5 Tips For Fighting Burn-Out: Learning Limits And Finding Gratitude

For those of you in America or from America, I’d like to wish you a very merry Thanksgiving. For the rest of you, I hope you have a great day.

I knew, going into November, that NaNoWriMo might not happen. The first couple days I was going to be a writing convention, I have a massive work deadline coming up in early December, plus, there’s that whole family and holiday thing you might have noticed is happening. But still, I had hope and plans.

However, I’ve had to take a step back and reassess. Here are my:

5 Steps For Avoiding Burn Out

Step 1 – Recognize Your Limits

As my work deadline approaches, my day-job hours have kept growing, eating into my writing time. When Tuesday turned into a 14-hour workday, I just couldn’t handle it. I tossed about 200 words on the page and crashed out hard.

I was too plain exhausted to pull out more words. I now know that 10-12 hours is about all the productivity I have in me during a given day. If work uses it up, then I have to recognize that it’s okay for me to let the writing slip a little.

Step 2 – Reassess Your Goals

This past Monday, I decided to stop worrying about stretching a middle-grade novel to 50,000 words and toss my blog post word count into my NaNoWriMo total. (I’m a rebel!) 

I felt disappointed in myself, in my progress, in the fact that I couldn’t stretch myself to make it work. However, looking back on my past NaNoWriMo wins, they happen when life and day job aren’t getting in the way and I admitted at the start of this month that they might.

As the month wears on, I’m contemplating aiming for 1,000 words a day (on average) instead of that NaNo dream of 1,666 words per day. I hate to concede, but at some point, you have to recognize when you’re burning the candle at both ends, you’re gonna get burnt out.

Step 3 – Recognize Your Needs

I have a chocolate stash, easy microwave dinners, and a comfy bed. Despite my writer-self telling me it is, getting my word count in is honestly a want, not a need. In order to get words in, I need 3 things:

  • Energy – I need to not have used all my energy at work. I need to be reasonably rested. I need to be able to focus on things without my vision blurring over.
  • Cope  – I need energy and a minimal of top-priority things fighting for my attention. Being able to prioritize and feel like I’m at least treading water, not actively sinking helps a lot.
  • Downtime – I used to have a commute to contemplate story ideas. These days? I’ve got a 9-minute commute which is amazing and I love. But doesn’t give me quiet time to think. Maybe I need to start using that elliptical I picked up second hand and spend that time on story contemplation. Or keep watching the new Duck Tales, because my brain needs a break. I cannot keep going from 12 hours at my day job staring at code directly home to write. It’s breaking me.

Step 4 – Give Yourself Credit

You might be disappointed in your output – your word count, your plotting, your writing itself. Your story might be a hot mess. But those experts say that it takes 10,000 hours of something to become an expert. You’re working on writing under pressure, practicing deadlines, and even if you’re missing them?

  • A – They give a great breeze when they race by
  • B – You’re still closer to the end of your novel than you were before you started. Be it 50 words or 50 pages, you’re making progress.
  • C – You likely have a better idea of what you want your novel to look like. Be it “I know how to fix this” or even just “now I know that won’t work”
  • D – You likely have a better feel for your characters and their voices. Maybe you’ll have to start over from scratch… but I bet when you look at it again, you might find sections you can use wholesale.

Step 5 – Practice Gratitude

I don’t know what things in your life make you smile, but hopefully, there are many things. And if not? Maybe it’s time to make changes that will get you there.

For me? I’m grateful for many things:

  • My friends and family who love and care for me – and have me lined up to attend 3 Thanksgiving celebrations on 3 consecutive days.
  • How supportive my friends, family, and writing community are.
  • My quiet, comfortable home where I write.
  • My day job that stretches my skills, teaches me more, and is full of welcoming and enthusiastic people.
  • My creativity and writing skills
  • That I learned how to touch type.
  • Electricity and the internet. Because my life kinda revolves around them.
  • My health (and health insurance).
  • Um… I feel like this is when I should say something “and viewers like you”

If you’re starting to feel strung out, look at why. Is it because you’re not used to writing so much and it’s taking an adjustment period? Or is it because your non-writing obligations and life are taking their own toll on you. Only you can decide if you can cut things out of your life, or if your writing needs to be trimmed back a bit.


Have you had to deal with burn out? Did you just take a break or were there other things that helped? Let me know!

Wishing you all a happy and drama-free Thanksgiving.

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What Do You Give Up For Your Writing?

Giving Up

I was raised Southern Baptist* and we don’t do Lent. I might have seen ashes on people’s forehead’s once or twice before I headed off to college, but just accepted that as “a Catholic Thing.” I was barely aware of Mardi Gras outside of The Count of Monte Cristo**

In college, though, I learned about Lent. That’s when I discovered it was a time for sacrifice and cleansing. It started to fascinate me. What was I willing to give up?

