Many authors don’t believe that there is such a thing as “Writer’s Block.” They will gleefully point out that plumbers don’t have plumber’s block, and doctors don’t have doctor’s block. But the truth is that they do have it, but simply call it by other names. They might call it a “midlife crisis,” “stress,” or “burnout.” But it is much the same thing.
This past weekend I watched a documentary about the band the Eagles, which followed from their formation to their breakup a few years later from “burnout.” Now, nearly all successful bands break up after a few years due to the stresses of long hours, physical exhaustion, creative differences that arise as the artists begin chasing their own internal artistic visions, and so on. The same can be seen with actors, dancers, and authors.
One of the most damaging things that a writer can face, quite frankly is success! When you’ve made it big, when you’ve got millions of fans and millions of dollars, a number of things happen.
First, if you don’t have a fiscal need to write, if you don’t have a mortgage looming over your head, you may find that you just don’t feel much incentive to do it. After all, why not take the day off? Or the month, or the decade? That’s what the Eagles did, but I’ve seen major authors do it, too.
Very often, as an author works for long years on the craft, he or she will neglect other aspects of their lives. They might for example neglect to exercise, and then find that they suddenly have health complications that need some urgent care, or perhaps they neglect family or friends, and suddenly find that their relationships go to hell. So they realize that they need to back away from their art in order to restore balance.
The job of being a creative never gets easier. Let’s say that you write a good book and win an award or two, or you have a huge hit. Does it suddenly validate your entire existence, or does it simply make you want to work harder, to improve upon what you’ve done? For most of us, it simply inspires us to push ourselves (often realistically) to greater heights.
And what about creative differences? In a band, we often see the players break into fights and then split off in an effort to perfect their own voices. I think that that is healthy. But guess what? There is always some stress. If you’re an author and you try to write a different book from what you’ve been doing, your agent and your publisher will both try to pressure you into writing in the same vein that you’ve been doing. Thus, we end up with an endless string of Tarzan stories or Conan novels, which keep coming out long after the author dies.
But as a writer, you most likely will begin to tire of writing the same kind of thing over and over. As we age, our tastes tend to change. The lighthearted stories of wonder that we told when we were young might not become as interesting as other genres, and so many authors will want to explore—much to the dismay of their fans, who will feel disappointed and betrayed.
And so the mounting pressures from fans, publishers, agents, and spouses all combine to a point where the author just says, “Screw all of you!” and has to walk away for a while.
But here is the thing: If you’re an artist, it is not a lifestyle that you can choose. The truth is, those creative fires keep burning within you, and you have to come back. You will be different, will have grown and evolved, but you’re still a creative.
I believe that you will find that your inner joy is still tied to the arts. So the old band gets back together, minus a player or two, with a couple of new faces. Or the painter picks up his brush and begins a new work, or the writers wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t get a dream out of his head until it transforms into a story.
The thing that I want to say is this: In life, we undergo creative highs and lows. At the highest points, we might sit and write for sixteen hours a day and it feels as if the book is merely “writing itself” while all that we do is type. At a low point, we might wonder if we will ever be able to write again.
I think that there are some things that young writers can do to protect themselves from burnout.
First, don’t obsess about your writing. If you don’t give yourself time to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, the truth is that you run a risk of stifling yourself as an artist.
Take care of family and social problems when the fire is still small, and don’t wait for it to consume the house.
If you have creative differences with an editor and an artist, and that person is too immature to handle them gracefully, recognize that it might be time to terminate the relationship as gently as you can.
And if you do burn out, recognize that this, too, is just a phase that you’re going through.
Zombies Need Brains
Last year, Zombies Need Brains ran a Kickstarter to fund the publication of three anthologies. I am happy to tell you that all three will be releasing June 15th.
Right now, you can preorder the Kindle and Nook versions at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can preorder the trade paperback versions at the ZNB online store. You can also preorder the Kickstarter edition and cover art prints there.
You’ll find one of my stories in Guilds & Glaives.
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