Writing with Burnout

If you have burnout, this is not a post about what you should do, but about what I’ve been doing so far. You might find something helpful here, and that would make me the happiest person on Earth, but this post is mainly a reminder for myself because it’s hard to break the habits that caused the Burnout in the first place. At least, it’s good to know that you’re not alone in your struggle, so I hope you take that away, if nothing else.

Burnout is a syndrome that affects people with chronic stress. According to the World Health Organization, burnout is an occupational phenomenon, specifically work-related, and its symptoms are:

  • “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.”

For writers, it can cause what is commonly known as writer’s block.

In fact, when I wrote my post about fighting writer’s block, you will have noticed that I linked it to my anxiety, burnout and depression. That’s because writer’s block is not a cause: it’s a symptom.

In my case, I frequently feel exhausted, I often hate my writing or think I should give up, and I sometimes can’t keep writing, no matter how hard I try (the actual block). I’m glad to let you know that I’m getting better little by little, especially the last part. But I confess that, when my burnout was at its worst, there were times in which I just wanted to throw my whole computer through the window, burn my notebooks and forget about writing.

Well, good thing I started going to therapy instead of doing that, right? Because, in order to get better, this is what I had to do:

  • Stopped writing or doing anything stressful that wasn’t necessary (hiatus).
  • Got a diagnostic from a mental health professional and started behaviour therapy with a psychologist.
  • Tried to change my habits once I started writing again after the long hiatus.
  • Stopped doing anything that could relate to my job when I’m relaxing after work.
  • Allowed myself to be mediocre, following Tim Wu’s opinion article.

Of course, each person has a different road to recovery, and I’m still working on my new habits with my psychologist: after the hiatus, I wrote only one day per week for a couple of years, and I’m now writing more often, but only 100 words per day and taking good care to stop and rest when I realize it’s getting worse. I try not to be a perfectionist, just writing what comes to mind. I will worry about making it sound better during revisions, but I don’t want to get stuck on one place for long. I keep changing projects, in fact, instead of trying to focus on one single project. Yes, writing will go even slower than before, but at least I’m getting somewhere now and not torturing myself too much in the process.

I’m also still looking for new hobbies I can use to relax after work. And I want them to be something I don’t monetize, I want to not care about being good or bad at them. It’s very difficult to “allow myself to be mediocre”, but I want to learn. What I took from Tim Wu’s article is that being mediocre means doing stuff for yourself just because you want to, even if you’re not good at it. My anxiety tries to make me feel guilty, and some days are worse than others, but I think I’m ready to take on a new hobby now that my good days are getting better with each passing month.

I was lucky, I guess, because I could take a 2-3 year hiatus from writing while still looking for a psychologist and working on my translations (which is the stressful thing that had to remain, as it was necessary to have a paying job). If your work is writing, it might be more difficult to achieve, but, on the other hand, the sooner you start and the more you rest, the better you’ll heal. I’m still having trouble with burnout, especially lately, and it’s probably because I never got to stop completely and rest.

So if you can stop writing for a while, I encourage you to do so. If you’re afraid you won’t go back to writing after taking a break, let me tell you now: you’ll write again.

My first writing hiatus was 10 years long. My second writing hiatus was 2-3 years long. I’ve been taking shorter breaks for the past 3 years.

But I’m still here.

The first time, I also thought I would never write again. I didn’t even try. There was just this story I kept thinking about. The characters would always be in my mind and, one day, I opened a notebook a friend had just gifted me and decided to write everything down so I could stop thinking about it and focus on other things I needed to get done.

As you can see, it didn’t work the way I expected, but I’m very glad it went this way.

Summary

If you don’t want to read everything, just know that these are the steps I take when my burnout is getting worse and I want to write:

  • I just don’t write: Seriously, even if I want to. It’s hard, but if you take 2-3 days before it gets too bad, you won’t need to take 2-3 years when it’s gotten worse.
  • I go to see my therapist: Not everyone can afford this, I know, but please do try if you can find a way (NGOs, universities, the hospital, etc). I had to wait one year just to get an appointment because there’s a long queue for those of us who can’t afford a private doctor, but it was worth the wait.
  • Writing session goals: I used to hate word-counting because I always felt like a slow writer. I wanted to write 1000 words per day, and I spent 10 hours looking at a blank page instead. Now my goal is 100 words per day, and I try to make it an average and not an obligation.
  • Feasible monthly goals: I used to set goals that were too ambitious. Maybe they were feasible as well, but then I had to work long hours, or something came up, and I couldn’t reach my goals. That only made me feel guilty, so now I choose goals I know I’m going to reach for sure. Still, sometimes I can’t, so I swap them and try again the following month. Instead of feeling guilty, I get to feel accomplished!

