When burnout threatens, write what you love

I like this post by Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds. This pretty much rings true to me:

Burnout is a kind of creative constipation. You get tired of doing it. The work feels only like work. Clarity seems impossible. The stress outweighs the joy.

You’ll hit it. You might hit it early in your career trying to get published. You might hit it in the middle of your career after all the business baggage has been slung over your shoulders. If you’re me, you might bump up against it again and again with the standard peaks and valleys of the authorial life. I periodically run parallel to burnout like someone running alongside the ocean — if I turn my head just so I can see the shark fins, I can see the rippling lines of a threatening undertow, I can see the SURLY OCTOPUSES OF ENNUI THREATENING TO ENROBE ME IN THEIR TENTACLES AND DROWN ME IN THE BUBBLING DEPTHS OF MY OWN LASSITUDE. …

[At such moments] WWYL, or Write What You Love.

Here’s why: at the end of the day, you got into writing for the same reason I did. TO MAKE MOUNDS OF MONEY SO BIG THEY CAUSE A TECTONIC SHIFT AND THREATEN TO SET THE EARTH OFF ITS AXIS. Wait, no! No. Bad Chuck. Bad. Let’s rewind. You got into writing for the same reason I did: because you fucking love it, that’s why. I don’t necessarily truck with the idea that writers “need” to write, as if they’re a tribe of gibbering addicts, but I damn sure want to. It’s what I wanted to do when I was a kid. It’s what I wanted to do in college and while working dead-end jobs after college and it’s heckadang what I want to do now. But burnout makes you forget that. It knocks you off your center. Writing is work, yes. It’s a job. But it’s not a job like mucking horse stalls or doing data entry. Writing sometimes feels like digging ditches, but you have to remember: it’s you digging ditches in a magical fantasy land that you control.

I often more or less kind of like revising a manuscript, which is good because I sure seem to spend a lot of time doing that. On the other hand, sometimes I really hate it, but it still needs to get done.

I generally more or less enjoy writing, which is excellent, but sometimes I hate it and literally quit in the middle of a sentence if that’s where I make my daily minimum. The best example of this ever was when I typed the words, “Then, at that moment” and stopped because hey, 1500 words, I’m out of here. I’ve practically written entire manuscripts in that frame of mind. (No one seems able to guess which books I felt this way about. Even *I* wind up enjoying the book once it’s done, and can hardly remember feeling that way about it.)

But it is very reassuring, after coming out of something that you sort of liked working on, or that really did not enjoy working on, to hit a project that you can just fall into and the world disappears and you feel a physical jerk at any interruption and you try to work on your manuscript and eat breakfast at the same time and don’t even look at your TBR list and in fact you don’t even take a break for chocolate, not even really good chocolate.

As I say, that is very reassuring. Because it proves you still do want to be a writer, when you might have been entertaining the odd doubt in the back of your mind.

And that happens when you write what you love.

I’ve always thought the advice to write what you know was basically nonsense. In what sense do you “know” about dragons? Have *you* ever carried a terrible ring to Mount Doom? Never engaged on a quest to save the world, so I guess you can’t write about that?

Yeah, it’s a lot better to take the advice to write what you love. Yes, even if that’s a werewolf story, because sometimes writing what you love trumps even considerations of what you probably can or cannot sell. Not necessarily always. But sometimes.

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3 thoughts on “When burnout threatens, write what you love”

  1. I was wondering about this recently. Where do writers draw the line (if there is one)? Do you ever stop and say, “Nope, can’t write this. I just don’t know it well enough,”? Is research sufficient or is experience a must-have? What sorts of things does one work for but not the other?

    Anyway, I know there are probably as many answers as there are writers (and readers! we have our opinions too), so those questions are purely rhetorical.

  2. I’m sure you’re right about the many-writers, many-answers conclusion. I know I’m never personally tempted to write a blow-by-blow account of a swordfight — it never occurs to me to try — because I don’t know enough about that and don’t care enough to find out. But I very carefully researched essentially everything that Lady Tehre said and thought in Land of the Burning Sands because I wanted to get the materials science right. Or right enough.

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