If I'm honest, I'm not the best at recognizing my own symptoms of burnout. It's not until I'm deep into a phase of executive dysfunction and avoidance that I realize, "Hey, something's not right about this situation", and I gaze longingly at my laptop, knowing I have no motivation to jump in and write.
Burnout happens to most of us. Maybe even all of us, though I venture to guess there might be some writers out there who have an actually healthy, energetic, motivated, and productive relationship with their creative drives, who know exactly when they need a break for self-care, and never procrastinate. There have to be some... right?
Well, whether there are or not, I'm not one of them. As 2023 rolls into its halfway point, I know I'm not nearly as far along in my yearly goals as I confidently thought I would be back in January. And I wonder what's got my creative flow all gunked up?
Maybe I'm focusing on the wrong things. Maybe I'm letting myself get way too distracted (I play an awful lot of League of Legends or The Sims when I should be writing). Maybe I'm just a little too eager to focus on the inevitable distractions or unexpected matters that jump up. But why?
I think perhaps it's impatience. Impatience to see more movement in my books. Impatience to see my audience grow. I keep waiting for the grand "discovery", when someone will read my books and offer me a Netflix series. I forget, though, that all good things come with time. Or I don't so much forget, as I stubbornly resist, and grow frustrated, and then I doubt. Myself, my work, everything.
Doubt leads to fear. And as all good nerds know, fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to... okay, maybe Master Yoda's advice isn't exactly pertinent to my own struggle right now, but it's tough not to hear his ancient Jedi wisdom in my head.
(It's possible I play a great deal of Star Wars: The Old Republic when I should be writing, too).
It's a fact, though, that my books have been moving a little better this year, with every newsletter I send, every author who helps me promote, every reader who suggests my books to another. It's a gradual process—hopefully it'll someday snowball, and I'll have the satisfaction of knowing the worlds I create are as exciting to others as they are to me. That's my ultimate goal, really: I want to enchant my readers with fantastic characters and incredible adventure. I don't need my books to pay the bills (though it would be nice). I'm into this business because I love telling stories, and I want to know others love hearing them.
But sometimes when I feel really low, and I look at my subscriber numbers and the level of engagement on my social media channels, I really want to quit. I find other things to occupy my mind, other goals to focus on.
And sometimes I turn on YouTube and stream videos from my favorite creators. New videos, old videos... it doesn't matter. I'll watch a video game or book review I've seen five times already, just to hear the host talking about the highs and lows of the writing, the characters, the humor, the horror... all the elements of story that I love so much.
Recently I went through a re-watch phase for old videos by Amanda the Jedi. Going back just three or four years, I re-watched hours of her reviews of things like 50 Shades, Twilight, The Host, The Haunting of Sharon Tate... and I noticed something. Amanda always thanks her Patreon Supporters at the end of her videos and displays their names onscreen. Just three or four years ago, there were very, very few names. Less than twenty, I'd venture to say. At one point, maybe there was only one.
On her new videos, there are so many names it's almost impossible to read them onscreen. There are three columns covering just one tier of her Patreon subscribers. There's certainly over 100 paid subscribers supporting her content every day.
And that's just the paid subscribers. I look at that change, and I imagine the number of her other fans around the world has increased by even greater numbers. Amanda's reaching more and more people every day—and that serves to remind me that success takes time, and dedication, and good investment. Amanda's fantastic, by the way: I love her stuff so much I'm one of the names on the screen these days. She didn't get where she is now because someone handed her a YouTube Subscribers Award out of the blue. She had to start out just like the rest of us: one follower at a time.
So maybe I'm just at the beginning of my journey with those first few fans. It has to start somewhere. Even if right now my stories only reach a small handful of readers... tomorrow maybe there will be a handful more. In three to four years... maybe there will be hundreds.
And putting things in that perspective makes me feel a lot better, and a lot less burnt out.