I don’t get writers block, but I do get something that’s just about as bad.
Writer’s fatigue, sometimes simply known as burnout.
I can write, that’s not a problem. But sometimes I get tired. I get more than tired, I get weary. Writing becomes a burden. I write in a basement room and some days I can feel that burden descend on my shoulders as I descend the stairs. I know what I have to do, but I have no enthusiasm for doing it.
I only recently came to understand what was happening. I thought I was doing everything right. I had made writing a habit. I have a schedule of protected time. I prepare well and I’m told I tell good stories. So why the fatigue?
The Narrow Way
It’s because I had become too narrow. I thought I was concentrating, but there was a cost. Sure, I did other things, from gardening to walking the dogs to playing video games with my wife. Family events. Elder care. Well-rounded, looked at from the outside. What was missing, though, was things I liked to do. Small things, even silly things. And here’s the most important point.
I had stopped doing those things I liked, but about which I felt guilty if I did them instead of writing.
Do What You Like
Things like playing music, or looking up song lyrics or the histories of bands. Things like following Internet trails. I have this list I started years ago called Dead in My Lifetime. It’s just a list of famous people of interest to me, who have died. It’s an interesting exercise, like looking back at the signposts along the road of my life. I have another list of books and movies that I think my (grown) kids ought to read or see. There’s no immediate writerly benefit to any of this, but I like to do it.
Since I realized this, I decided to set aside protected time to pursue these minor activities. I carve it out of my writing time. I gave myself permission not to write and believe me friends, it feels good. Once a week, I can do the writer version of simply mucking about in boats.
It can be anything that means something to you. I see plenty of recommendations for physical exercise, and I suppose that works, but don’t overlook the mental or spiritual side. Whatever it is, if you are feeling writer’s fatigue, consider setting aside some time to do it. For me, it’s one afternoon a week. It could just as well be an hour. It’s goofing time. Unproductive? Sure, if the only thing you believe in is word count. But I view it as a break. It’s a reward for being diligent on those other days. It is, really and truly, a form of nourishment.
What Others Say
Now, none of the above is particularly original. Search on writers fatigue and you’ll get plenty of hits. You will also notice that many have to do with physical fatigue (poor posture, carpal tunnel, etc.). And many can be lumped under the heading of “try doing something else for a while.” Here are a couple of those:
Rather fewer talk about other manifestations of fatigue, spiritual and mental. I like this one, both for its context and for its specific suggestions:
In doing the research, I came away with a better understanding that there are several different kinds of fatigue, several different ways we can become blocked. Being able to identify the problem is key, for the solutions are already out there.
For Further Discussion
1. Maybe there’s no difference between doing family activities and doing personal ones. What do you see as the benefits of each in dealing with writer’s fatigue?
2. What strategies do you use to keep up your enthusiasm and interest, not just for writing your current project, but also for writing in general?
3. Is there a fantasy aspect to writer’s fatigue? Is there something about the particular kind of writing we do that would create fatigue? Has it happened to you?
About the Author
E.L. Skip Knox is a medieval historian who now writes alternate history fantasy about a place called Altearth. You can read more about that place at altearth.net.