Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Art of Avoiding Burn Out

The Art of Avoiding Burn Out
by Danyelle Leafty

Writing can be exhausting.

Not the kind of exhausting that comes from running a marathon, but the kind that comes from squeezing your brain inside out as you search for the right words, the right descriptions, or the right threads of the story.

Day after day. Week after week. Year after year.

Do this long enough without taking care of yourself, and you risk burning out. Pulling your creative muscle until it cowers in the corner, whimpering.

Not that, ahem, I'm doing I have ever done this, but there is a real danger in being over productive. In working too hard without giving your creative side enough time and space to recover. Setting and working toward your goals is a good thing--so long as you pace yourself realistically.

So what can you do to avoid burnout? Especially if you have deadlines looming out at you?

Take a break.

Really. I know this may sound counterintuitive, but it works. Think of your creative side as a muscle. Let's say you want to get in shape well enough to run a writer's equivalent of the 3k. You wouldn't pound your body so hard in the name of getting there that you couldn't walk the next day, would you? And you wouldn't do that over and over and over again, would you?

The human body is a marvelous thing that can take a lot of abuse, but eventually it gets tired and worn out if it's not allowed to recharge. Creativity is a lot like this. So taking a break isn't necessarily procrastinating, and it doesn't have to be unproductive.

In fact, taking a break can be one of the most productive things you do for yourself and your creativity.

The key is in figuring out what kinds of activities allow your creative muscles a chance to relax, to heal, and to rejuvenate.

Some things you can do every day that can help prevent burn out include:

* Exercise: That's right. Taking care of your body is an excellent burn out preventative. Doing meditative exercises like yoga or tai chi can help even more.
* Eat right: You are what you eat. If you eat nutritious foods and appropriate serving sizes, your body will feel better and so will you.
* Get enough sleep: If your body is anything like mine, it's going from the time you wake up until you go to bed. It doesn't function well if you don't get adequate rest, which will in turn affect your ability to think, cope with stress, and be creative.
* Manage your stress levels: The first step is being conscious of where your stress levels are at. It's a good idea to figure out what people/things/situations raise your stress levels so you can come up with coping strategies that allow you to lower your stress levels and relax.
* Managing your world perceptions: A lot of times, how we see the world directly impacts how we react to it. Learning how to see the world (and people) in a more positive light can help you feel better and not get burned out so quickly.
* Managing your self perception: How you see yourself will have a direct impact on your mental health and creativity.

Other things that can help help replenish your creative wells:

* Get inspired through music, art, and anything else that feeds your creativity.
* Go for a walk: Sometimes it helps to change your environment for a little while. Added perks: fresh air, change of scenery, exercise.
* Go out and do something: As an introvert, I have to be careful how I schedule my social activities so they don't end up *leading* to burn out. But I've noticed that if I plan them well enough, getting out and being with people fills me up mentally and emotionally. (They still wear me out, but not in a bad way.)
* Read a good book: When I'm running under tight deadlines, I've noticed that the first thing I stop doing is reading. I've noticed that when I take the time anyway, the time I spend in someone else's world actually recharges my brain, my creativity, and my energy.
* Learn how to say no: This is a hard one, but very necessary.
* Know when to say no: Not all things, people, or events are equal. Do the most important things, because they're the ones that matter in the long run.
* Try something you've never tried before: New experiences can be fuel for your creativity.
* Take a nap: Sometimes rest is all you need.
* Try meditation: Sometimes all our bodies need is for us to slow down for some peace and quiet.
* Be flexible. Extending a deadline isn't the end of the world. (Unless, of course, you have a contractual deadline you have no control over.) It's okay to take time off without feeling guilty. The important thing is getting there in one piece.

What about you? What do you do to avoid burning yourself out?

Danyelle Leafty (@danyelleleafty) writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog. Her serial novel THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA can be found here. The first 12 chapters of THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA are available here.
File Under: avoiding burning out, Danyelle Leafty

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