Written by A Guest Author August 31st, 2023

What to Do When the Ink Runs Dry

By JM Albandoz

Have you ever forgotten food in the oven? That’s the perfect recipe to burn anything to a crisp. Cooking and writing are both about taking ingredients (or ideas) and coming up with something delightful – but burning works somewhat differently when writing: you have to think about your craft for too long to end up burned out. Fortunately, you can fix that issue, unlike your long-lost lasagna.

Here’s how to understand burnout and the way to tackle it, so you can go back to typing.

The Dreadful Feeling of Having to Write

Sitting down to write should always be a joyful occasion, though sometimes an old cliche rings true: writing feels like having too much of a good thing. At that point, staring at a screen becomes unpleasant, and what once was the gate to creating new worlds and grounding ideas becomes a chore you force yourself to put up with.

Does that sound like you? It’s a mental ailment that, sometimes, comes with physical manifestations: headaches and stomach pain are common burnout symptoms. Anguish, anxiety, and stress are also common visitors to the burned-out writer’s house.

You can kick those intruders out to write worry-free. Here’s how.

Three-Step Guide to Beat Burnout

1. Shuffle the Deck

Any gambler will tell you Lady Luck can smile at you and then slap you without a second thought. Luck plays a small part in writing, though Inspiration is always looming around, acting the same way as her cousin Luck.

Sometimes, burnout comes from a lack of inspiration – or what feels that way. If you’ve been working on a project for way too long, up to the point you can’t stand it anymore, you’re scaring inspiration away, so to speak.

You have to shuffle the deck and deal new cards to fix that: forget about your project for a second and come up with something new to work with. Open a blank document, crack your knuckles, and start a new story that has nothing to do with your previous project. Let words come sailing out of the calm sea that once was your troubled mind.

2. Plan or Play?

Do you still dread having to write? Your latest project may not be the culprit. It may have something to do with how you write. Are you planning or playing too much?

For those that love to play, it’s time to plan ahead. Burnout often comes from sitting down in front of a screen for too long and not getting enough results. Discipline your way into getting them: set down a timer for an hour and write, write, write: box with words until you hear the bell.

Are you planning too much? Sit back, kick back, and relax: have fun with writing! Forget about your self-imposed deadlines or daily word requirements. Write whatever and when the mind calls it quits, do something else.

3. Take a Real Break

Here’s another old cliche: time heals all wounds – and, as far as I know, it works for burnout too! That means it’s time to take a break if everything else fails. It shouldn’t be a 20-minute siesta or something similar. You need to stop typing for a week, at least.

How will taking a break help you with the anxiety and anguish of burnout? It’s simple! Burning out means you’ve been writing for too long: your mind can’t take it anymore. Resting for a long time will allow your burnout to heal, your ideas to become clear, and you to feel that writing itch again.

Don’t scratch that itch ahead of time! A week-long break should be a week long. Otherwise, you may get back earlier while the iron’s still hot – and burn yourself in the process!

Bonus Track: Switch It up to See What Happens

Writers on the clock can’t take time off, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put up a fight against burnout. You’ll have to bob and weave instead of charging against the problem: grab your notebook or computer and work elsewhere. The change of scenery will help your mind to relax, allowing your words to flow once more.

You can write at the park, at a coffee shop, or anywhere else that you want to. Do you want to stay inside your house? Write in a different room. Juan Carlos Onetti, an Uruguayan writer, did everything (including eating, writing, resting, meeting friends, and more) from his bed. Does that sound like something cool to do? Grab your favorite pillow and finish your project!

Is Writing Worth the Trouble?

Confusing burnout with feelings of worthlessness is easier than it sounds. You feel tired of writing because reading what you just typed feels like torture – and you sense it’s only a matter of time before you stop writing altogether.

First of all, don’t stop writing! As I’ve explained above, taking part in this craft allows you to create new worlds and polish your best ideas.

Second, it’s important to understand it might take a long time before you like what you write, and it might take longer for others to feel the same way: Onetti, the already-mentioned bed-loving Uruguayan, published his first short story in his 20s, published his first novel sometime around his 30s, and his best work came to him decades later.

You should remember you can have too much of a good thing! Do you know what burnout and feelings of worthlessness have in common? They may both arise from doing too much in too little time. You can manage your expectations and workload to feel better.

Can a Writer Write Whenever and Forever?

Writing is somewhat like building muscle. You’ll grow by leaps and bounds when you’re a beginner – and sooner rather than later, a plateau will hit you harder than the heaviest weight you ever lifted. It’s normal!

Yes, it’s normal, and you can work your way around those issues. Dealing with fatigue when working out requires taking breaks, massages, and being smart about your programming (i.e., don’t go all out every day unless you want to injure yourself).

Writing works the same way: you need to be consistent – and you need to write smart. Find your pace. Does writing 1000 words per day make you hate your craft the day after? Scale back to 500. Is that too much? Take a break and wander for a week.

Not all those that wander are lost – and some come back from wandering to write amazing stories!

Bio: JM Albandoz is a freelance writer turned storyteller. He’s working on publishing his short story anthology soon.


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