Vision: A Resource for Writers

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Burning Through Writer's Burn-Out

By Karina L. Fabian
Copyright © 2008 by Karina L. Fabian, All Rights Reserved


It's normal for people to feel burned out sometime in their career.  One of the wonderful things about a writing career, though, is that its flexibility offers you a lot of options for burning through your burnout.

Start by examining your feelings.  Find a quiet half hour when you're in a reflective and receptive mood.  Begin with a prayer for guidance, clear your mind, then ask yourself:  how do you feel about your writing now compared to when you first started?  When are you happiest about writing?  When do you have to fight yourself to get anything on paper?  What's frustrating you -- the topics?  The markets? The pay?  The pressure?  Is your attitude toward writing focused only on work, or is it part of a general malaise?  Once you've defined what's affecting your attitude toward writing, you can start looking for solutions.

If you're tired of writing on the same old topic, branch out.  Take a class in a subject you're interested in but have never explored.  Read some books or magazines in a totally unfamiliar area.  Then use your new knowledge to generate query letters.  If you're established in a field and depend on that for your income, you may need to start slowly.  Try a query a month in your new field of interest if that's all you can afford time-wise.  Combine your interests to give new life to your established field.  My husband and I combined our love of science fiction with my religious writing background to edit an anthology of Christian SF.  Leaps of Faith (www.leapsoffaithsf.com) was published by FrancisIsidore Press in 2001 and was a finalist for the Dream Realms and EPPIE awards. That's led to us to another anthology, Infinite Space, Infinite God (www.isigsf.com), an EPPIE award winner for best SF, as well as other writing opportunities for me.

If you write regularly for a particular magazine, you may be able to work with the editor to change your assignments.  After writing a column on saints for three years for Montana Catholic, I found myself dreading the monthly chore.  I discussed it with the editor, who, coincidentally, had been feeling that their limited budget could be better spent on more local topics.  After exchanging some ideas, I was assigned -- with a raise -- to write monthly interviews of the clergy in their diocese.

Sometimes, the problem isn't the topic so much as the market or a specific employer.  Just as people in other careers change companies, writers can, too.  Start with finding new magazines at the bookstore, in Writer's Market, or on the web.  Make sure you avoid employers that may have the same problems you're trying to avoid.  For example, if you're tired of writing articles for low pay, pay close attention to the pay rates unless you're thinking of simultaneous submissions or reprints.  If you want something more dependable, call local markets or check for staff jobs on sites like JournalismJobs.com.  You might also ask editors who know your work well about staff positions.  If you need a break from high-research writing, look for magazines that cover "soft topics" or human interest.  If you're having problems with a particular editor, discuss it with him or her, but if you can't work your differences out, be prepared to quit, especially if it's a moral issue. 

Sometimes, it's neither the market nor the topic, but a general feeling that what you write doesn't matter.  Feedback helps.  I had written craft books for the first year of a Catholic girls' club and a boys' club.  After the second one, I felt tapped out and sick of crafts, but six months later, I received 10 copies of the Blue Knight's Craft Companion, a check for the royalties on the Little Flowers Craft Companion, and a letter from the publisher saying she'd gotten several calls from mothers wanting to know when the craft book for the second year of Little Flowers was coming out.  I was wanted!  Suddenly, I was full of enthusiasm and ideas.

Look in some issues of magazines published after your article -- did anyone write to the editor about it?  Run a Google search on your name.  You may be amazed at how many of your articles are reprinted on-line or referred to in chat groups.  If you have a good enough relationship with your editor, you might request some feedback, though you may want to address it in terms of determining how you can better serve their magazine.

Finally, writer's burnout may be symptomatic of a bigger problem.  Do you feel you're no longer serving God's purpose for your life?  Are you simply overwhelmed by balancing writing, work -- whether another paying job or just keeping up with the house -- and family?  Is your writing burnout part of an overall depression or physical malaise?  Sometimes, our lives need a new focus, a rebalance, or a serious look at our mental and physical health, but we are only aware of a specific symptom, like the inability to get words on paper.

Burnout can happen to anyone.  Rather than seeing it as a source of frustration, you can use it as an agent of change. 

Karina L. Fabian has been writing professionally for 12 years, moving from local magazines to national "slicks" to radio to fiction as her burn-out led her to move on. She’s now writing books for several publishers, winning writing awards, and loving her muse. Learn more at www.fabianspace.com.