How to Prevent Overheating (or Worse, Burning Out)

You probably love writing. Perhaps it’s not the most entertaining of the activities on God’s green earth, but if you had to choose something to work the 9-5, it would be writing. I know I do. The main difficulty of writers is often motivation: getting yourself to write when you don’t want to.

However, it is possible (but rare) for writers to suffer from burnout or overheating, and I’ll explain the differences in a moment. But they both sprout from the same core problem: you are writing too much.

Is that even possible? Writing too much? I mean, I get taking breaks and all that rot, but is it necessary to actually rein in my hours writing? To stop myself and let all of those creative juices leak out? To cut short a frenzy that I can squeeze another thousand words out of?

The thought would seem preposterous to you. However, I confess that it even seems preposterous to me: I still don’t fully recommend shortening your writing sessions. There is a chance that next day you’ll be burnt out anyway, and you’ll have to start the same road of recovery, only with less work done.

I know, and it sucks. Down any path that you may take: if you burnout, overheat, or cut your writing sessions short, something’s gonna suffer. Whether it’s your word count, your motivation, or your level of satisfaction, one will lack if you cut your writing sessions short. But sometimes you have to pick the lesser of the two evils.

First off: what’s the difference between burnout and overheating? Overheating is writing to the point of exhaustion, and at the end of the day you’re dog-tired. I recommend bed rest for these kinds of cases. After twenty-four hours and a few beers, the patient should be good as new. The worse it stops you from is a day of quality writing.

Burnout, on the other hand, is a much more serious affair. It occurs when you’re overheating yourself and your creative “fuse” lights on fire. It burns away to a crisp. As a result, you’re none the worse for wear in another day or so (as far as working is concerned), but with one thing missing: your motivation. Your instinct to care is gone.

Overheating is just one of those “well, I saw it coming, and now I get to pay the consequences, but I don’t regret it”. It’s like staying up until 2 AM at a party and then feeling crummy the next morning at eight because you stayed up too late. But Burnout’s on a whole other level: it’s like getting drunk and not getting any sleep at all (if that’s even possible). You’re tired, and worse, you have a hangover. Pure misery.

After overheating, you’re more eager to get back into the fight. It was your first (or simply latest) big battle, and part of you is inspired with yourself. However, attempting to write something the day after you wrote for more than four hours in a single sitting can either result in discouragement or burnout. If you choose to overheat, take the next day off. But don’t make a regular habit of it: too many overheatings in succession can easily result in burnout.

Burnout usually only occurs if you’ve written for more than eight to ten hours at a time. To be honest, this is pretty rare, but I’d never underestimate a young writer who’s caught fire. In a “divine frenzy” (as one individual once put it), the writer becomes a veritable genius. He (or she) thinks of things no man (or woman) has ever thought of before, writes things never before seen, makes conclusions or connects dots only a genius would.

However, when the “divine frenzy” is over, you’re in a dull haze. You hardly care about writing or anything having to do with your story. You close the Microsoft Word tab on your web browser because you hate the very thought of continuing to write. Your story becomes a distant memory.

Trying to force yourself out of a burnout can be effective, but often has many disastrous results. Your rough drafts will be terrible, your dialogue boring, and your major plot decisions (if you, poor soul, should happen to come across any while you’re in burnout) will be mercilessly squandered. Eventually you will recover, but not before you’ve done the damage to your story.

You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Try coaxing your fuse back out instead. I recommend I nice, piping hot plate of comfort food that fills you to the brim as you quietly suggest to yourself: “writing’s not all that bad. In fact, not bad at all. Soon, with a little sleep and exercise, I’ll be right back at it. Do finish this pizza first though, won’t you?”

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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