As writers, we give up a lot for our writing.

Time

First and foremost, we give up our time.

During NaNoWriMo? I’d say I spent 60 hours writing in one month, that’s 15 hours a week. And that’s not counting the time I was distracted by the internet and trying to write.

In an average month? I’d say I spend 3-10 hours a week on my writing. And that’s before you go into beta-reading other people’s work, reading about writing (mostly blogs), and helping run a writer support group (well, 2 right now, because I was backup for a 2nd group). That’s probably another 8-10 hours a week. [Note to self: change up that ratio! More time writing, less time talking about writing.]

– Hobbies

That time has to come from somewhere.

For many of us, writing is technically a hobby. But it’s also a dream, with further potential.

When you make your writing a priority, something’s got to give, and for most of us, our hobbies are the first to give. Those are things we do just for us, so, they’re the most easily sacrificed. The time most easily carved out.

Be it team sports, reading, or video games: we’ve got to make a choice and these tend to be first on the butcher block.

– Social

I’m not saying we lose friends over our writing, but when it comes to finding time for writing, spending time with friends can suffer. “Want to go dancing/to the bar/meetup?” turns into, “I can’t, I’m trying to finish this revision by the end of the month.”

Don’t ask me how excited I am about Friday nights at home, with no distractions, no bedtime, and a chunk of editing to do.

– Downtime

You know that time you spend sitting in front of the tv (or computer) just vegging out, mindlessly being entertained? Hanging out with friends with no scheduled activity or set end time? You might still try to do this, but in the back of your head is a clock saying “you could have finished that chapter tonight.”

– Fitness

You want to hit the gym, but you got out of work late again and if you’re going to get this book out there, being queried sooner, rather than later, you need to get home. You’ll just skip snacks tonight, it’ll be fine.

4 hours later, 1 microwaved dinner and 2 snacks, with 1 chapter edited: it’s past time for bed.

– Family

A lot of family time IS downtime and social time. So, by giving up those, you give up time with family. I try to set aside time for family where I’m not writing, but they usually end up being events, where there’s an event and a scheduled activities. Making family time double as social. Sometimes, I schedule family time for writing events- this year, I’m going to Balticon with my mom.

Looking for Balance

Giving up all that stuff to carve out time for writing takes away your balance.

When you’re over-scheduled and every free moment is chores or writing, it’s time to step back and see where you’re losing time and where you can find time for those other things.

My goal for lent is to stop wasting time on click-bait. Those “12 reasons X” and “30 stories of Y” and find more actual downtime AWAY from a computer.

What do you find yourself giving up?

*although, a peace-love-and-acceptance sort of church, not Fire and Brimstone + bigotry which is what some of the Southern Baptist churches seem to be preaching these days. Side Note: Southern Baptists do use dried palm leaves on Palm Sunday.

** I shouldn’t blame that on my hometown. That was just me not watching much tv.

Hamilton Lyrics to Write By: Act 1

Hamilton Lyrics to Write By

When you’re a writer who’s addicted to the Hamilton soundtrack, eventually, the lyrics seem to start talking to you. It’s your roll model, your sympathetic friend, your motivation.

Truthfully, I can’t actually WRITE to Hamilton, I get over excited, no way to focus while singing along. But that doesn’t mean the lyrics don’t inspire me to write my own story, to find out who’s in my narrative.

Alexander Hamilton

“By working a lot harder, By being a lot smarter, By being a self-starter… Put a pencil to his temple, connected it to his brain, And he wrote his first refrain,”

Writing is a lot of work and it’s lonely work. If you can’t motivate yourself to sit down in that seat and focus on your story, you’re not going to make it. I sometimes wish that writing beautiful prose just required hooking up the pencil to my imagination, but unfortunately, my worlds have to live with me doing the interpretation.

My Shot

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“And I’m not throwing away my shot” – Hamilton, from Hamilton

“I am not throwing away my shot! Hey yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot!

For each manuscript, you can only submit it to an agent or publisher ONCE. They don’t like being pestered. Sure, if you do a complete revision and make it into something new, you might be able to finagle a new chance, but you better blow them away. So, I stress hard about making that query and first chapter shine, making my story shine, making my synopsis shine. There’s only one chance to make that all-important first impression. I struggle with deciding–is fear holding me back? Or is it because I am NOT truly ready.

The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish. I gotta holler just to be heard.
With every word, I drop knowledge!
I’m a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal. Tryin’ to reach my goal. My power of speech: unimpeachable

Sometimes I feel like my novel’s a gemstone in the rough. I don’t think I could call it a diamond, that’s not the sort of stories I write, but it could shine. I’ve got to learn to add polish to my writing, until it gleams. I need to learn how to trickle in my knowledge–the world building, the backstory. I know I can write it all out, but I need to become the gemcutter, and take away everything that keeps my novel from shining.

