How I (am trying to) Prevent Burnout

For the first thirty years of my life, I was kind of a slacker. Full day video game marathons, reading an entire book in an afternoon, or binge-watching an entire Netflix show in a single day were fairly common activities if I didn’t have work that day, and if I did have work I’d spend the time I was at home doing…well, one of those three things, just in slightly smaller chunks.

In the past two years, however, I’ve picked up my writing and become – in the process – a bit of a workaholic. This is mostly a good thing – it’s an immense improvement over spending most of my time mindlessly lying about and doing nothing particularly productive. I’ve gotten up to the point where I’m averaging over two thousand words a day, which is exactly where I wanted to be – with just a little more effort, I’ll be up to three thousand, allowing me to hit 1,000,000 words a year.

I like watching numbers grow. It’s a nice easy way to measure progress.

Then last week things went…bad. I wasn’t sleeping well, work stress at my full-time job hit me hard, and a variety of factors meant I basically hit the wall with my progress. On Sunday, I wrote 3,000 words. On Monday and Tuesday each, I wrote about 1000. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I barely managed to hit five hundred. Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t write any, the first time I hadn’t since late January.

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You can almost literally see where I hit the wall

It was official. I was hitting the burnout point.

Here’s the three to do to prevent it from getting worse.

1) Reorient my Goals

This was a big one. Three thousand words a day is a really good goal, but it’s something I should shoot to slowly build up towards. In 2018, I averaged about 1500. I was trying to double my annual word count in a single month. I was going from doing half marathons and jumping straight up to full ones with almost no training to get to that point.

At least, I assume the running thing is a bad idea. As previously mentioned, I have as much knowledge of how physical activity works as I do the inner workings of a nuclear reactor.

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Pictured: the opposite of me in every way, except for mostly bald and bearded. 

So I have to realign my goals.

I still have a lot I want to accomplish in 2019 – books i want to publish, projects I want to finish – and I can’t let my word count drop too low or I won’t get there. So I spent some time doing some math to figure out where I needed to be to hit my goals. It was not one million words. I dropped my daily average goal down to 2500 words, which will get me close, and fits in line with my average daily word count on the weeks I wasn’t pushing myself as hard as I could.

2) Allow myself to have fun

The last time I played a video game for more than thirty minutes was back in January. The last time I sat down and read as opposed to sneaking in some reading on my breaks at work or listened to an audiobook during my commute was over thirty days ago. Outside of Captain Marvel, I haven’t watched a movie since a vacation I took from work in February.

The problem was, I wasn’t always writing in the time I gained by dropping those activities. I was often finding myself sitting on my couch, staring aimlessly at social media or letting YouTube videos endlessly loop – many of them videos I’ve seen before. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing that, but it’s nowhere near as much fun as some of my favorite activities.

So I let myself have fun. On Saturday I went over to a friend of mines and, instead of writing while she graded, we picked up an on again-off again tabletop game we’ve been playing for years. Sunday after dinner with my family, I booted up Diablo III for an hour before going to bed. Monday I got my 2500 words in right after getting home – well, 2421, which is close enough – and then read some more of Strange the Dreamer, which I’m going to finish this month.

I gave myself permission to have fun, and doing that is helping me also remember how much I enjoy writing. It’s some of the most fun I can have, but treating it like work was burning me out hard.

Burned Out Bulb
It’s really helped my brain look less like this. 

3) Formulate a plan

This is the biggest long term solution. I have five ongoing projects right now I’m working on, six if you count the blog – there’s edits to the Weird Theology sequel, writing new scenes for Book 3 of that series, writing new scenes for book 1 of a new series, and working on book 2 of that series. This is not something I’d recommend to most people, but I absolutely love that I have that many projects going on.

However, it can also be paralyzing at times. I’m never sure what I should be working on, because all of it is something I enjoy.

So I ranked everything based on how hard it is. Editing is the hardest, new scenes follow that, and continuing the current books is the easiest. Now, here’s the trick to help this prevent burnout:

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One Weird Trick Prevents Burnout! Therapists Hate Me! (No, seriously, they’re coming for me send help)

Every day, when I get home from work, I check myself. How tired am I? How stressed am I? How motivated am I? If tiredness and stress are low and motivation is high, it’s time to work on editing! If one of those is out of whack, that would be a good night to work on new scenes for one of the future books. If two of them aren’t where I want it to be, then i should focus on continuing one of the future books, or write a post for the blog.

If all three are bad, then I can read, watch TV, or play video games until I’ve gotten the energy back. On those days I still want to write five-hundred words so I don’t feel like I wasted the evening, but they’re days I’m going to take light and easy.

Wish me luck! At some point in April, I’ll be touching base on how this plan is working out.

Want to see a bit more about what I do to relax? Check out my Instagram.

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