32) The Differences Between Writer's Block and Burnout

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It's a bit ironic that this is the subject for today's section. After all, I'm supposed to be updating every three days or so, but it's been more than two weeks.

I wish I could say that it's a case of me just being lazy, but no. Truth be told is that work and life was a bit hard on me two weeks ago. It was so hard on me emotionally that I had a hard time with stringing any sort of written sentence together.

So I pretty much took time out from writing and the Internet so I could recover faster.

Needless to say, then this is actually a fitting section for me to start with in my return to a regular writing and posting schedule.

When it comes to things writers should know about writing, the difference between writer's block and writer's burnout is a big one. The main reason: you don't get rid of them in the same way.

In fact, we can't even give a one side fits all solution to writer's block simply because the cause dictates the solution.

For the sake of simplicity, let's start by looking the difference between writer's block and burnout before looking into the solutions.

How to Tell if You Have Writer's Block or Burnout:

Writer's block tends to be localized to a single project.

In other words: You might be struggling to push forward with a specific story you're writing, but you have no issues with writing if you were to write something else (E.G. another project or a blog post.)

If it's not localized to a specific project, it's localized to a specific style.

So you might not be able to work on any of your fiction projects, but have no problem with poetry or non-fiction.


Basically, burnout is writer's block on steroids. All your writing gears lock together and, even if you know that the root problem is localized, you can't get your writing back into its usual ebb and flow. And you won't be able to write anything.

The underlying causes differ, or differ in size of the impact.

The main cause for burnout is exhaustion. This can be because you hit the zone and had a spurt of immense creativity that drained you. Or school's made you tired. Or you've been going through a rough patch emotionally (which is the cause for my absence). It can also be when something that should have caused mere writer's block becomes so big in your mind that it drains you.

"Mere writer's block?" you might ask.

Well, yes. At least in my world. Writer's block is annoying, I know. It slows down projects. And if you only work on one project at a time, you struggle to add to it for weeks on end.

Burnout lasts for months.During which any writing feels like sipping yogurt through a thin straw. I'm serious. During burnout, I can't even write my thoughts into my diary without it being excruciatingly hard to do.

Which hurts. Badly.

In comparison, writer's block is merely the phenomena of your subconscious trying to figure something out about your writing. Yes, really. Looking at it that way, a block doesn't seem all that intimidating now, does it?

"I've been struggling to write lately. What now?"

First things first: Don't. Panic.

I know that the moment it feels like the words aren't coming as it should, that our automatic response is to worry. It doesn't help, though. In fact, panic makes it worse. Panic can in fact add to your distress, which in turn drains your energy, leading to burnout. So take a deep breath.

Next, figure out if it's just a block or burnout. (And hope to all that is holy that it's the former. But remember not to panic.) The actions to find out if it's a block will in fact help you get past the block too.

As I said before, blocks are caused by your subconscious needing to figure something out. Sometimes, this is something like your character kicking in his/her heels because you broke internal logic (see section 24). Or something being off about the motivation. Or a plot hole.

Often, you won't even know exactly why you're experiencing a block.

Other times, your block might be caused by doubts, fears and insecurities. This is especially likely to happen if your story's really close to your heart and you're unsure of whether you can do it justice.

Regardless of which one is the cause, you'll still be able to write. So if you've had a shiny new idea that you've been itching to write, now's the time to write it. If you're worried that you might get so drawn into the new idea that you won't finish the first one, get together a nice list of writing prompts. One for every writing day. And write those.

The idea is that you'll stay productive, while giving yourself the impression that you're just "messing around." It's a trick of the mind that relaxes you, while in fact the things your writing will probably be of value to you later.

Most importantly, your mind's working out its issues as you "mess around". You'll get a solution to your unknown problem without much conscious thought. As for those doubts, fears and insecurities? "Messing around" relaxes you, which gives you the refreshment you need to tackle your main project once more.

If you can't write at all...

Then you're burned out. Don't panic.

No, there's nothing worse than burn out, but panicking can be a difference between a short bout and an interminable one.

What you do do is this:

The moment you discover that you can't write anything else either, stop.

Now, I know some people (because I read their advice before I give my own) say that you need to write through a block, but this isn't a block.

Burnouts happen because our creative well has run dry. Mainly as a result of exhaustion. Pushing yourself harder will only exhaust you more and deplete the what little resources you have left.

Instead, I've found that the best thing to do is to give myself a set amount of time off from writing. My tough time in life and work pulled me down, so I took an intense time-out in the form of no writing and the bare minimum of social media for about ten days. If I didn't feel better today, I would have given myself another week. As it is, I feel okay to write a bit more, but life and work is still kicking my ass. So I'm giving myself a break for the next month where I set a goal to write every weekday, but with no set word count goal. This means that I can potentially write very little without feeling guilty. And in the meantime, I can do crafts, watch t.v., take more walks, read, or whatever else I feel like.

Don't underestimate the power of doing other things. Especially arts and crafts. Changing the way in which you're being creative does wonders to refill that creative well. And the sooner it's refilled, the sooner you can get back to writing.

Give yourself time to feel better.

It's always a temptation to push ourselves too hard, especially when something that's usually easy suddenly becomes hard to do. But I can't stress this enough: If you're burned out, don't try and push through it. That will only lead to a longer recovery time.

Thanks for reading, all! I hope you find this section helpful. If you do, please don't forget to vote and comment.

Speaking of comments, please feel free to ask me questions either about this section or anything else about writing you'd like to know. I'll answer in the comments. If your question inspires me to write a new section, I'll dedicate that section to you.

I'd love more writing questions from you! As you can see, I'm a bit low on section topics at the moment, with only two listed, although I hope to add some as you ask). So please do.

Coming up on 100 Things:

How to Handle Critique

Never Chase the Zone

Introducing Characters (12BluE12)

100 Things You Should Know About Writing (Part 2)Read this story for FREE!