Ever feel like a burned up matchstick? Where once you were on fire, brain flaming with ideas, now you are blackened and tilting, your mind a barely smoking mess.
You’ve been slogging away at your screenplay or manuscript for months (maybe even years!) You write every day, have gotten feedback, revised multiple times, and now, right when you need it, you’ve got nothing. You know the story’s not working, but when you try to read the words, they seem to be written in a foreign language.
You have no idea what works or doesn’t. You’ve completely lost your compass. The idea of even trying to sit down and write makes you want to cry or scream (or both.)
Welcome to burnout.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines burnout as, “The condition of someone who has become very physically and emotionally tired after doing a difficult job for a long time.”
Writing a screenplay or book, is by nature, a long and difficult job. It can be tedious, infuriating, and lonely. Whether you’re writing the project on your own, or with a committee of producers and studio executives, there always comes a moment of breakdown. Where you are mentally drained, physically exhausted, and don’t believe you can go on. You literally can not think of one more good idea to fix your broken pile of a story.
Here are some things to try in the face of burnout…
1) Take a break. Get away from your project for a few days. Put it out of your mind. Interrupting the pattern of your burnout can shake loose the rigidity and despair that often accompanies this phenomenon. Step away from the manuscript.
2) Feed the well. Read books, watch movies. Not the ones in the “genre” of your project. Just books and films that you love– the cheesier the better! Reconnect to the joy you feel for your art form.
3) Sleep. We all lead busy lives. Get some rest. Take naps. Sleep in or go to bed earlier. Wear your softest pajamas. Put on a black eye mask. Sometimes your burnout is tied to the fact that you’re simply exhausted.
4) Exercise. Move your body. Even if it’s just walking for 30 minutes a day, this is necessary. Get out of your head and into your muscles. Take an ecstatic dance class, or do kundalini yoga.
5) Gauge whether you are burned out or really shouldn’t be writing this project. Did you start writing because the book or script seemed “commercial,” something you “should” do? If so, these feelings of discontent might manifest as burnout. It could also just be resistance though, so be careful here.
6) Get out of your own way. You have no control over the ideas that come to you. The only thing you DO have control over is sitting down to work each day. Once you’ve given yourself a break and filled your well, sit back down at your desk. Be open to what comes. Don’t try to force things. I actually believe that much of our creativity is channeled from beyond. Be open. Let what’s going to happen that day happen that day. Just move your fingers.
7) Have faith. You will get through this. You will be replenished. Burnout doesn’t last forever.
My own pattern is to push and push and push, until my brain refuses to do my bidding. It FORCES me to step away and rest. Over the years, I’ve tried to recognize the early warning signs and listen, but I still struggle. I do know now that I can’t continue to write without taking care of my physical body and creative soul.
Take Action! If you’re experiencing burnout, give yourself a break. Whatever makes you feel joyful, do it. Sleep. Start moving your body and get out of your head. Have confidence and faith that you will be re-filled and ready to work.
Then…. put your fingers on the keyboard, without agenda, without fear.
Let the voices come to you. Trust that they will show up.
Give them space to arrive.
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: a person who suffers burnout
Is this project even worth spending more time on?are wondering whether or not this project is even worth finishing.