Tackling Author Burnout: Ten tips for busy authors
Updated: Feb 11
Let's face it--this past year has been a strange one. Most especially for authors. It's pretty hard to be creative when you're dealing with home-schooling, lockdowns, or maybe just simply a world that won't really let you get those creative juices going.
We're the lucky ones who are still able to earn a living from home by doing something we love. But that doesn't mean it's easy.
I have personally gone through burnout more times that I care to admit. I've stopped and declared that I wish I had a normal job! Just something 9 - 5. Something easy and brainless.
Of course it's not really true but in those moments, it felt it. And boy did I feel guilty for admitting it!
Since I became published eight years ago, this job has changed. Thanks to the rise in indie publishing and the increase in cheap, ghost-written books dominating various fiction and non-fiction categories, it feels a lot more pressured. I used to write purely for fun and it's unfortunately inevitable that the feeling changes once your bills become dependent on you producing books that actually sell.
Around two years go, I hit a standstill. I was trying 'all the things.' Meditation, self help books etc. But actually sitting down to write became a painful, emotional and ugly process. I even took weeks off and just sat around. Confession--I loathe just sitting around. I had just come out of a year of writing a book a month. It was misery and not all of those books were my best.
So below are the tips that helped me get past the worst of my burnout. I hope it helps any authors out there struggling too.
1. See a therapist.
I didn't think I had the time but I also didn't have the time to continue this way so I sucked it up and went to her for stress. Of course, we dug deeper and considering I had divorced a few years before this after a ten year marriage there were various issues to uncover, not just stress. I'm seeing her via Zoom at present thanks to the lockdown in the UK and nowadays I only see her once a month and usually just to let off some steam. It took a while but it made a vast difference to my mental health.
I know, I know meditation is the solution to everything. I'm still not amazing at it and although I tried it before I did it in stops and starts. Now its something I do five times a week using the Calm app. My brain is rarely turned off and this helps a great deal to counteract that and gain some much needed silence. Think you don't have the time? Just do 1 minute a week. Anything is better than nothing!
3. Slow down.
I stopped producing a book a month. I concentrated on producing stories I adored rather than what might or might not be to trend. My fear of losing income was overriding my common sense and I had to change something. Interestingly, my earnings doubled with less than half the amount of releases, and I got back time to ponder my next story and enjoy life more.
3. Ted Talks or Podcasts
I listen to a Ted talk or podcast almost daily while I get ready for the day. I opt for those that cover business, brain training, stress-management or are simply from someone inspirational. Listening to these people gives me the energising start I need for the day.
5. Dictate your schedule.
I realized I hated working five days a week. By the time I got to Friday I was lucky to force out 2k words. So I rejigged things and I now work 3 - 4 days a week by upping my daily word count so it's less spread out. Family life sometimes changes my day off but I try to aim to get it in the middle of the week to give my brain a break.
6. Leave marketing until the end of the day.
A huge part of being an author is marketing. It dominates my time more than writing sometimes. But if I read my emails or book ads or schedule blog tours before I write, my mind is already elsewhere. I do all my emails/Facebooking after I've finished writing. I also have a firm promo routine so I know the first thing I do when I press save on my book is to go into my Amazon ads and check those, then do Facebook, then emails etc without even having to think too hard about it. Decision fatigue is a thing so try to make your life as easy as possible with routines.
7. Marie Kondo your author life.
Say thanks and get rid of the extra stuff. I don't Twitter and rarely Instagram. I Pinterest purely for fun. It can be so tempting to try to do everything but at the end of the day, the most important thing you can do is write. Facebook is STILL the highest used social media, even amongst younger people, so take a look at where your focus truly needs to be and refine it.
8. List everything.
This can seem a bit much, especially for those who love to get their to do lists checked off. *Waves* but sometimes there's too much rattling around in your brain. Chores, promo, book ideas...it all adds up. Divide your to do list (I use my iPhone reminders that allows you to have multiple lists) into sections i.e. To Do (Urgent things), House, Marketing, Ideas, even a Long Term section etc. Then list EVERYTHING that is in your brain. Download it all onto these lists. Your next step is to prioritize. If you've done a written list, you might need to do a rewrite. I use my phone to swap the order around. Stuff at the bottom can be ignored for now. Just focus on the top few things.
9. Picture big.
What do you want out of your career? Fame? Fortune? Lots of reviews? Figure out what it is and tell yourself you are that. Maybe it is NYT Bestselling Author. Maybe it's six figures a year. Maybe its to be strong, sexy, and a bestselling author ;) Whatever it is, picture it and tell yourself you're there. Keep repeating over and over. Your new mantra will help you start the day in the best way possible.
10. Keep your head down. But sometimes come up.
This ties in a little with Marie Kondoing your author commitments. It can be hard to continue on when you see people doing amazing in their careers all around you. Even when you're happy for other authors, when you're in a slump, it can be painful to see. Consider removing Facebook or whatever your social media addiction is from your phone and really limiting your social media use to a brief while from your computer. We all know social media is a polished version of our lives but it can be hard to remember that when you're struggling. But DO reach out to your author friends and do be open about your struggles with those you trust--just consider keeping your circle small and positive.
I hope these tips help you defeat those burnout demons. Remember, it is totally normal and extremely common in a high-pressure industry where YOU are single-handedly running a business. It takes time but be kind to yourself. You will get where you want to be, I promise.
Samantha Holt is a USA Today Bestselling author of historical romance and runs Book Wizz with her handy team of helpers. If you want more help with your author life, she offers online sessions and coaching. You can find her on Facebook and her website.