This is one writer’s journey to finding joy in writing again.
It reflects my experience and goes through some of my struggles, and my hope with this blog as a whole is that it’s going to be a springing board to increased accountability and creativity.
But most importantly, I hope that this beginning of it will be useful to anyone going through the same thing, even if you’re not a writer and just struggling with burnout or loss. And don’t we all know these things at some point in life, in some shape or form?
There are times when your creative pursuits hit the rock bottom of your list of priorities, and for me that period had its soft launch in 2018 and an epic finale in 2020.
In 2018, I’d gotten a job that required me to write 10,000 words of specialized content every week. (If you need some context, writing that much is the equivalent of finishing a novel every five weeks.)
And 2020 was a triple shitshow of the pandemic, burning out and having to quit said job, and losing my mother to cancer.
Some days, I could barely get out of bed, despite having nightmares that didn’t let me sleep. Other days, I felt like I could sleep for 20 hours and spend my waking hours crying. I had the support of my remaining family, my husband, had a good structure around me, had a therapist during the first phase of my burnout that helped me delay the worst, but the worst did come: I could barely take care of myself, let alone write.
Now we’re in 2022, and I have recently self-published my first book (which I’d started in 2020 as a form of escape). I feel the fire to write again—and this is how I got there.
Letting Go of What No Longer Serves You
People often use the advice to “let go of what no longer serves you” in the context of getting rid of bad habits and toxic people, and this is fine.
In my opinion, though, it should also be applied to more fundamental things in life, such as quitting that job that is burning you out. But let me explain and dig deeper.
When I started the writing job back in 2018, I tried to convince myself for a while that I could still keep up with my own writing. Of course, the job was the priority, and so I found myself day in and day out too exhausted to be creative by the time I’d finished my work tasks. At most, I could tackle the admin side of setting up an author career, or studying craft/publishing. But if this was the only issue, I wouldn’t have had to quit—after all, every day job gets too time-consuming sometimes for us to keep up with our creative pursuits.
No, the issue was in how it impacted my overall quality of life, outside of my writing.
In the beginning, I thought the workload was manageable, but barely. However, within 6 months, I started to struggle, both with the output and my self-care. I had no time for any sort of physical activity. I had no time to cook, and I resorted to takeout, which made me feel like crap in more ways than one. I didn’t have time to read, even on the weekends, because I often had to use my weekends to catch up with unfinished tasks, or tackle the edits if the clients asked for them, or try to do some research in advance for the next week, etc.
My work-life balance got dangerously off very quickly. And then we got to the red flags.
I didn’t get a day off to attend my grandmother’s funeral, so the day after losing her, I spent the entire night writing the articles for the next day so I could be there for my family.
Work filled out my waking hours, up to the point where I had no time or energy for myself or the people I love.
My anxiety, which had been manageable most of my life, ramped up to the levels where I’d gone a week without sleep at one point, and I had to start seeing a therapist just to become able to function.
And this is where you either quit, or your body forces you to.
Facing the Music
For me, it was the latter. During my exhausted haze one morning, I’d hit my head, ended up with a mild concussion—and was given an option: either come back to work in a week, or be fired.
As desperate I was to keep the job because I was the only one with steady income in my family, I’d actually tried to work after a week, which had been all my remaining time off. But the brain fog and headaches weren’t going to let me, and I was forced to quit at the end of 2019, after giving that stupid job my all for almost two years.
Losing it seemed like a disaster when it happened, and we did have a few very lean, difficult months. We’d had maybe a month’s worth of savings that I had begun to put away because I think I sensed I couldn’t hold out for much longer. And we struggled for sure. My husband quit pursuing his passion and moved mountains to find a more reliable job for himself, since I wasn’t capable of working, but it took months for him to build up to an income where we didn’t have to scrounge and go without. The hardest hit was not being able to afford therapy anymore, which I felt was one of the only things that kept me functioning.
But do you want to know what my only regret is now?
It isn’t failing to stick it out, or even getting hurt.
No, it’s not having the courage to quit sooner, to look for an alternative before I was forced to by a brutal reality check. We all know when we’re emptying the tank more than we’re filling it, but we convince ourselves we have a reason to stay in an impossible situation.
I, too, kept telling myself that I had to stick it out, that we’d be in big trouble if I lost the job or even if I found one that paid less, that I could do it as long as I had or did XYZ…but the truth was, I was wrong. And I’d gotten myself to the point where bouncing back would take much longer than it needed to. That was the hardest pill to swallow—that is, until 2020 started.
