Whether you write a lot, or a little, fiction or non-fiction, you will face mental burn-out at least once (sometimes at least once per year). In university, just after finals and mid-terms most students are writing burnt out. They’ve crammed a lot of writing into that time period, and most students probably don’t want to look at another paper for at least a month.
Pacing, can help avoid or mitigate burnout. Knowing your own creative pace, and working within it, makes it easier to keep a consistent level of creativity.
These past three months, I’ve been learning a lesson in burn-out, pacing, and restoring creativity.
As a writer, my brain is what is doing the majority of the work. Everything a writer does is creative, even if it’s editing. A blog post is as much of a creative drain as a complex fight scene in the fantasy work-in-progress. And, when one is writing too much, burnout happens.
Juggling Creative Energy
I find that if I write fiction first thing in the day, I still have enough mental energy to write non-fiction or edit later. This is because the fiction writing focuses on the creative side of the brain, while the analytical side is less involved. Then, when I go to write non-fiction, or edit, the side most involved is the analytical side with only a touch from the creative side. This balances both sides of the brain, and doesn’t burn out either side.
However, if I write non-fiction first, or start editing before creating, my creative side gets involved alongside the analytical side – and I run out of creative energy. Which means, that for that day, I am stuck either writing non-fiction, or in editing. I no longer have the energy to write creative fiction.
Now, some days I can manage to get fiction writing even after non-fiction and editing. But, those days are few and far between, and the next day usually ends up being a very unproductive day because I pushed too hard.
Last November, during NaNoWriMo, I wrote over 100,000 words in the month, at least, when I combined fiction and non-fiction writing. However, in December, I barely wrote 30,000 words in non-fiction. I wrote very little fiction during December. In January, I did a bit better with roughly 15k in fiction and 30k in non-fiction.
This slow-down in writing speed was because of November burn-out. Point blank, I wrote too much. November burned out my creative fiction writing. Thus, in December, I wrote non-fiction and edited, instead of trying to continue on fiction rough drafts.
What Did This Teach Me?
Mostly it taught me to pace myself. For February, I’m aiming for a half and half month. One thousand words a day in non-fiction, and one thousand words of fiction. In November, I was averaging 4k a day and that was too much. In December, I averaged just under 1k per day and was recuperating. In January, I averaged just over 1k a day and am starting to feel like I can write more than that, with comfort.
I have had several days where I have written anywhere from 5-10 thousand words, on a single piece, in a single day. Usually this is after a time of not writing at all, and is the direct result of my brain finally working its way logically out of a difficult plot point. Or, it is the result of a challenge to see if I can write a short story or novella in a single day, and I know I won’t be continuing the pace longer than one day.
How Can This Help You?
If you are a new writer, or thinking of starting writing, I would highly recommend that you start small and pace yourself. Your first day writing, you may pound out 10k in a single afternoon, but, if that means you can’t write for the rest of the week, then it is unsustainable. Writing, particularly a novel, is a marathon, not a sprint. Steady and consistent gains are better than a writing binge, and being unable to write for the next week, two weeks, or month.
A page, 500 words, is achievable for most writers. Set your daily goal as a page, and stick with it for a month or so. Raise it to two pages (1000 words) if you have been comfortably consistent with one page for at least one month. However, if you find that two pages is a challenge, then drop it back. Even writing only half a page (250 words) a day, you can still write a novel in a year.
Note: If you are writing a page or less a day, re-reading what you wrote the previous day can help maintain a consistent flow, voice, and plotline.
My novels average 1500 – 2000 words per chapter, at the 500 words a day it takes 4 days to write one chapter. Each novel averages 42 chapters, so it would take 168 days to write one novel. Just writing, at the slowest rate, one could write two novels in a year (with a few days off too). At 500 words per day, you’d want to edit at least 1000 words per day. That will give you time to do two edits and hear back from beta-readers, proofreaders, and the like before the second book is completed.
If you are writing on the side with other commitments, then this pace will likely be achievable. However, if you start dreading your writing times, or have no ideas when you write yourself into a plot corner – you may be facing burnout.
Take a break.
At 500 words per day, 168 days per novel, you can write two novels in a year and still take 28 days off from writing. Don’t be afraid to take a break, and just let the writing simmer in the background. Sometimes that is all that it takes to get rid of a block, or to work one’s way out of a nasty little plot corner.
Back To You:
Whether you write a little, or a lot, what symptoms have you encountered when you went overboard on being creative?
Leave a comment, I enjoy hearing from you!