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

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:

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:

Art – Chibi characters by Helen Kord

As promised in my previous art-related post, I come bearing more art! This time, it’s a pair of chibi characters that belong to the Fireflies Project:

A boy with brown hair (left) and a redheaded boy (right) looking and smiling at each other. The one on the left is wearing a black turtleneck and black trousers while he holds a ginger cat. the one on the right wears a dark t-shirt that once belonged to the other man and a red jacket with rainbow-coloured details. He's petting the head of a brown labrador sitting between them.
The dog and the cat are also looking at each other, and the cat is softly booping the dog with a gentle paw.

Fireflies was supposed to be a Low Fantasy short story set in Madrid, but I don’t know how long it’ll end up being. I think I mentioned it is set in northern Spain and animals are important. As you can see, they’re so central to the story they’re even pictured here. These are the pets that belong to the main characters (also pictured in this image), and I hope you find them as deadly cute as I do!

The artwork was done by Helen Kord, the person with the most impeccable taste I’ve ever met. Please do check their work and commission information in the following links:

Art – Concept Art by Cascuda

Happy Valentine’s Day!

One of my goals last December was to commission art for my unfinished projects. I was trying to find some motivation to keep writing after a very hard year, and I decided it would be the perfect Christmas present to myself.

And today I can finally share with you the first concept art I commissioned for the Sanctuary Project:

An underground lake with an island in the center. There are two characters on the nearby shore, separated by a river. One is short, blue and transparent, the other is tall, dark and wears a cloak.

This WIP was going to be a High Fantasy short story full of atmospheric vibes and aesthetics, but it might end up becoming something a bit longer. As you can see, the story will be set partly underground and feature characters from different species. I created it as a counterpoint to my other projects, so it started as something short and fun to write, precisely because it was so different. I recycled tropes from my other projects, but subverted them, and I tried to keep it light… but it has become something longer and more serious than I originally intended.

But let’s talk about the most important thing: the amazing artist of this illustration is Cascuda, and you can find all their amazing work and commission information clicking on the following links:

Writing Projects

I’ve talked about my projects before in this post, and I’ve given more details in my notebook updates, but I keep losing track of my ongoing projects because there are so many of them. I saw Spanish authors sometimes have a Future Projects page on their blogs, and I decided to copy the idea because, if it’s difficult for me… no one else would be able to follow, right?

Anyway, I’ve created a list, and now each project comes with a provisional placeholder title, a short explanation and a free stock image. Being able to visualize my projects like this is amazing, and I’m already looking forward to working on them again, so I’m glad I did this.

Hope you like it too!!!

A wolf.

Feathers

A High Fantasy short story

This one is short and has very few characters. Animals, magic and loneliness are important.

I’m working on the outline, but let’s be honest, I’m not a plotter. If only inspiration would take me here…

A volcano erupting against a starry sky.

Oracle

A High Fantasy Romance

This is my longest and most ambitious project, and the first one I started plotting. It’s been years in the making, so it’s had lots of changes, and it will probably have many more before I’m done with it.

It’s going to take a while because it’s a looong story with slow-burn and pining.

Madrid's Plaza Mayor.

Brothers

A Historical Romance

This one will also be set in Spain some centuries ago. If all goes well, it might even have more than one book, each featuring a different couple.

I’m already working on the research phase of this project, but I still don’t know how long it will take.

Want to see more? You can browse through all of them in my new “Projects” page here. And I’ve added the link to the blog’s menu, so you can check them out whenever you want.

About Fan Fiction

Ten months ago I wrote a post about Romance that was my personal love letter to the genre, and now I want to do the same for fan fiction.

Fan fiction (or fanfiction) is another type of writing that, like Romance, is condemned and vilified by those who believe they have the intellectual higher ground. Given that most fanfics also depict a romantic or sexual relationship between two or more characters, I believe many of those who deride fanfiction are the same who look down on Romance.

Of course, we all know that some people have different issues with fan fiction, mainly ones that stem from legal concerns. Many are scared of plagiarism, which —for the record— is very different from fan fiction. Others don’t want to share their own characters and ideas with random people from the Internet. But I think there are some issues that may be caused by people not being familiar with fanfiction; they don’t understand what fanfiction really is about and where it comes from.

Fanfiction is not something new created by the weird people of the Internet. The term fanfiction predates the creation of the world wide web by half a century. The name first appeared in 1939 and fan fiction became an important part of fandom culture in the 60s thanks to Star Trek, but derivative fiction written with characters and settings established by a previous author or based on a non-fictional subject that attracted many followers has been an important part of mankind’s literature since the beginning of the written word. Think about Shakespeare, the fake sequel to Don Quixote, the Arthurian cycle, and even the apocryphal gospels. When the novels published in installments were popular, people used to write their own additions and endings as they waited for the following chapter to arrive; sometimes they would send them to friends and family, and that is how the Brontë sisters got published. So we admire writers who have composed fanfiction and we call some derivative works “classics”, but still the mention of the term fanfic makes people sneer.

And nevertheless, we keep writing fan fiction.

Like many of us, I started reading fan fiction because the canon was not enough. Not satisfactory enough, not happy enough, not gay enough… And, somehow, I ended up discovering a community of people who wrote both fanfics and Romance novels that covered all my needs. I made new friends, read fanfics whenever I was too stressed for anything else, went back to writing… discovered that what I used to write for my school friends was basically fan fiction… then started to write in English and, eventually, decided to write my own original stories. And here we are.

Fanfiction is an important part of fandom, of literature, and of our lives. And that is why AO3 winning a well-deserved Hugo Award made me so happy and emotional this week. The fact that people have started to notice and appreciate fan fiction globally, and that they’ve awarded a site that was created to fight against censorship and other limitations is a huge step. But don’t just take my word for it. You can read some cool articles about this on Polygon, Vox and The Mary Sue.

So… have you ever read or written fanfiction? Has it helped you in any way?

The Hugo Award won by Archive of Our Own.
Our Shared Hugo Award. Photo taken from the OTW’s tumblr post.