Monday, November 12, 2007

Smells Like Something's Burning

On one of my writers' boards, we've been chatting about burn out, and the thread has been so fascinating as writer after writer tip-toes forward, raising his or her figurative hand and says, "Um, yeah, me too."

think that people assume that freelance writing is a thrill-a-minute...after all, you get to pick and choose your assignments, you work for yourself, you set your own hours, etc. But the reality is far different. In fact, many full-time writers take on any and all assignments in order to sustain themselves, and while in theory, we should be setting our own hours, we're so overburdened with work (or stress) that we work nearly all the time. Not to mention develop a pesky problem with saying "no," even when we are overworked because we always fear that the famine is never too far from the feast.

I know of what I speak.

I hit my first serious bout of burn out when my son, now 3, was about five months old, so, I guess that was about two and half years ago. I didn't take that much time off when I had him, not because I couldn't do so financially, but because I found myself a little bit bored and looking for some stimulation when he was a newborn and all he did was sleep or nurse all day...and that left me with not a whole lot to do other than change his diaper, pop out a boob or watch TV. So I got back in the saddle pretty quickly, and then, bam! A few months later, I looked at all of my assignments with boat loads of resentment. So I downshifted a bit - started querying less and reevaluating what my long-term goals were - and that's when I started really honing my fiction, which I took to with passion that I had long lost for my magazine assignments.

And I discovered that I wasn't burned out on writing. I was burned out on the writing that I had done for the past five or so years. After I wrapped TDLF, I picked up the pace on magazine work again...I'm someone who likes to stay busy, and this seemed like the best way to fill that void. But now, several years later, once again, I'm facing a serious rash of burn out, so again, I'm trying to flex different muscles with the fiction thing and taking my magazine work in different directions: doing more celebrity interviews because I think they're a hoot, hand-picking assignments that really get my cerebral juices flowing, and yes, saying no to work that I know will render me brain-dead. (I should note, however, that I didn't make the same mistake twice: that after my daughter was born, I did make sure to take some necessary time off, even if it was just to hang around and nurse in front of the TV because I knew that this downtime would pay off, in terms of my level of interest in my work, in the future.)

It's a tricky balance: finding enough work to sustain me and finding the right work to do just that, but not taking on so much that I'm pissed off just thinking about my to-do list or am forced to spend my nights crouched over my computer when I should be snuggling up with my husband and watching 30 Rock. (Tangent: who saw last week's episode? Seriously? That post-Kenneth's party scene?? Was it not the funniest thing on TV in ages????)

Anyway, have any of you guys dealt with burn out? If so, how have you coped?


Anonymous said...

Having freelanced since I was 13, yes a teenager -- -and almost ten years later, I have only found myself burnt out when I simply didn't take time to enjoy the work I did - I realized I was doing all the motions, but was I really happy? I currently balance some "fun writing" such as the writing of my nonfiction books amonst the tedious, and sometimes mind-numbing jobs we all take in order to "sustain" ourselves as you mentioned.


Susan Johnston Taylor said...

Allison, I just blogged about this last night, and I think learning to say no is key. I'm also trying to enforce a bedtime for my laptop, because as long as my computer is still running, so is my brain and it's hard to me to wind down for bed so I feel rested the next day.

Larramie said...

Enforcing a computer bedtime is a great idea, no matter what you're writing, Susan.

And, Allison, great WGA support icon you have here.

bob said...

I've been a lurker here for a little while - love the site Allison.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy research but I switched to fiction for the last 2 years and put the article writing on hold, not everyone is able to do that but it was what I needed.

Just now creeping back into non-fiction along with fiction.

Trish Ryan said...

I think mixing it up is key--routine, type of writing you do, etc. Sometimes I get all nostalgic for the days when writers could write poems on Mondays, a short story for the New Yorker on Tues/Wed., do interviews for major mags on Thurs/Fri and then spend the weekend editing their novel.

Of course, I'm not sure many people actually got to live this life, but in my dream world, that's the way to do it.

Denise said...

Allison, I didn't chime in on that other board's thread about burnout because I wasn't sure at first where the fatigue and boredom-mixed-with-stress I've been feeling was coming from,but for me it's not the work I'm burned out on, it's the pace. I have been working flat-out for three years straight. I gotta brainstorm some ways to get some me time in my life.

And yes,that "30 Rock" was total brilliant hilarity, with that scene top of the pile. Tina Fey is my hero.