They’ll Tell the Story of Tonight

They’ll tell the story of tonight

Most novels are talking about a particular day, a particular night. You don’t need to show the monotony, the average life. You have to make it count. You’re showing the nights that matter.

The Schyler Sisters

Work, work! I’m lookin’ for a mind at work

As a writer, I feel like my novel is always being worked on, in the back of my mind when I’m doing other things. Or maybe it’s my idea for a new project. But, a writer’s mind never stops working.

 

Rise Up

If they tell my story I am either gonna die on the battlefield in glory or—Rise up!

If I can get my novel good enough, maybe I can win acclaim. Maybe my story will be the one that touches you and that you go back to, year after year. I’m happy for that small acclaim, but I can’t help but dream of making history.

…master the element of surprise.

Making tension rise, making the reader feel it, making them skim through the pages desperate to know what happens next, how do the characters escape, will they live? And then…the twist! The twist that seems obvious in retrospect but they couldn’t see coming. That’s the dream.

I’ll rise above my station, organize your information, ‘til we rise to the occasion of our new nation. Sir!

My world is a fantasy world. I’ve created a new nation.

You know what’s inspiring though?

However, it’s inspiring to know that the most important ability Hamilton had was his skill with the quill. Being able to convey ideas in such a way to convince other folks that his vision was the right vision. He managed to get supplies, find spies, and fund our new nation. Without a writer at the right hand, George Washington would have had a lot harder time winning the US its independence.

Helpless

And the sky’s the limit…

When you’re the writer, you can do anything. You just have to make it work for your story.

Satisfied

You’re like me. I’m never satisfied

This is the hardest part. Is my story truly ready to query or does it need work. Am I stalling for fear, or out of perfectionism. When is “good enough” truly good enough.

It’s hard to be subjective with your own work. That’s why beta readers and critique partners are crucial. At least for me.

Wait for it — (I keep changing to “work for it”)

Theodosia writes me a letter every day

All the people giving advice say that you need to make it a habit. Writing every day, editing, working on your craft so you can master it.

Then I’m willing to wait for it, I’m willing to wait for it

I keep changing this to “I’m willing to work for it,” but writing has a lot of waiting inherent in it. Downtime that gives you a chance to start on your next project.

You wait for feedback from beta readers, critique partners, and editors.

You wait for that email from the contest or the agent, telling you if you’ve been accepted or if you need to try someone else.

You’ll wait for that interested agent to read your pages and decide if you’re right for them.

You’ll wait for your agent to submit editing feedback.

You’ll wait for your agent to find that perfect publisher. If they can be found.

You’ll wait for your early release reviews.

You’ll wait for your book launch.

You’ll wait for your sales numbers and reviews.

Writing isn’t for people who need instant gratification. It’s a waiting game and you’ll need to hone your patience to win.

We rise and we fall, And we break, And we make our mistakes.

Writing is hard. Feedback hurts. Motivation ebbs and wanes. Finding the best story out of the draft you started with is a challenge. You have to be willing to face your mistakes and fix them. Don’t just smooth them over with a line edit and call it good enough.

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“I’m willing to wait for it.” Burr from Hamilton

That would be enough

The worlds you keep erasing and creating in your mind

Finding my setting, my world was my first big challenge. Introducing my readers to it is my current struggle. But it’s better than the old world it was in. And I’ve got a great idea for this Greek inspired story… and this Robin Hood inspired story… So many worlds, all in one head.

Oh, let me be a part of the narrative In the story they will write someday
Let this moment be the first chapter: Where you decide to stay

Finding the right moment to start the narrative, finding out where the true first chapter starts is hard. And you want your reader to stay in the moment you create for them, draw them into the narrative so all they can think of is: what happens next.

History has its eyes on you. Who lives, who dies, who tells your story

You’re writing someone’s history. Contemporary, fantasy, history is about the people. Make sure you have the right person telling the story.

When you’re the writer, you can make the story make sense. In the real world, people die for bad reasons. When writing, you can decide why someone lives or dies. You can make it make sense.

The world turned upside down

I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory

When you write death, it becomes your own memory.

We gotta go, gotta get the job done seize the moment and stay in it

If you want your story told, no one else can tell it for you. You’ve got to MAKE the time, and stay in the story long enough to get the story told.

When you knock me down I get the fuck back up again!

Life hits hard. It steals time and energy and motivation. Yet, if you’re going to succeed as a writer, you’ve got to take those knocks and keep going.

What comes next

I’ve got a small query for you:

This makes me chuckle. Queries are so small for something that contains such big hopes and dreams. It’s a lot riding on 250 short words.

What comes next?
You’ve been freed Do you know how hard it is to lead?
You’re on your own Awesome. Wow
Do you have a clue what happens now?

