In September I set for myself a goal: finish my manuscript, edit it, and have it ready to send to beta readers by the beginning of October. At the time I thought it was a realistic timeline, I had only a few more chapters to write, I knew what I needed to write in them, and then the editing wasn’t going to take too long. Or so I thought.
I finished those few chapters in the beginning of September, and I leapt straight into editing. I edited night and day, day after day, as the days stretched into weeks. I wrote a crap ton of words (most of which were actually not crap) and I was slowly but surely massaging my manuscript into the beautiful clay pot I wanted it to be. (Don’t ask what a clay pot has to do with a fantasy novel. It’s a beautiful metaphor, just enjoy it.)
But, October came and I was not done. In fact, I was worse than not done – I had come to a point where I hated my manuscript. I had lost touch with the emotional drive of my characters and, to paraphrase my own thoughts, “everything was stupid.” But I still wanted this thing to be done, so I tried taking a break my watching one of my favorite episodes from one of my favorite shows. And you know what? ‘Everything was stupid’ about that episode, too.
It was then that I realized I had achieved something terrible, something paralyzing which I had not ever reached before in my writing journey: I was burned out.
Now, let’s be honest here – so often the idea of being ‘burned out’ is an excuse I use when, in all honesty, I’m really just being lazy. But that’s not what had happened here. I had written over 10,000 new words in 2 weeks, and edited probably 15,000 other words on top of that. I had worked my hardest to reach my goal, and I hadn’t made it there. ‘Everything was stupid’ about my manuscript because it wasn’t done and polished, and ‘everything was stupid’ about me, too, because I had failed to finish it.
Don’t worry, dear reader, this sobering little tale has a happy ending. I worked through my burn out and am happily editing my manuscript again. But, I thought I would share with you what got me through it:
- Do something else.
Seriously. Stop working on your story, stop thinking about your story. Find another hobby, go do some yard work, clean your room – whatever else you’ve got to do, go do that. Don’t let your funky mood destroy all the good that your manuscript has within it. Luckily for me, I was starting a new job so it was pretty easy for me to just put my focus into that for a week or two.
- Listen to that inner critic, and analyze the crap out of him.
Chances are ‘everything’ is not stupid about your manuscript. But, there is probably something stupid all the same, probably a little thing you overlooked when in a better mood. Listen to what that inner, grumbly jerk has to say and figure out if his words have merit. Turns out, my inner critic had some good points, and I made some little changes that gave my beginning chapters the sweetness and the underlying tension that they were lacking previously.
- Get back to work, when you’re ready.
Don’t push yourself back into the #amwriting or the #amediting game – pushing yourself so hard is what probably lead to the burn out in the first place. Come back to it when you’re ready. You’ll know the time – that excitement for your story will return, you’ll start thinking about it in happy thoughts instead of grouchy ones. And when you do come back, you’ll be better than ever.
So, that’s been my experience with burn out. Have you ever been burnt out working on your manuscript? How did you deal with it? Feel free to join the conversation in the comments below!
And, remember: burnouts are temporary. They don’t feel that way when you’re in the middle of it, but it’s true. You’ll make it through, and your manuscript will be better off for it. To celebrate the glorious struggle which is writing a manuscript, I will share here a bit of a scene I perfected thanks to my grouchy inner critic:
The rest of the centaurs gave vary responses of agreement, and a few turned towards the door. Kura watched them, dumbfounded – this was it, then?
“Wait!” she shouted, catching herself only as each set of eyes turned back to look at her with a sense of disapproval. She swallowed; these were dangerous creatures, too quickly she had forgotten that. “What about me?”
The group of centaurs shared a few sideways glances, then Konik nodded towards the old woman. She cast her handful trinkets upon the table. “Destiny, of light and darkness…” she said softly, pushing aside a piece of bark to reveal a sparkling, red stone. “Hidden underneath, but smoldering like fire.” In one hand she picked up a broken piece of a steel blade, in the other she raised the golden feather. “Great strength, that is what I see in you. But do the strong preserve, or do they destroy?”
Kura held the woman’s gaze, her brow furrowed. She spoke nonsense – like those fortune tellers in Tar Fiannin – only, this woman had nothing to gain: she wasn’t getting paid.
Brant grunted, and gave a bit of a grin as he looked Kura over. “Quite big words, for such a little thing.” He glanced back, his grin deepening as he met Konik’s gaze. “Are you sure you don’t want me to just get it over with now?”