Jaye Wells and Tiffany Trent both have posts up this week about writers and burnout. (I totally agree with Jaye Wells on the importance of writers having hobbies, once writing ceases to be one. Writing professionally is one of the things that led me to become a serial hobbyist.)
This got me to thinking about one of the cycles I’ve noticed in writing careers, one that we don’t talk much about–the cycle of intensity and burnout.
I’ve come to believe, watching countless writers go through this–and having gone through it myself–that writers often spend the first three or four years of their careers talking about how important it is to be intense and productive, sharing strategies for getting more done and being more efficient, talking about how a professional writer has no choice but to write two, three, four books a year.
Somewhere in the middle of the first decade, though, many writers go quiet–until somewhere around years six to nine writers often admit they’ve been coping with burnout, possibly alongside other career challenges, and they share those struggles. I think it’s hugely useful to do so. It’s all that sharing through the years that’s made me realize how common this is.
The first few years of the first decade of a writing career are often about intensity. The last few years of that decade are often about dealing with burnout in various ways. In between, writers often struggle with either despair or denial, as they realize this writing career thing is a less simple (even less simple) than it first seemed.
Sometime after the first decade, a sort of settling in and settling down happens. An acceptance of both the ongoing cycles and the shifting ground of a writing career. A developing of personal coping strategies for doing this for the long haul.
Well, either that, or the writer stops writing. I don’t mean that lightly–moving on to do something else is a reasonable response to burnout, too.
But one way or another, by roughly the end of the first decade, something often has to give, and something often has to change. That early intensity often can’t be maintained forever, not without, at the very least, allowing for downtime, as well as allowing for the unpredictability of a writing career.
I’ve used the word often a lot, above. Careers vary so much that none of this is going to be true for everyone.
But if this isn’t the only possible cycle for a writing career to follow, it is a common one. And I think that’s worth talking about, so that those who do go through this cycle know they’re not alone with it.
Intensity, burnout, regrouping. Sometimes the cycle repeats after that. Sometimes the strategies developed keep it from repeating. That varies too.
Intensity, burnout, regrouping. If you’re somewhere in the middle of this cycle, you’re not alone. You’re just navigating a perfectly normal writing career.