Oceans rise, Empires fall
It’s much harder when it’s all your call

This is devoted to the plot. You’re the one who figures out what happens in your story. I’d say you’re the one making it up, but to me, it feels more like I’m uncovering the truth. If this happens, then, because of the world and the character, this is what HAS to happen next. It’s all a set of dominoes, and the writer’s just trying to figure out the pattern to follow.

Dear Theodosia

Someday, someday, Yeah, you’ll blow us all away

I want them to say this to me. That I’ve blown them all away. Admit it, you do too!

I’ll make a million mistakes.

Luckily, I’m not published and I can fix them in my next draft!

We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you
If we lay a strong enough foundation, We’ll pass it on to you,
we’ll give the world to you
And you’ll blow us all away… Someday, someday

Writing my novel takes blood and fight to make it right. The world is the foundation, and the readers are waiting. They don’t know what they’re waiting for, but I want it to be my story.

Non-Stop

How to account for his rise to the top?
Maaaaan, the man is Non-stop!

Why do you write like you’re running out of time?
Write day and night like you’re running out of time?

Looking at my schedule and my commitments, I’ve adopted the hashtag: #theGirlIsNonStop . If you want to tell your story, you’ve got to squeeze in your writing whenever you can. I look to Hamilton as an inspiration. And hope I’ve got more time.

I’ll be Socrates Throwing verbal rocks at these mediocrities

Occasionally, you write that one line that ties everything together and you get your smug on. That’s what this line is.

We have to start somewhere, take a stand with pride

Finding the perfect first line. That’s the dream.

There’s no one Who can match you for turn of phrase

I want to have that skill. I want people to say that about me.

Don’t forget to write

So important.

How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive? How do you write like you need it to survive? How do you write ev’ry second you’re alive?

Hey, I wrote this. I’m working my way up to Hamilton level writing.

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Any lyrics inspire you? Any lyrics strike you a different way?

Catching Pokémon For The First Time

PokémonGo is the first time I’ve played any Pokémon game.

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Sure, I gamed as a kid, but my NES was too old-school and my money was going to other things when the game first came out. I knew about the show, but it wasn’t targeted at me.

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not an early adapter. I just re-bought Viva Pinata and prayed that my Win10 computer could play the Windows Vista version of the game.

But, everyone I knew seemed to be playing it. I figured, if nothing else, I’d play for 3-4 weeks like I do most casual games and then move on with my life. Trying it when it was new meant I might get more opportunities than after everyone’s level 100 and I have no prayer of fighting stuff in the…um, gyms?

Plus, it would give me an excuse to get up and walk around. I mean, coder by day, writer by night? 80% of my waking hours are in front of computers, and my commute and smart phone are the only reason that number’s so low.

 

Top 5 Reasons I’m loving it:

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  •  It’s a great gamification of walking – you actually have to walk Kilometers (according to your GPS, not fitbit) to hatch eggs
  • I’m taking MORE walks around my community lake, which I already love–and getting more pictures of the lake
  • It showed me a walking trail 2 blocks from my office, that I never knew about
  • It’s encouraging my friends to hang out in groups and walk
  • I reached my 30 minutes of walking a day goal 6/7 days last week, for the first time in ages

Top 5 Things that Weren’t Obvious:

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  • You SPIN the Pokéstop signs to get items–tapping them just gets you a loadModule error
  • You SLIDE your finger up, to toss the Pokéball, release when you get close, and aim for the center of the circles as they shrink. Not releasing your finger cancels the toss (like if it moves)
  • Different neighborhoods have different Pokémon. My lake gets Fish and Ducks.
  • Friendly gyms might have open slots for you to drop off a Pokémon, if so, select the gym, then look in the lower left, if there’s an icon, you can staff your gym!
  • Speaking of gyms, if you leave a Pokémon there, you earn coins every 21 hrs– and you can collect right away! [So, you can capture a gym with friends, then let the low level players hop in, grab coins, and then battle them out]

Top 5 Annoying Things About Pokémon:

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  • When the servers go down
  • When you spin the Pokéstop before it loads, get no items, and it won’t let you spin again
  • Hatching a 5k Pidgey with <50 CP. (CP= combat power. Higher level ones are easily over 1,000)
  • The app only works when it’s the active app on your phone — yes ‘battery saver mode’ exists — but all that does is turn off the screen when you put it in your pocket, with the game still active and running*. Checking FB? Turning off your screen? Nope.
  • When the Pokémon keeps breaking free of your Pokéballs, then runs away.

 

 Are you playing?

P.S.     
P.P.S. Keeping up with my CampNaNo word count and  nearly have my query letter finalized! It’s not all Pokémon and long walks by the lake.
* Also? My phone kept freezing when coming out of Battery Saver Mode, with exiting the game the only option