Friday, August 30, 2013

Should You Diversify Your Writing to Avoid Burnout?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

For the last several months I've been working on my writing book, and I've noticed something interesting. After spending hours every day writing about writing, it's extremely hard to write a blog post about writing. That's one reason I've had more guest authors and updated posts from the archives the last month.

My brain is stuffed full of writing and the last thing I want to do is more writing about writing. I've been wanting to write fiction just for the break. Which is really weird since when I'm deep in a novel draft I write blog posts to take a break. So I guess whatever I immerse myself in is what I tire of.

It made me wonder if I was alone or if this is a side effect of creativity.

I've also noticed that while I'm not writing fiction, it's harder to think up topics for the blog. Most of my post have come from me seeing something in how I write. No fiction = no topics to blog about. Ideas have gotten harder, not easier, though my focus is all writing all the time right now.

There are a lot of pros and cons about authors blogging, or writing in different genres or for different markets. The last several months have made it very clear to me that writing exclusively in one area is a fast track to burn out.

I got more done when I wrote in different formats and about different topics. I had more creativity and was more excited about writing in general. Ideas flowed freely and there always something I wanted to write about.

Right now? Not so much. I crave the variety, even though I know I need to buckle down a little longer and get this book done.

Of course, there's also the downside of engaging in a lot of projects. When I tried to do too many things I never got anything done, so there's certainly a line where it goes from beneficial variety to too much to handle. Having been on both sides now, I think it'll be easier for me to see where that line is and understand how to make the most of my writing overall.

I'm almost done with my writing book, and I'm looking forward to getting back to fiction, and finding that balance in my writing.

What do you think? Is diversifying your writing a good thing or something to avoid?


  1. I think I naturally gravitate towards diversity. Now that I've finished drafting the final book of my trilogy, it would probably seem easy to start another adult urban fantasy series to follow it, but despite having several suitable ideas, I found myself drawn to YA steampunk instead.

  2. I write either poetry or shorts when I need a change from novel writing.

  3. I usually only stick to one project. I can see how you wouldn't want to write about writing while you're hard at work on your book. And you have so many fantastic prior posts that you can remind us of and maybe refresh.

  4. Paul, very cool. The fiction ideas I've been drawn too are also different from my trilogy. I think my natural instincts are to do the same thing (which I am currently ignoring, bad me).

    Boddaert, that's a nice switch. Totally different skills sets.

    Natalie, aw, thanks! I like one project at a time for the bulk of my writing, but I'm seeing a limit on how long I can work on one thing without a break.

  5. I've definitely been in that burnout stage, but over the years, I've found that the burnout was more due to me having lost the passion for what I was working on (and that maybe the passion for it was simply unsustainable because it wasn't that great an idea to begin with ;)), than it was because I was craving variety.

    When I'm working on something I truly love, I find I actually get tunnel vision and can't let in anything else. Other ideas may come to me in that time, but I just can't seem to give them any kind of consideration because I feel as though I'm cheating on my true love ;).

    So for me, I think it's best to work on one thing at a time. Once I'm done with one thing, I'm ready to be open to the next thing and give that my 100%.

  6. I'm with you, Janice, in that most of my blog post ideas come from issues in my own work or in other stories I read. So if I'm cut off from fiction, blogging is harder.

    *waving pompons* Here's to finishing your book soon! :)

  7. Yay for you almost finishing your book! I struggle with blog posts when my writing or submission become stagnant. When there's forward motion, I have so much to say. BUT...I definitely burn out quickly if I focus too much on one thing. I'm like the dog in UP. "Squirrel!"

  8. Hi Janice
    Nice post, thanks
    I haven't given much thought to this. I've always struggled to write non-fiction, which is why my blog is mostly short stories now :)
    I think I naturally diversify to an extent, either through genre or length of what I'm working on.
    What I have found works well is setting different challenges to what I'm creating, so for example if I'm 100,000 words into a fantasy novel, breaking for a week and creating something with a strict work limit and cliffhangers every 500 words say, can be invigorating and get me re-energised for the novel.
    Congrats on nearly finished the book, good luck :)

  9. I have seen two well known series recently slump and I think it is for this very reason. I write mysteries but recently started something new because 1) the idea wouldn't leave me alone and 2) it will force me to stretch writing muscles. So yes, I agree with you here, that this is a side effect of creativity (all creativity), and one writers should monitor themselves for. Especially writers of fiction. Great post.

  10. Yes! Having a burnout period here. If I work on blogging, I don't feel like writing anything else for the day. The book gets top priority, but then blogging falls to the wayside.

  11. I started out writing just fiction, one project at a time. When we moved aboard the boat, I started a blog about our adventures, which went from being a way to keep the family back home involved to a more serious thing when I got picked up by a sailing magazine and sratted writing articles. I've liked having both projects to work on - my fiction and my non-fiction, because I'm almost always in the mood for one or the other. I try to keep a balance between the two (although professional commitments have to take priority.)

    I think this falls into the category of: "a change is as good as a rest."

  12. I tend to alternate working on short stories and novels. I think short stories can be especially nice for avoiding writing burnout (by which I mean, it works for me, YMMV). Short stories let me play around with different genres, settings, voices, etc. without without dedicating months and years to a project. Then I can dive back into the next big novel draft.

    Great post, as always. Thanks! :)

  13. I wholly believe that keeping your writing focus too narrow for too long can burn you out. In fact, that is what drove me to start writing fiction in the first place. Ages upon ages of business copywriting had completely sapped my creative energy. I just could not do one more business piece, so I decided to go in the complete opposite direction. Writing fiction was the break I needed. Now I find I have more energy for both types of writing.

    Janice, your struggle makes me think of Robyn Hood Black and her haiku. Maybe you could integrate something like that into your work days to break up the monotony.

  14. Janice, when will your writing book be for sale?
    Can't wait to get a copy. :-)

  15. I used to work on multiple projects and found it hard to fully concentrate on any one of them. Now I work on only one, but now I find I'm getting bored with working on just one thing. arrrrggh!

  16. Diversify! I experience my worst "writer's block" when I am focused on only one type of writing. I have always gotten advice from seasoned writers that I need to buckle down and only do one style of writing at one time. Thanks for sharing!

  17. I write a first person account about being a crime scene photographer. I also write fiction. When I'm stuck I get up and do some exercise, that will always work to bust the creative log jamb.
    When I need to be purely creative I put myself into a boring no frills no distraction part of the home office. My ADD will look for something to do, I give it one choice, write or suffer. It starts writing... :)

  18. As a student, I needed to master the craft of scientific writing. I hated it. It was a slow and laboured process, and demolished my faith in my ability to write creatively.

    It took a while to get my creative writing mojo back (I mean, years!)

    If I spend the day writing professional reports (not experimental science, thank goodness) my eyes will water at the prospect of more screen time.

    So it's one type of writing at a time for moi.

    By the way, I'm delighted you're writing a book about writing and wonder why it's taken you so long to use your considerable skill in this way.

  19. For me, I switch between poetry and fiction...and between different fantasy stories. But I've found lately that editing other people's work is as much a creative switch for me as my own writing, so that's been cool.

    A writing book! So THAT'S your big project! How delightful to hear!

  20. Thanks all. I've taken short blog breaks before, but this is the first time I've really had to step back (even comments had to wait, yikes!) It's been rough, but a good learning experience. Now I know that doing both actually helps me. That'll make it a lot easier in the future.

    Jami, thanks for the pompom encouragement!

    Dori, that's not a bad idea. Robyn has such great poetry exercises. Might be a nice mini break to get me through the rough spots.

    Tracy, fingers crossed for October. I'll shout it from the rooftops when it's out for sure :)

    Hugh, it's tough to find that balance. Maybe try a small thing to supplement the bigger project? There's got to be a happy medium.

    Jo, thanks. I've always wanted to do the writing books, but I had a hard time figuring out how I wanted to do it. I wanted it to be more than just a series of blog posts in one book, but there's so much I had no clue how to organize it all. Finally came up with a concept I really like and fits the soul of the blog. And it'll lead to some blog changes as well early next year (good stuff!)

    Rachel, thanks! It's been a lot tougher than I expected, but maybe because I keep changing what I want to do, lol.

  21. I've had burnout. In the mid-eighties, I was trying to break into Hollywood, and a well-meaning person said I needed to write a script a week. I literally went from one script right into another. I wrote something like 30-40 scripts, and then my muse dried up for two years. (This is apparently fairly common for screenwriters, by the way).

    Then I burned out a second time, and that took less than six weeks. The army discovered I could write and put me to work writing for the post newspaper -- in addition to my regular army job. I was getting yanked in too many directions and got to the point where I couldn't remember what my last four was. Thankfully, the field came up and put a stake in that.

    But now I'm writing more than I've written before, and I eventually want to write full time. I think the difference is that I control the pacing of my writing. When I did the scripts, the pacing was set by the week deadline, and I launched right into the next script as soon as I was done. I did not stop to take breaks. By breaks, I mean a day or two off. Unfortunately, a lot of "encouragement" for writers sends people on a guilt trip that if they don't produce a certain number of words each day they're not going to be successful. You have to be able to know when you need a break.

    1. One a week? Egads, that seems crazy. I'm a HUGE proponent of not writing every day and finding a schedule that works for you. I'm not an everyday writer and it also burns me out to force it. Breaks are important, and people need to find their own process. If writing all day once a week works for someone, go for it. Nothing wrong with that if it gets them where they want to go.