It’s hard to sit down and write this piece.
I’m not tired. In fact, I’m perfectly awake. I slept well. I’m not hungry. I’m not even all that distracted, which can be a work-killer.
No, I’m a little burned out.
So, here’s how I got here.
I usually get a little tired of writing towards the end of a week. I have to write every day Monday through Thursday to stay on schedule throughout the week. Usually, that means writing 1000 words, but on some days I run a little bit long.
Friday is another animal entirely.
When I don’t write on Friday or don’t quite get my 1000 words, it’s harder than usual to feel bad about it.
I’m also trying to take my weekends more seriously. By which I mean that I’m trying to do as little work as possible over them. I’m not opposed to the idea of doing work then, but I recognize that the work I do is creative work. You can’t consistently do creative work.
In my experience, doing creative work feels like pumping water out of a well. In most instances, the pump’s draw on my internal power supply is very light. If I had to put a number on it, I’d suggest that it was pulling one Watt of power, which in most circumstances is barely noticeable. I feel like I’m just flying along.
Towards the end of a writing session, especially if I have a word goal that I’m trying to meet, the water level in the well starts to go down, and the pump has to start working a bit harder to get the water out. The power usage goes up to maybe two, three, four, or five Watts. Not debilitating, but noticeable.
And then there’s the sensation of burnout. The well is about as empty as it ever gets. The pump has to work about as hard as it can to get water out of the well. Think 50 Watts in terms of exertion.
As I write, I feel a burning sensation in my chest. I take short breaks to try and let it subside, but it never completely goes away.
How did I get here?
Well, I only wrote 400 words on Friday. And because I’m trying to take my weekends more seriously, by which I mean that I’m trying not to work during them, I did no work Saturday and Sunday. Which meant that I ended up writing almost 900 words to cap off Monday’s blog post, and more than 1000 for Tuesday’s.
Now it’s Tuesday, and I’m writing Wednesday’s blog post, and more than anything I just want to be done.
Quality? Bleh. Let’s just get this thing over with.
So, right now, I think my daily creative word limit is around 1000. I’m not entirely sure if that’s a global limit or only related to blogging. I haven’t been consistent enough in other practices to know if writing fiction or writing other kinds of nonfiction demonstrably draw from other pools of energy.
And while, especially after multiday breaks like I just took, I might be able to do 1900-word days without breaking a sweat, I tend to pay for them on the following day, as I am today. I want to work. I’d love to write two blogs today but doing so would probably leave me in a corner somewhere, crying softly into my mechanical keyboard. No one wants that.
The other symptom is that my thoughts become really disorganized. I’ve done probably six sections out of order in this piece so far, relative to how I thought they would go in my head. That’s not a problem on their own, but I tend to get a good feel for how a piece should flow before writing it down, and when things get out of order I lose sight of how it’s all supposed to fit together.
What was the point of this post, again?
A lot of people recommend freewriting as a solution to writing burnout. Let your mind wander and pen roam free, they say, from that other side of the fence where the grass is just oh-so-green.
But get this and make no mistake about it: I’m a perfectionist, and freewriting stresses me out.
I want things to be good. I especially want things I make to be good. I want to make things so good that even though I think they suck people come up to me on the street and tell me that they were profoundly impacted by something I wrote.
I know that’s not the point of freewriting, but in all honesty, it’s not something that just going to put a whole lot back into the tank. I have an extensive back catalog of ideas that are just begging to be written, and it feels like a betrayal to put them on the shelf for that much longer, just to work on something that shouldn’t ever amount to anything.
Apparently, there’s a third problem, one that I’m only just now realizing as I write this piece: tonal inconsistency. I’m sure what exactly I was doing at the start of this piece, but I’m pretty sure that what I’m writing now is quite different in tone.
Sure, there’s a steady sense of resignation that pervades the piece, but now I’m not taking myself or the blog nearly as seriously as I probably ought to.
Conclusion, written the morning of the 28th.
Upon reflection, I’ve realized that there’s a great irony to this piece. I remember a time when I first started writing seriously and squeaking out 100 words made me feel like my soul was going to explode. There was one day where I wrote 250 words and felt like I had elevated to a new plane of existence. There’s no feeling quite like having a day so productive that it breaks your model of what a productive day looks like.
So how do I, you, or anyone improve at this?
It’s hard to say on one side, and easy on the other.
I can write this blog, which is 1000 words 5 times a week because I participated in National Novel Writing Month, which required 1667 words 7 times a week for 30 days. While I did burn myself out at times during that stretch, I also had days where I wrote more than 2000 words, with my all-time high of 2502 words coming on the 26th day of the challenge.
It requires patience, something I’m increasingly realizing I need to develop. The best way to grow in my ability to write is to write often, and stretch myself just a bit beyond the comfortable.