When Burnout Sets In

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I've been planning to start writing a novel that is burning inside me but my day job gets in the way—and it's not because of time. I get paid to write; I'm a science writer. I do a lot of writing for the Web about vaccines, infectious diseases and things like that, but no fiction. My problem is that when I sit at the computer at home to write a short story or my novel, I feel like I'm back at work--my mind is programmed for nonfiction science writing! I once read a column in WD where a writer advised to have a job that wouldn't steal your creativity. But changing jobs is not an option for me right now. Any suggestions?—Diego Pineda

A: This question comes up a lot—especially in an office filled with editors—so you’re in good company. It can be incredibly hard to motivate yourself when your job and your extracurricular endeavors are nearly one in the same. In fact, I ran into this same problem near the end of last year. Ruling out bathroom breaks and snack machine trips, my workdays consist primarily of three things: writing, editing and reading. By the time I’d get home, I couldn’t look at another word. My mojo was gone and I was officially burnout.

I finally snapped out of my funk, though, by remembering the fundamental reason I entered journalism: I love to read and write. It’s my passion. With that in mind, I started up a blog about becoming a father just for fun. Within one week I had squashed the burnout factor and relit the flame of the writer inside me.

If you really want to write the story, you have to remember that you love writing, too. It’s not a chore; it’s a playground of opportunity. Once you can mentally overcome that hurdle, you’ll be fine.

If you’re having trouble breaking your funk, check out these tips to get you get you going:

1. Try doing a weekly writing prompt. After “too busy” and “too lazy,” the top reason people stall is that they don’t have a place to start. Writing prompts give you a starting point, but allow you the complete freedom in taking any direction you want. Even small bursts of creativity can help push you in the right direction. (We offer free ones: Writer’s Digest Writing Prompts and Challenges)

2. Write an outline for your novel. This isn’t nearly as intense as writing the book, but it creates a roadmap to give you direction. You can jot down ideas on note cards, Post-Its, even napkins, which gives you the flexibility of writing anywhere in the house. Then, gather them all up and add structure. If you can dedicate one night a week to furthering your outline, you’ll be working on your novel in no time.

3. Try the challenge delivered by the folks at NaNoWriMo.org (National Novel Writing Month). Each November, this site encourages you to write 50,000 in 30 days. The site tracks your progress for you and lets you network with others for motivation. Of course, you can apply this principle to any month. And many writers find that a deadline such as this motivates them to get the job done.

4. Join a local writer’s group. People can be your greatest asset when writing. They can share ideas. They can motivate. They can also keep you focused on your overall goal—writing that novel.

Have a question for Brian A. Klems? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.