These tips may not work for everyone, but they work for me, as my Word Count posts can prove. Please take into account that I’m counting everything, not just the manuscript. This is very important to me because I think worldbuilding and research also count as writing.

The Oracle project is too old, over 10 years now, so let’s look at one of the others.

Brothers is very old as well. I’ve been writing that one for… 6 years, maybe? It’s mostly just world building and research. But, until last year, I’d been focusing on writing for one project each time, 1000 words per day, trying to write even when I had to work long hours, and the result was… a disaster. In 6 years, I’d written 19000 words on the Brothers project. Do you know how many words that project has now? 43000 words in total. That’s 24000 words in eight months. And yes, that’s 100 words per day, but as I said, now I don’t focus on one project, so I haven’t been writing only that.

One of my newest projects is Sanctuary. I started it last year, and by November I had written 6000 words. Right now it has about 60000 words. That makes one think, doesn’t it?

I might need to keep adapting to the situation and taking better care of myself. Right now, my Burnout is getting worse and I need to rest more often. I also need to find the new hobbies I mentioned. I’ve been playing videogames and watching series, but I would like to do something craft-related and not too expensive. Do you have any ideas? Do you already have hobbies you only for your own enjoyment? Or do you find yourself thinking of your new hobby as something you MUST do?

If you want to talk more about burnout (or anything else) or ask anything about my experience, just let me know. I’m always willing to help if I’m able to.

If you want to read more about this topic on my blog, I also wrote a post about “Writing with Anxiety“.

There's a Halloween skeleton covered in papers and being attacked by a laptop. The skeleton is trying to push the laptop open, but the laptop is closing over the skeleton's head. The skeleton is looking towards us, making it seem like there's a look of desperation in its face.
Photo by Tara Winstead on Pexels.com

June 2021 Update

May’s update was very short, but I wasn’t feeling very well about myself or my writing, so I’m just glad I managed to write an update at all.

I had a couple of bad weeks this month as well, but I’ve been taking care of myself and I’m doing better now. I couldn’t finish the Burnout post, but I did start it. In the end, I did fulfill my monthly goals and I was lucky enough to get another illustration for one of my projects so I could share it this month.

I’m now trying to maintain my 100-words daily average, and it seems to be working. I was worried for a moment, because I didn’t know the “Total” in the new Scrivener Writing History was only the month’s total, but now that I know I have to sum them up, I’ve found out that I’d written more than I thought for certain projects:

  • Heroes: 22100 (It was 22000 back in March.)
  • Fireflies: 21800 (It was 21000 back in March.)
  • Brothers: 43000 (It was 42000 back in March.)
  • Academy: 33800 (It was 33000 back in March.)
  • Feathers: 39000 (It was 20000 back in March.)
  • Sanctuary: 53000 (It was 40000 back in March.)

Did you notice I’ve written a lot in Sanctuary and Feathers? That’s because I’m following a new method (new for me, that is): I’m just writing whatever comes to mind and will fix it later. I take notes about the things I already know I have to fix, but I keep plowing ahead no matter what. The result is more elaborate than an outline, but nothing close to a first draft. Still, I’m writing! As long as it works for me, I’m gonna keep at it.

My plans for July involve joining a virtual writing camp in Spanish and adding my OneNote notes to their respective projects.

Take care and Happy Pride, everyone!

Different layers of paint forming several rainbow flags. It looks pretty shiny.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Art – More chibi characters by Helen T Kord

Remember I shared some chibi characters made by Helen T Kord a while ago? Well, I’m bringing you two more chibis to add to my commissioned art collection. This time, the characters belong to a different WIP: the Brothers project.

Two men stand below a tree in a field. On the left there's a man with long brown hair, brown eyes and a beard. He's wearing a long cape, a white shirt, a mustard yellow and dark breeches. A glimpse of a short sword can be seen against his hip. He's smiling mischievously and letting his elbow rest on the other man's shoulder.
The man on the right is shorter, younger, blond and blue-eyed. He's looking away from the other man and has a dignified look while his arms are crossed. He's wearing a short cape, a white ruff, a sword, a black doublet, mustard yellow breeches and tight stockings.

Brothers is a Historical Romance set in Madrid (Spain) during the second half of the 16th Century. This project is still in its research phase, so it could change a lot, but these are the main characters for now. One of them is Spanish, the other one is a foreigner. They are not the brothers the placeholder WIP title mentions or, to be more accurate, only one of them is, so I hope I can finish this project one day and commission a mirror image with the other brother.

