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How to Fight Burnout

Writer's fatigue, or burnout, is very real, especially when you set a daily goal for yourself and sincerely want to be consistent as a writer. The key to preventing it? Listening.

Taking a walk

The other week, I woke up feeling sluggish, slow. I didn’t have any deadlines, any pressure, and my job didn’t start until the afternoon. I could hear a low-battery warning beeping in my mind.

In other words, the morning could be a total waste if I let it get away from me. The fatigue was creeping in. I felt justified to maybe just veg out.

The Strange Case of Dr. Ross and Mr. Sergeant

The lazy part of my brain is a super-cool Bob Ross type that tells me to find some happy little trees and not worry about goals (not to say that Bob Ross is lazy—it's just easy to picture him for some reason). A few hours blown on video games or social media wouldn’t be missed, right? Just chill out …

No, I needed to hit that word count. I needed to produce. I needed to make my goals. The very male, goals-oriented part of my psyche is a barking German drill sergeant with biceps of steel and a heart of granite, and he pushes me whenever I feel lazy. Fortunately I have a titanium cage to lock him in whenever I have the need, so he doesn't bother me unless I want him to.

I was tiptoeing the line between either frittering the day away or using my last 1% to get work done. Two extremes. Welcome to the artistic mind.

The Answer

Before I caved in to either extreme, I grabbed my Nikes and took a walk.

My Bob Ross side and German drill sergeant both seemed to be okay with that—so I knew this was a good idea.

I wandered along the red-dirt paths behind our house, a Bible tucked under my arm, a donut clutched in my left hand, a cup of coffee held in my right. Between munches of donut and coffee, I listened, observed, asked. 

A light breeze lifted the hair off my forehead, the smell of pines and soil on the wind. The quiet peace of a mountain-town ethos was the soundtrack: the occasional chirping bird, barking dog, rumbling trash truck. 

I kept a running dialogue in my head: What should I write about, Jesus? What is the story I should tell? What am I experiencing that others may miss? Where can I find the unusual out of the everyday? 

And then I listened again.

This was better than vegging out on a couch, but also better than banging my head against a keyboard. I had struck the perfect balance.

Writing Isn't Typing

Writing doesn't happen in front of the keyboard. It happens during life. Washing the dishes, driving to work, meeting new people, overcoming difficulties. Then we sit down and translate that to the written word. But we must experience it first. Or at least go there in our minds.

As I walked, the heavens didn’t open with a golden book descending from the clouds into my arms, but I wasn’t looking for that in the first place. I just allowed my best friend to gently influence my thoughts, my heart, my words. And He spoke to me quietly.

My phone popped out and I spoke speech-to-text notes.

Bam. I was writing.

So what is my secret weapon to fight the sluggish feeling in the morning? Listen first, do next. And that applies to more than writing.

You can't give what you don't receive.

You can't give what you don't receive.

Both my chilled-out Bob Ross dude and bulging-vein German kommandant are wrong ... without balance. You can be tempted to just throw in the towel and boot up Netflix in your fuzzy socks. Or you will feel guilty for not being productive, so you glue yourself to your chair and force yourself to type, study, whatever.

But balance ... the word that artists hate. It really works.

So plug yourself in. Take a walk, take a picnic, take a book, do something refreshing, but don't focus on producing. Just take in some nature, some sights, some sounds.

And you will then find that your battery is at 100% when you sit down to work. And the work will flow.

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Joshua Sword

I'm twenty-six and work as a livestream producer by day. I'm highly facetious. It's very hard to take me seriously, a fact that I carefully nurture and protect, because I don't want people calling me Mr. Josh and kissing my hand and handing me scotch or whatever they do in the serious world. I like my own world just fine.

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Are your characters stuck? Download my quick guide, The Character Generator, to create a motivated, conflicted character in five minutes. Or all your money back. (Well, it's free. But you get the idea.)

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