One day you’re a content fountain, with the words are flowing like water — then, over time, writing starts to feel more like work and less like a passionate pursuit.
If stress is constricting your creative flow — or you’re just not “feeling it” anymore — you may be on the verge of freelance burnout. But there’s good news: Once you understand the cause, preventing burnout is fairly straightforward, and you can get your mojo back in no time.
What is writer’s burnout?
Writer’s burnout is a kind of mental exhaustion that prevents you from either enjoying writing or writing at all. For example, instead of eagerly anticipating your next writing job, you may find yourself resenting the work or even your clients. And instead of embracing the challenge of negotiating with your muse to create content, you may just hammer out words for the money.
Freelance burnout can also manifest itself as fatigue. Either while you’re writing or thinking about it, you may feel a sensation akin to physical tiredness, like an acute mental lethargy that makes it hard to get going. Although scientists haven’t pinned down a specific cause, they have some intriguing theories.
Is there a connection between freelance burnout and your physiology?
Interestingly enough, there may be a physiological cause of writer’s burnout. The Human Kinetics Journal explains that mental fatigue like writer’s burnout can be due to the accumulation of a chemical called adenosine in your brain.
Mental exertion naturally results in a boost of cerebral adenosine. This reduces the brain’s ability to release presynaptic neurotransmitters and fire neurons. In other words, mental exertion can make it harder to think.
But also, because your brain does far more than just come up with ideas, mental exertion can make it harder to:
- Control your emotions
- Focus your attention on specific tasks
- Plan activities and organize ideas
- Adjust how you respond to changing circumstances, which is also known as self-regulation
Sound familiar? If so, and scientists are right, your writing process may be producing too much adenosine.
Another hypothesis is that because adenosine can inhibit the release of dopamine—which makes you feel good—mental fatigue can make it harder to enjoy doing stuff that would normally put a smile on your face. Like writing.
Why is writing mentally exhausting?
Writing can be mentally exhausting because producing compelling stories and informative material requires extended periods of intense focus. In addition to coming up with factual, useful information, you have to constantly self-edit, adjusting your tone and voice to fit your target audience and your client’s messaging.
Writing, in many ways, is the antithesis of traditional factory work, where someone has to perform a specific task again and again for long periods of time. As a writer, you not only have to pump out the right words, but you also have to constantly self-evaluate, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each sentence and paragraph.
In a sense, you do the job of the factory worker, the quality assurance person, and the floor manager—all in one and simultaneously. That’s a lot. No wonder it gets tiring. But you can break free from a burnout cycle.
How do you get out of writer burnout?
To reverse freelance burnout, you have to make tangible changes to your process. This may involve a combination of several steps, such as:
- Taking both scheduled and random breaks
- Adjusting how you schedule your writing sessions
- Adjusting how you structure your writing business
Let’s talk about each one in detail.
Taking a break can interrupt the production of adenosine in your brain because you don’t have to hyper focus on your writing — at least for a little while. Don’t know how to step away? Give one of these a shot:
- Exercise for about an hour or so, even if you just go for a stroll.
- Set up three or four vacation days every month, but put them in the middle of the week when you’d normally be writing.
- Set up chill lunch dates with your spouse, a friend, or another professional to give your mind a genuine break.
- Go device-free for an hour or two while stepping away from your computer.
- Watch something silly or super-low-brow on YouTube or Netflix for half an hour — or longer.
Adjust your writing schedule
Adjusting your writing schedule can snap your brain out of a rut that’s been slowly pushing you toward burnout. For example, if you write nonstop for five hours a day, try breaking it up into two 2.5-hour chunks, with an hour-and-a-half break in between.
Or you can dedicate one day a week to tackling several assignments, which can free up another day to dedicate to just chilling out.
Some people feel less stressed when they get their work out of the way early in the day. So you could get up a little earlier, bang out a couple of articles, then take the rest of the day off.
Others do better after a slow, relaxed morning and a nice breakfast. If that’s your style, you may want to try indulging yourself in the early a.m. and not even crack open your computer until 10:30 or so.
Adjusting how you structure your writing business
The business of freelancing can sometimes be hard to manage. As a freelancer, you’re a professional entrepreneur, not an employee. It’s important to remember that the people that hire you do so because they value your skill and organizational abilities. They also understand that you’re a freelancer and have the right to dictate when and how you work.
So it’s OK to say no from time to time, and you can make that a regular part of your business structure. For instance, you can set up a target number of assignments to take on each week, and once you’ve reached that, you can politely decline the next offer. Using this kind of quota-based structure can prevent you from overworking yourself.
Change your production process
Like any creative endeavor, writing involves at least four phases: planning, execution, evaluation, and making changes. If you’re like many writers, you may do all at the same time—or in sequence, one immediately after the next. That can be tiring.
To prevent burnout, you may want to segment your writing workflow into distinct phases. In this way, you scaffold your business operations, similar to what a project manager does for a team of programmers.
For instance, you can try outlining two assignments between 9:00 and 10:00. Then completing a rough draft of each one between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 pm. Then you can take a break until 2:00. After you’ve returned, fresh and ready to rock and roll, you can review each one and make edits.
By changing your system, you give yourself a fresh creative infrastructure, and the change of pace can relieve your stress.
What is the difference between writer’s block and burnout?
Writer’s block is when you just can’t figure out what to write next while writer’s burnout involves mental fatigue that makes it very hard to write. Even though both conditions result in less writing it’s important to see that they’re different, and so are their remedies.
Addressing writer’s block, for example, may not involve taking a break at all. You can search for examples of other content online, watch a video, or reach out to a friend for help. In many cases of burnout, these steps may be ineffective because they don’t give your mind a break or significantly adjust your process.
Combat freelance writer burnout today with ClearVoice
Suffering from writer burnout? Not sure how to get more talent on your content team? With ClearVoice’s team of professional writers, editors, and project managers, you get a support system and tools that make it easier to avoid burnout. Connect with ClearVoice today to learn more.