Dealing with Burnout and Grief
While I was still trying to recover from burnout, two major things happened almost simultaneously: the pandemic hit, and my mom was diagnosed with cancer.
We lost her a month after her diagnosis.
To say it was a painful shock would be an understatement. If you’ve ever experienced a sudden loss, you know how that felt. It was all compounded by the lockdowns, the fear, my burnout, my own pain and anger at the never-ending clusterfuck my life seemed to have turned into. That period is still incredibly hard to write about, except through stories.
But one positive thing can come from devastating loss: it puts things into perspective.
Throughout the years where I struggled with my job, I was still trying to write, to plot the series I’m working on, to line things up: get covers, author website, social media, etc. But it came with a lot of pressure to be a “success”, to make sure the investment would pay off from the start, to get it right the first time. I’d taken courses, studied craft, did everything I could, even though I wasn’t putting any new words on the page.
The expectations I’d had were paralyzing me even more than my burnout was.
And after everything that had happened, I needed to take a step back and give myself some time and grace.
I expected nothing.
Slowly, I started writing again—first to escape my grief, and then to process it. It was very sporadic, very difficult when I tried to make it a regular thing, but on the rare occasions when I did need an outlet, the floodgates would open.
I tried some different things: a couple of short story/flash fiction contests, plotting a story that would become Halfblood’s Destiny, and critiquing stories on Scribophile. To my shock, I had fun and managed to reach the final of one of the contests, I finished Halfblood’s Destiny without the need to rewrite it to perfection, and the critiques got me a line editing job which is a lot less demanding yet a lot more rewarding than my previous job.
After letting go of my expectations and putting my well-being first, things started to look up.
Finding Your New Normal
It’s two years later now, and I’m in a much better place. In fact, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I’ve even been holding myself back a little lately (more on that later). This is a good realization, because I can figure out how to shape my new normal further, but for a long time, it was all about taking things one day at a time.
Some of the concrete things that helped me reach this new normal are:
- Making sure not to overbook—since I started editing, I take on one project at a time or at least make sure there is minimal overlap between the two. This impacts my earnings, but it’s done a world of difference for my energy levels as well as the quality of my life and work.
- Having a journal and a weekly planner—I tried so many ways to keep my life and work organized and finally settled on journaling every morning to organize my thoughts and then putting the tasks into the planner for quick reference. Right now I’m just refining the system and building a routine around it.
- Thinking of self-care as essential—and by self-care, I don’t mean having downtime to pamper myself, watch a favorite show, or have sweets (I’ve come across those “essential” tips far too many times). Rather, it’s taking the time to exercise, to sort out my sleep schedule, and to cook my own meals. I’m an introvert, so on the rare occasion I need social contact beyond my immediate little bubble, that goes on the self-care list too.
- Practicing good mental health habits I learned in therapy—REBT, which is a type of therapy similar to CBT, provided me with lots of tools to challenge my thinking and the emotional reactions that resulted from certain thinking patterns. I use those tools almost daily to manage my anxiety and fight procrastination and perfectionism which I’m prone to.
We come at last to the reason why I’m starting this blog.
Last week, I joined the 5-day Author Career Challenge by Six Figure Author Coach Rebecca Hamilton, whose courses I’ve taken in the past. The challenge helped to set me on track again, not only through its tasks, but through the accountability aspect of it. Just knowing that I had to post my insights and results every day and share them with the class made me realize that this sort of accountability is something I’m capable of thriving on again.
I’d been avoiding any deadlines, any expectations, any real accountability and goal-setting for almost two years, because I was sure I would fail. And for the better part of those two years, I probably would have. I wasn’t ready.
But I may have held myself back a little too long—this challenge has shown me that.
So, I’m starting a new one for myself, now that I’ve finally kickstarted my author career: 52 weeks of accountability.
I would like to do a weekly post detailing what I’ve been up to, how much I’ve written, and taking stock of my progress. Once a month leaves me too much wiggle room to not be consistent, once a day would be too time-consuming, so I’m settling on a weekly post.
This would be week one, so the challenge will end on May 28 2023. If any fellow writers would like to join, by all means, write along and let me know! Let’s see where we are a year from now if we give it our best shot.
After all, that’s all anyone can do—their best.