You already know Helen T Kord is the person with the most impeccable taste I’ve ever met, but they’re also an amazing artist who can make chibis come to life like this. And they also make portraits and illustrations! Please do check their work and commission information in the following links:

May 2021 Update

I’m afraid I don’t have much to tell about this month.

I’ve been sick, which forced me to write only when I felt like it. I know my brain feels better about resting when there’s a physical reason (which is very ableist and I wouldn’t do it to anyone else), but some years ago it would still feel guilty in those cases, so I will take it as a step in the right direction. I just need to convince my brain that anxiety, depression and burnout are also “valid excuses”. I’m working on it.

I managed to finish changing the Section Type and Label Colours on all my Scrivener projects, and now I can make them more visible thanks to the options in View → Use Label Color In. I also remembered to upload backups of my projects to different cloud services, so now everything should be safe.

I’ve been wondering about what else to post on my blog, since I’m not doing much at the moment. I wanted to ask whether a new post on How I Write with Burnout would be interesting for you. I mean, everyone is different, but you never know. It might help someone feel less bad about struggling and taking their time, right? In fact, it was thanks to a similar post that I managed to write at all this month. And I was really stuck on a transition scene from my Sanctuary WIP, so that was a big moment for me.

And that’s all for now. I want to keep working on monitoring my health so I can take breaks when I need them. Next month, my goals will be to drink a lot of water and to start writing that Burnout post if you’re interested. See you next month!

Peacock feathers.
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

PS: You can check my previous update here.

Scrivener

Scrivener's new logo

I’ve shared some tips and a masterlist for prospective writers (there’s a second masterlist here) and I’ve just realized that I never explained what Scrivener is, thinking that everyone would know better than me. But I believe that having a writing blog is all about sharing how you understand and use things because every writer is unique and your way might resonate with someone out there. So here I am, about to tell you some things you should know about Scrivener.

First, you should know I use Scrivener for Windows, so I’ve been a Scrivener 1 user for years, and I’ve recently upgraded to Scrivener 3. Good news, everyone: if you own a license for Scrivener 1 or Scrivener 2 (only available for Mac), you’ll get an awesome discount for Scrivener 3. You just need to download the free trial and then click on “Upgrade from an older version” when this window pops up:

Screenshot of the Scrivener pop-up window where they prompt you to Enter your License, buy a new license or continue with the trial version.

Anyway, for those of you who don’t know Scrivener: yes, you can download a trial version here. The trial is the actual program, no limitations until the trial period ends. Moreover, the trial period is 30 days, but they don’t have to be consecutive, so you might be able to enjoy it for 30 weeks if you just use it once per week. If you want to see whether Scrivener would be good for you, I encourage you to use the trial version, because it’s very difficult to know unless you’ve familiarized yourself with the program and used it for a while. I’ve been a user for years and have just decided to take advantage of some advanced features I’d been ignoring until now, so you can definitely do that too.

Scrivener can be a bit overwhelming at first, but they have a very nice tutorial, and you can choose whether you want to learn only the basics. I’ve completed the whole tutorial at least three times because I keep forgetting stuff, but it’s not necessary. Scrivener is very user-friendly, so you can just choose a template for your new project and start writing. For me, the best approach would be to try different things and find out what you want to keep, make a template (I’m working on that at the moment), and use it on all of your projects from that point on.

But why do I use Scrivener? Well, I first bought it because I needed a program that would save automatically, create backups, and allow me to have everything (research, images, writing) related to one project (my thesis) in one place. Basically, I use it because I’m forgetful and scatterbrained. It’s also incredibly easy to compare information with the split screen, and you can now have over 5 files open at the same time if you use the new Copyholder and Quick Reference functions:

A screenshot of five files open on the same Scrivener project by splitting the editing window in two, using copyholders for both files, then a Quick Reference on a floating window.

Now that I’m using Scrivener for my personal projects, I find myself appreciating its organizing features more and more: the corkboard, the labels, the targets, the metadata… And these have improved in the new Scrivener 3, where now there’s a freeform corkboard, a label thread, section types, a revision mode, bookmarks, a daily target calculator (useful when you have a deadline), etc. Scrivener 3 even has themes and a name generator! But, even before I started using any of those features, I liked Scrivener because it was very easy to organize the project into different folders and documents, so I could have a folder for the Manuscript, one for the Characters, one for the Settings and another for the Research. The text could be split into different documents for each chapter or scene, and they could be compared or swapped around easily.

