Confessions of a Burn-Out

- by Patricia Rosemoor

StealingThunder

One of the things I had to learn to do as a career writer was to take vacations—not necessarily going to some exotic place, but to take time off from writing. A vacation for my mind.

For years–my whole writing career until lately–I was obsessed with getting to the next story or to rewrite something that didn’t sell. A couple of years ago, the stress caught up to me and I was seriously burned out. I knew I needed time off. And still, I didn’t take it.

There was always a reason to NOT give myself a break from writing. Even when I went out of town, I took work with me. But a year ago, I realized that after 80-some books in 26 years, I was seriously burned out and that something had to give and I feared it would be me.

The last couple of books I wrote felt like I was pushing a rope. I would open my computer only to read email or solve a JigZone puzzle or play AstroPop or Majongg. I know a lot of writers who avoid with similar activities, but this was getting to crisis level, because every time I opened a file for a novel, I had no idea of what to write, so I would go to another activity–you know, just one game or puzzle to warm up. Only some days, the warm up never ended, the writing never started. Somehow I got through those books, but I really don’t know how exactly. While my normal production had been 5-10 pages a day, I was barely writing 3 and there were days when finishing 1 page was a reason to celebrate. I began missing deadlines–not by much, but for years, I was the person who always brought manuscripts in early.

One would think I found productive substitutes. Or at least fun activities to fill up my time. Right. The Internet and television were my constant companions. No time to reorganize my closet or read books or get those prints from Albuquerque that I’d bought five years before framed and up on my wall. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything for any length of time. All that stress balled up in my neck and upper back and soon I was wearing a collar to hold my head up because I couldn’t.

So when I finished STEALING THUNDER last January–a book I agreed to do only because it was to celebrate Harlequin Intrigue’s 25th anniversary–I decided to take some time off and to try to get my life back. I decided to NOT write on deadline until this summer.

I had other things to do, after all. Things around the house that I’d let go under deadline after deadline. I overestimated what I was willing to do, though I did get a few things repaired or bought or started. I read a little. Took the equivalent of a college level class to become a Master Gardener. Went to physical therapy for help with the neck/back problem. But even as I tried to be a non-writer, the darnedest thing happened. The urge to write something returned. So after the first few weeks of my writing vacation, I revised something that had been waiting for my attention and sent it off to my agent.

Then I took another couple of weeks to do whatever. The siren call to write came back stronger and I started thinking about SAVING GRACE, my April 2010 release. I wrote the synopsis and took a little time off from writing once more. By this time I felt so much better creatively, that a few weeks later, I started a brand new project that had been waiting for a whole year–a paranormal thriller with romantic elements, something fairly different from my usual stories–and unfortunately wrestled with the world-building and plot. I wrote when I felt like it, ignored the project when I was frustrated. I couldn’t be so cavalier on a deadline.

Eventually I became very excited about the proposal and finished it. I think (hope) it has potential. I realized that simply by taking a little time, writing but not on deadline, the burn-out eventually eased off.

After five months of no deadline writing,  I finally got to my deadline book. I wrote SAVING GRACE this summer, not in a rush, not in a panic, but in a leisurely yet productive way. To my amazement, I brought the manuscript in early. It had literally been years since I’d done that. And now that I’ve met deadline, I’ve taken some time off to do other things– I did a little work on a spec project, went to the Novelists Inc. Conference, did a lot of volunteer work. And finally I’m thinking about writing my next Intrigue with a good deal of excitement.

I believe (I hope!) I’ve finally found the secret to renewing my creative energy and rediscovering the joy in my writing. Not to mention staying healthy. Hopefully I’ll never forget how important it is to take time just to do nothing for a while after meeting a deadline. Allow the brain cells time to regenerate so I don’t burn out again. My novels will be better for it.

More importantly–so will I.

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