude to walk out without purchasing anything. Right?
As a child, my mom had shown me a simple crochet chain as well as how to cast on to knitting needles and do a simple knit and purl. That was all I needed. Online videos helped to refresh the muscle memory of what mom taught me all those years ago. Before long, I had a colorful and enjoyable project going.
I’m not looking to do any complicated patterns. Hopefully, that will come with time. Right now, I just need a way to zone out and rest my mind. I have just enough skill to make a hat or a scarf or a child’s blanket, all of which go into a donation bin upon completion.
As creative people who make up characters and entire storylines daily, it can be hard to shut off all the voices and ideas scurrying through our brains. But it’s important to find a way to do so. One writer friend is a big fan of mandala coloring books. She uses scented markers to further enhance the sensory experience. Another is an avid doodler who actually makes it a point to sit down and draw scribbles in a notebook regularly.
I’m glad I managed to find a way that works for me. If you have yet find yours, might I recommend a trip to a nearby yarn store?
Cass Lennox - Burnout Sucks
One of the most popular pieces of writing advice is, write every day. Which is great, except when it really isn’t. You’re well-rested, raring to go, and working through a project—yup, that advice is sound. But when you're utterly drained, the creative well is empty, there's no water, no forecast for rain, and the very sight of a bucket makes you queasy—eh, not so much. So what do you do?
Maybe some still find it useful to write something every day, but others (spoiler alert: me) won't. When the idea of putting words on paper seems about as possible as swimming the Atlantic, in my opinion it's entirely sensible to just . . . not. Instead, do something else. Do anything else. Do the literal opposite of writing. There are many things which are opposite to writing, so that kind of covers a lot, but the point is to stop. It worked for me, which is why I’m totally biased endorsing the idea.
I was majorly burned out after writing the Toronto Connections series; it took me months to recover. In that time, I stopped writing and deliberately did other things: I read for pleasure (especially outside of romance, which really helped); stepped up my exercise routine; practised drawing; went out with friends; watched movies; sat in coffee shops and people-watched; traveled to other cities and countries; played video games and board games; lazed around staring at the ceiling; cooked elaborate recipes; slept eight hours each night; got a new job.
Basically lived life for a while. Without writing.
And it worked. It helped so much, even though it was difficult at times. I felt like I had to start the next book and keep the momentum going. Sometimes I desperately wanted to write, to get back into the flow of the art form I love so much. But each time I tried before I was ready, it just didn’t work. I’d sit down with a great idea only to find myself staring at the screen, treacherous mind utterly blank. Which was awful, but I hoped it would pass.
Sure, sometimes I worried I’d never get another piece out, never write anything ever again, and simply fade into an even deeper obscurity than what I currently enjoy—but I told myself that was negative talk. Because it is. A creator can’t fall into that spiral; it’s killer on the confidence. I put the worries aside, powered through, and enjoyed my break. When the rains were back on schedule (I started this metaphor, I have to finish it) and the well was refilled, it was the easiest thing in the world to get back into the writing routine again.
The creative well is filled from multiple sources, so it’s vital to understand what feeds your well and focus on that. Art, people, music, experiences, sleep, food, meditation, exercise—whatever works for you, make time for it, and check in with yourself. If you can, incorporate it into your usual schedule to avoid future burnouts, because prevention is better than cure. Keep the rains coming regularly. Burnout freaking sucks. Taking time away from writing is awesome, yes, but it’s also terrible because you love writing and you’re not doing it. It’s better to not get there in the first place.
One of the hardest things to learn as a creator is when to push yourself and when to pull back. Allow yourself to mentally drop the writing gig if you have to. When burnout is happening, writing isn’t your responsibility, you are. Your books are dependent on you being on form. Figure out what works for you, and remember, the ultimate rule of eliminating burnout is to get rid of writing-related stress. Stress never helps. Stress is officially verboten. Time and relaxation is necessary to the process, so remember that, lean into it and make the most of it. The rains will come and you will fill that well up again. Don’t give into the self-doubt we all know so well and keep sight of the big picture. When you're ready to write again, you will—and your next book will be better for the break.
How do you deal with block and burnout? One hobby or lots of them? Please let us know in the comments (pretty please?!), and on social media with the #TimeOut tag, because we all need to know when to stop, how to stop, and how to get the engine going again.