Saturday, September 25, 2021

From Burnout to Breakout

My name is Abigayle Claire and I'm the queen of burnout. It doesn't make for a great intro, does it? Burnout is a miserable place to be stuck, and as someone who's been through it multiple times now, I have a few tips for how to get from burnout to breakout (or possibly avoid burnout altogether). 

The Vicious Cycles

My younger self both glorified working as hard as possible and yet also simultaneously thought I wouldn't get burned out... if I worked hard enough. You see the problem there?

Burnout is when you try so hard to progress you can no longer progress at all. Good work ethic is irreplaceable and worth more than any hourly rate imaginable, so don't read this and hear me say "don't ever try." Progress begins with diligence and burnout begins with roadblocks.

This means burnout begins with inefficiency. I hit some sort of roadblock that slows me down. Maybe it's project details; maybe it's mental or physical. I've had them all! It's like one of those awful traps where the more you struggle, the more stuck you get. As a result, repeated procrastination is a sign of impending burnout for me.

Now when it comes to a hobby here and a scribble there, I think it's normal to set things aside when they get to be too much without a lot of conscious thought. When it's a bigger project I'm committed to (usually with a deadline), pausing begins to feel like quitting and quitting feels like failure. Yet another vicious cycle that drives toward burnout. So here's what I've learned.

Breaking Free

First, you have to identify your "tell" for when you're overwhelmed. It used to be shutting out the world and barreling through for me and now it's doing anything under the sun except try again. Once you learn to watch for whatever your repeated behavior is, you have options on how to respond.

You can take a total, complete, 100% break. I promise you can. I know deadlines are real and some of them won't budge. It's not fun to watch one creep closer while your progress sits dormant. You know what else isn't fun? Spinning your wheels day after day and still getting nowhere. That is the GPS to burnout's home address.

The best way to avoid burnout is to build in breaks. That's it--the golden advice you came to find. It's so simple but so, so many people (including me at times) don't do this! I know many successful authors who juggle life and writing deadlines, and they have planned times where they intentionally set aside their projects. The top two I recommend and see other recommend are after completing the first draft (celebrate and take a breather!) and after reading through an editorial letter (think it over and brainstorm before facing it again).

You can also change course. This depends on the project, of course, but sometimes there are times where you set something entirely aside in order to focus on something else. There's nothing shameful in that as long as you're making that decision for the right reasons.

Otherwise, you can embrace burnout. I so do not recommend this. I've burned myself out to the point of having pain in my left hand for the better part of a year. I've pushed through for months that left me so exhausted I needed a break that I should have just taken sooner in a better state of mind. I've wasted time and energy stressing over not getting to a "priority project" I didn't have the time to prioritize. I've overcommitted my way into half-baked work and anxiety. None of those burnouts I've experienced (and there are more!) have been conducive to productivity, good mental health, or staying focused on my initial vision. And those last two are way more important than mere productivity.

So make the most of the season you're in. Do remember that there's more to life than progress. My burnouts were my own "fault," technically speaking, but God taught me valuable lessons that became essential parts of my writing projects. At the end of the day, learning to value the journey is the real key to breakout.


What is your burnout tell? Do you plan breaks in your writing process?


  1. This resonates so much for me right now. 2021 has left me entirely drained and miserable and exhausted all the time in every area of life. Maybe someday I'll take this advice to heart and figure out my life, lol

    Nice to see you on the blogosphere again!

    1. Yes I definitely wrote this post as much to myself as anyone else. The last two years especially have been a struggle for me! Here's to both of us getting a little better at this so that as life ebbs and flows we're not making it any worse than it's supposed to be.

      And thanks! Happy to be back for my quarterly post haha

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