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?