A screenshot of the Scrivener Tutorial, showing the different folders and documents on the left sidebar.

All in all, Scrivener is a very versatile tool, and not expensive at all if you take into account that you’re buying a license. I’ve been using my first license for almost 10 years on 8 different computers bought in 3 different countries, customer support has been super fast the only time I’ve needed them, and they don’t force you to upgrade if you don’t want to. But I still encourage you to try it out before you buy it, because it’s not a tool for everyone. By the way, November is a good month to try it out because sometimes they have special offers during NaNoWriMo.

I don’t want to make this unnecessarily long, because you already have the tutorial and the official website explaining all the different features, but now you can use the comments section if you need anything. Please let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to answer them to the best of my ability.

April 2021 Update

This update is gonna be much shorter than my previous one because I haven’t done much this month. My goals were to adapt my projects to Scrivener 3 and to finish the reference files, and I’ve done so… More or less. The reference files are finished, and some WIPs (plus my personal template) have been updated so I can use a few of the new functions, but I haven’t updated those I haven’t used this month. I guess that’s fine since, whenever I open a project, I keep checking whether the Section Types are correct and the Session Target includes text written anywhere in the project.

I’ve also finished the Scrivener 3 tutorial, although it wasn’t one of my goals. I’ve shared one and two amazing illustrations I’d commissioned. And I attended a virtual (and free) series of conferences organized by a young Spanish author to celebrate the International Book Day. It lasted a whole day (15 writers in 10 hours!), but the authors were very interesting and they covered different topics, so it didn’t seem long at all.

I feel like I haven’t done much this month because I haven’t been writing as much as before, but I think that the Scrivener update, tutorial and organization took a long time and a lot of effort, so maybe I shouldn’t have such unachievable expectations. Plus, I haven’t even finished with Scrivener yet. The next step will be to change the colour labels. I’ve already updated a couple of projects in which I’m using the labels to highlight the POVs, so I would like to do the same on my longest project (it will take a while), and I want to find another use for the labels on those projects that don’t have multiple POVs. After that, I’ll save the latest backups on my cloud services. That will be one of my goals for the following month.

My other goal should be to stop feeling guilty about prioritizing my mental health, but that’s probably a lost cause. One of the reasons why I’ve been so blocked during this month, apart from the usual stress, is that my anxiety sometimes makes me have this paralysing fear that tells me that nobody is going to enjoy my work and that all my efforts are useless because people are going to hate what I do. I’ve had some good weeks, so I guess it was due, but I never know how to get out of it. Maybe the only way is to take it easy for a while until the anxiety subsides, so my second goal will be to only write when I feel like it.

Two pink roses on top of two books. In Spain, there's a tradition to gift a book and a rose to your partner on International Book Day.
Photo by Jess Bailey Designs on Pexels.com

Art – Character design II by RoyalSea Art

As promised last week, I come bearing more art! This time, it’s the other main character from the Sanctuary Project:

A skinny creature with purple skin, big white eyes and elongated limbs is holding a blue bioluminiscent butterfly. The light reflects on his very big eyes. The hair is long, and black and white.

As I said in the previous Sanctuary post, this WIP was going to be a High Fantasy short story full of atmospheric vibes and aesthetics, but it will be a bit longer than I expected. I think I mentioned it is set underground, so there are characters who don’t look like your regular human. Such is the case of this (literal) cave dweller who is trying to follow his dreams… even if his friends and family don’t understand him. There are many places he wants to visit and views he wants to see and, among his people, that might be a bit peculiar.

The artwork was done by RoyalSea Art, who is amazing at character design, as you can see. Please do check their work and commission information in the following links:

By the way, they were kind enough to make a spoilerific version of this character so we could all see how he’ll look like.
You can see it below if you don’t mind spoilers.

The character looks exactly the same as the one above, but the hair is completely white.

Art – Character design by RoyalSea Art

As promised in my previous art-related post, I come bearing more art! This time, it’s one of the main characters from the Sanctuary Project:

A plump water elemental judging you with their arms crossed.

As I said in the previous Sanctuary post, this WIP was going to be a High Fantasy short story full of atmospheric vibes and aesthetics, but it will be a bit longer than I expected. I think I mentioned it is set underground, but there are characters that used to live underwater. Such is the case of this genderfluid water elemental who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time… or maybe it’s the right place and time, but it will take a while for them to realize. If you like this character, soon I will share the other main character of this project, so do come back next week.

The artwork was done by RoyalSea Art, who is amazing at character design, as you can see. Please do check their work and commission information in the following links: