Burnout… And a New Year

2014, new year, goals, sara walter ellwood, contemporar western romance

Happy 2014!  Hope you all have a health, happy and amazing year….

For the last couple of years, I started the New Year off with a review of the goals I’d set for the previous year and a list of my new goals for the upcoming year. Well, all I’ll say about last year’s goals is… I’m not sure I made any of them. I only wrote one story in 2013, the novella I self-published in late May. But that was the last thing I’ve written. I haven’t done much writing at all for the past six to nine months.

No, this year I’m not bragging about all I’ve accomplished. I’m not even going to reflect on what I haven’t. Instead, I’m going to talk about my experience with what I’m discovering a lot of authors experience—burnout. According to May Clinic, burnout, is “a special type of job stress—a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.”

In January 2013, I started the year on an all-time high. I’d contracted my second paranormal and three westerns within months of each other in the early part of 2012, then in the latter part of the year, my two paranormals were published. January 2013 saw the release of my first western, then in April, my second was released. During this time, in the midst of promotion, blog tours and the like, I completed edits on the third western, which was released two months early in July. In late May, I’d released the self-published novella. But by July, disillusionment, disappointment and uncertainty had begun to take hold of me.

Sales of all the previous novels and my novella were dismal at best. The constant promotion never seemed to increase my sales and never seemed to cease. I’d paid for some advertising of my second western, Heartstrings, and sales of it were better for it (ever so slightly), but by the time July rolled around and the release of the third western came about, I didn’t have the money to throw at the book. I was caught up in the government sequestration and was totally unsure how and when it would affect me. Turned out I lost six days of pay in July-August and was caught in the government shutdown in October, which didn’t do anything for my stress levels.

Aside from the stress, concerning the day job and the constant promotion with limited time for writing, real and crippling doubt had gripped me. I began asking myself what makes me think I can write anything anyone would want to read? Obviously, no one does, so why do all this hated work (like constant blogging, promotion) if no one cares anyway?

So, I started feeling the physical part of burnout. I’d come home from a stressful day at work to sit at my computer and instead of feeling instantly relaxed and lost in my story, I’d feel tense to the point of back pain, headache and utterly sick at the thought of having to put words up on the screen. I began to hate the one thing I used to love. I found myself pulling away from my blog, Yahoo Groups, even Facebook. I even considered dropping out of the RWA this coming year, which would mean leaving my beloved local chapter. I still don’t post much anywhere, but I refused to let myself leave the RWA.

The worst was and is the total lack of pride I now feel in what I have accomplished. My books were once like my babies. I’d talked to total strangers about being a writer and my books and trying to get published. Now I never mention that I’m even a published author and am embarrassed instead of feeling proud when someone asks me about my books, usually by asking that terrible, awful question: “How are your books doing?” God, I HATE that question. It only makes my felling of failure more poignant. The fact that most authors aren’t selling tons of books doesn’t help sooth my battered psyche either. It only brings me back to that perpetual question: Why am I doing this?

I took a much needed break from writing for the past three to five months. I dabble from now and again, but I really haven’t written anything. I wouldn’t call a hundred words of a new story writing. I went back to working on an old Star Wars fan fiction I’d written in 2006 and am rewriting/re-editing it, more for the need to still be creative, but unlike original fiction, fan fiction is totally for fun—no pressure and no expectations from me or my readers. It has become a type of therapy, now that I think about it. I wrote that story, which won a fan voted award in 2006 on The Force . Net forum boards—one of my proudest moments as a writer, long before I knew anything about writing. Now as I’m turning my passive voice, excessive descriptions, chunky/wonky sentences into something better, it’s showing me just how far I HAVE come.

At home, I’ve learned to relax doing other things other than writing. My burnout even affected my ability to read… I was beginning to hate reading for the most unpleasant reasons—jealously and resentment. So, I turned to watching movies and TV. I also picked up a hobby I haven’t done in at least ten to fifteen years—crocheting. I like to do it while watching TV, and recently listening to books. Crocheting also allows me to drift on my thoughts—where I can hopefully come up with a new story. I have some ideas, still nothing concrete, but I’m getting antsy to start something new, which I’m taking as a very good sign.

So for 2014, all I hope to accomplish is to continue to heal. Remove myself far enough from the feelings of doubt and failure and the crippling fear that has been preventing me from writing. With the fantastic news that broke yesterday that Lyrical Press has be acquired by Kensington as a digital first imprint, I’m thinking about finishing one of the two westerns I was working on before the burnout got too bad. Or maybe the paranormal that’s been forming in my mind as I crochet granny squares for the afghan I’m making my daughter.

Somewhere someone had told me that there would come a day when I would wish for the days before publication. I didn’t believe them; in fact, I laughed and said that would never happen. Well, I’m afraid it has to me. I sometimes wonder if I published too soon. Maybe I really wasn’t ready. Maybe I should have worked harder at perfecting my books more, learned more about the industry and submitted wider and farther than I had. Or maybe I just published too fast–contracting five books in less than a year’s time. Who knows? But I will say this, those pesky rejection letters and the chocolate-binging disappointment that followed them was an Hawaiian vacation compared to the bone-chilling doubt and depression of burnout I’ve been feeling for the past half year. At least rejections teach us something; burnout just robs us of all joy and hope and teaches us nothing.

Have any of you felt this way? And how did you overcome it?


  1. gemmabrocato says:

    Good heavens, Sara. What an excellent, well thought-out post. I think the thing about writers is that our jobs are very solitary. We know that others experience the same type of anxiety and angst we are going through, but there’s really no one to share it with in the direst moments. People who go to an office everyday get to talk to their co-workers about the pressure of the job. Who do we talk to? Fortunately, it only takes the smallest spark to motivate us. A chance comment you overhear, a sentence you read in the newspaper (or a wine label) can lead to a creative spring.
    I’m glad your sticking with it, and finding you way back to something you love and are great at. Best of luck in 2014

  2. I feel your pain, Sara. I was there this year as well. I’m still in the process of pulling myself out. I have an agent, which is good, but my books are getting turned down left and right. I got a big contract, but they don’t want anymore until they see how my sales are doing. I’ve spoken to self published authors who are selling circles around me. The sales for my current books have taken a nosedive. I’ve sat down and asked myself that very question every single day. Why am I doing this? I’ve thought of giving up. Thought surely I must have no talent, because nobody seems to want what I write. I’ve even told my critique partner, who’s not yet published, to enjoy her writing time now. I’ve even told my agent I feel like a failure for her. I’ve really reached that point. All this self promo and the pressure of the business is crushing me, too. I’ve often wondered if I’m just not cut out for this.

    I don’t have any wise words about how to pull yourself out of it. I started writing something I’d always wanted to write but never thought I could. It began as a challenge to myself. I was honestly fed up. I don’t even read much these days, because even that feels like a chore.

    So, I’m finding a bit of freedom and joy in writing this new stuff, because it’s new, but I’m also not allowing the doubts to enter into this one. I’m writing these for me and completely letting myself go when I write. I’m trying to have faith. It’s honestly all I’ve got. I like the stuff the I write. It’s what I prefer to read, so I’m trying to have faith that somewhere out there are readers who want to read it and maybe if I keep trying, I’ll find them.

    Anyway, your post hit home for me. I’m not sure if this helps or not, but I just wanted you to know you aren’t alone. Hang in there. ❤

  3. D'Ann says:

    I’m suffering the same thing right now. I just cannot seem to force myself to do what I once loved more than breathing. I think the Kensington thing will help you. You’re a great writer, don’t doubt that…sales are dismal everywhere.

  4. I’m struggling too. One thing that rang a bell for me this week was a post Vonnie Davis wrote on the Chick Swagger blog about depression among creative people. It was titled, ‘It’s okay to be odd’. If you haven’t read it, check it out..

  5. DeNise says:

    I think you are healing in the best way. Take some time to re-fill the well-take yourself on a date, to a museum/gallery/waterpark or just a walk. What ever it takes for as long as it takes to refresh. We do tend to become overwhelmed by the to-do lists we are given when we start to publish. Regroup with your own list of manageable tasks-writing being the first on the list. Good luck with your 2014.

  6. Brenda D says:

    Sara, I’m going through the exact same thing. I can barely drag myself to work on my current novel. The desire is gone. My sales are in the toilet–they have never been good. I ask myself every damn day why I’m punishing myself. But I don’t want to quit just yet. I’ve come so far.

    Anyway, I have decided to keep plugging away at it. I’m self pubbed so I have no one to answer to. I’ll finish my current project at my own pace. I don’t have fans awaiting my next book. I have the freedom to do as I please. I’ve stopped trying to compete with other authors. I’ve stopped listening to all the hype about what makes an author successful. I tried the constant promoting, blogging, etc, etc, and it didn’t work for me. So I have decided to continue writing my series, and when it is done, then I will promote. I am doing things MY way, and I am much happier now–and the stress has melted away.
    Good luck to you. I hope this year brings you much happiness and success.

  7. Cd Brennan says:

    Sarah, I loved this post for its honesty and truth. I’m almost to your point at the moment. Between my two young boys (one 2-year old and one special needs 5-year old), financial insecurity and my job, I barely have time to pee or take a shower most days. I’m so exhausted by the time I tuck them into sleep, I have no creativity left. I’m not sure my burn-out is from my writing though, or from the promotion and always being at this bloody computer every minute I can steal. I’m ready to kick it all to the feckin’ curb. But then I have moments of hope, and moments where I know my writing and my friendships online keep me sane sometimes. I don’t doubt my ability as a writer, but I do doubt the publishing market and its oversaturation and to say everyone is a writer these days, doesn’t seem far from the truth. Where before there was such prestige to the word “author”, now everyone and their brother is doing it (including my entire writing circle, all self-pubbing), so what does it mean to me? Not an income, that’s for certain. But the storyteller in me will always be there, so I’m not going to fight it or force it, and this year I’m going to step away from the computer more often. I feel bad if I don’t get around and comment on everyone’s posts, but ya know? My kids need me and I need me to be healthy and happy. So, this may be my last one for awhile – who knows? :-). Not that I don’t love my colleagues, but because, like you, I feel like I am being sucked into a hole that I don’t enjoy being in. We’ll see what happens with the Kensington move. It may be what we need in the end to motivate us once again, to believe that there is worth in what we do, to believe that our time is not wasted, to believe that what we do will touch someone, somewhere. Hang in there. xo

  8. You’re not alone. I’ve been where you are and it’s not a fun or pretty place. Just know that the reason you began writing will come back to you. I took part in NaNoWriMo this past November. Not because I needed to write a book, but because I needed to rediscover my love of writing and why I do this to myself over and over. It worked for me. Sitting down and writing a story with no plot in mind, just mindlessly writing, helped me get back to my writing roots. I’m in love all over again. I’m not saying join NaNo (it’s in November so you’re a little late), but I am saying that going back to your writing roots might help. I think you’re doing that with your fan fiction. And remember, everyone needs a break. Everyone needs a vacation. Don’t feel guilty. And if you need to vent or talk, I’m always here.

  9. Taking a break from any job is a necessity! You’re working two jobs – your government post and writing, correct? And you take regular days off from your day job, right? So why beat yourself up over a short vacation from writing? There are some writers who publish just once every ten years! And many, many writers who never finish one book much less multiple stories – all published. One of my favorite quotes is “If you are going to doubt something, doubt your limits.” Don’t let fear get you down!

  10. Kylie Wolfe says:

    Your post really struck a cord with me. I have been struggling for months with many of the things you mentioned and beating myself up over it. Every time I sat at the computer I would find excuses NOT to write. It all was suddenly too hard and I think that is what scared me the most. Like many who have posted here, job insecurities, money issues, poor sales and the fact I hate promo nibbled away at my self-confidence until I hardly recognized myself. The joy in writing was no where to be found. I am slowly pulling myself out of the abyss and thinking about my next story. Hang in there, Sara! We will get through this 🙂

  11. lizaoconnorl says:

    Sara, I think most writers will understand your feelings. I was ready to quit during my first year. While I loved to write, there was NOTHING I liked about publishing. So I gave myself a 3 year ‘you can’t quit before 3 years are over’ deadline. With a limited time span to endure, I committed myself to try really hard. And never have I ever worked so hard.at something in my life or been so poorly paid for my efforts or treated so badly by ‘my bosses’..

    For me I’ve discovered Inde-publishing gives me the space to market better, so my self-published books sell better and I make more, but It’s not what I would call an income. In fact I’m pretty sure I still spend more than I make.

    So here’s my new attitude: I will publish, at my pleasure. Which means I intend to publish 4 books a year. No more. That should give me time to promote and market them, and have time to hike with my dog and make book covers. .

    Right now, I’m actually enjoying my 17 hour work days. Do I write as many novels as I used to. Not even close.

    But here’s the thing .

    This is my life. I have the right to do whatever is necessary to love my life.

    Publishing ranks far below Life enjoyment.
    My resolution for 2014 is to never lose that priority again.

    It’s no longer a question of publishing or not publishing, it’s about enjoying life.

  12. Brenda D says:

    Liza, you are so right! I have allowed “publishing” and all the crap that comes with it, to bring me so low. No more. Writing, publishing, etc, etc, isn’t my life! Me, and the people I love are my life. Writing is something I do–did–because I enjoyed it–but I have lost that enjoyment. My enjoyment turned to resentment. But I am slowing turning that around. Like I said in my reply above, I’m doing things my way.

  13. Stacy McKitrick says:

    I have you to thank for bringing Lyrical Press to my attention (THANK YOU!!) and I’m sorry you’re having such difficulties now (I had wondered what happened to you, since you used to comment on the loops).

    Burnout is a fear of mine, too. I burned out in accounting, but then I wasn’t really passionate about that job. Not like I am with writing (which was probably the catalyst for my accounting burnout-haha!). Still, I’m always afraid I’ll overdue it and cause myself undue stress. So, I try to take it one day at a time and just look at the positives (I got a review-yay! I got a new follower-yay! I wrote that day-double yay!). Looking at the negatives will only depress me.

    Yes, writing is a solitary job and I also kick myself more often than I should (we’re always harder on ourselves than we are to anyone else!). What I needed was someone to actually talk to, someone whose eyes didn’t glaze over when I talked about romance novels (i.e. my husband), so I joined a book club. One that actually meets in person. It’s nice to just talk to other people about books and other life issues. It’s sort of a recharge for me and I can talk about what I love. Because it’s my love of reading that prompted me to actually write my own books.

    You’re on your way to getting better. Just telling us all about it was a huge step. We’re here for you!

  14. Kelly Wolf says:

    Oh, Sara- thank you for this post! I’ve spent the last year going through exactly the same thing. Fear- it’s my biggest enemy when it comes to writing. Thankfully, I have another writer living with me and she’s been so helpful in working me through some of my doubts and fears.
    One thing I want to point out: 100-words is still writing. It’s a start. It will lead to a finish. That’s actually what my support system suggested I do to get past this block I’d self-imposed!
    There’s no timeline when you write for the joy of writing. That’s my goal for the New Year- finding the joy and keeping it! I hope you can find it, too. If you come across anything that works for you, please share. We can all use help in this area- you’re just one of the brave few who will talk about it!!!

  15. Wow! Thank you all for sharing so many personal stories. You guys had me almost in tears by the time I’ve read the last one (I even got some personal emails today). It truly does make me feel better knowing I’m not alone in how I feel. When you’re down like this, it can seem like you are all alone. It also gives me hope that we will work through all of the doubt and disappointment.

    I’ve wanted to write this article for a few weeks now, but each time I thought about putting my feelings to words, I’d find an excuse not to write. But last night as I wrote this, it seemed to flow out of me almost like I had to get the words out. I think admitting and looking at what I was feeling and the whys for them is all part of the healling process. If you know why you are feeling a certain way and recognize, not only the cause of the feeling, but determine if the reason for the feeling is real or only in your head, it’s easier to move past it.

    After all, it’s easier to slay a dragon when you discover it’s just a housefly.

    May peace and success bless you all this coming year!!!!

  16. Heather Heyford says:

    Sara, it took a ton of courage to write this blog and I applaud you for that.
    I’ve noticed that you and some of the people who’ve responded here are writing in an environment in which they’re already saddled with a boat load of responsibilities. Young kids. Full time jobs. BOTH?!?!? I wonder if you all recognize how super-human a task it is that you’ve set out for yourself. Most people would never even have the balls/ambition/intelligence/talent to attempt what you’re doing, let alone punish themselves for not being ‘successful enough.’ You are all amazing, in my book!
    As someone who only started writing seriously when the nest was empty, I encourage you to take heart. Those of you with kids at home have years ahead of you in which to pursue your dreams. Most of us are not ‘Martha;’ we need more than 4 hours of sleep per night.
    Furthermore, the well of experiences gets deeper, richer with time. We become wiser, more patient, and hopefully, kinder to ourselves.
    That said, I am sitting in the chair you were in a year ago: facing the prospect of handling a multiple book contract. And though I’m fortunate enough at this stage of my life to finally have the time and space in which to write, I have taken your warning very seriously. Thanks again to all who chimed in.

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