Burnout: “I Can’t Write Anything”

Burnout: “I Can’t Write Anything”



Although often used interchangeably, there is a difference between burnout and writer’s block. The latter is pertinent to a specific project or a particular style of writing. You may be at an impasse when it comes to writing prose but be able to write poetry without a problem. Also, blocks are of shorter duration than burnout probably lasting no more than several weeks. They may be caused by fears and insecurities or by trying to determine how to proceed. The main way to overcome writer’s block is to force yourself, for a while, to write about anything at all. Random expression can be both relaxing and energizing enabling you to return to your main project.

Burnout, on the other hand, refers to not being able to write anything irrespective of genre. Its primary cause is exhaustion from being drained in some area of your life. For example, a recent burst of enormous creativity may have left you worn out, or family problems may have left you emotionally depleted. The duration is more than likely for several months as opposed to weeks. Unlike blocks, forging ahead while burned out makes matters worse; it will only further tire and drain you. The best solution is to take a long vacation.

To paraphrase an article by Tess Marshall, the causes of writer’s burnout include:

  • Inadequate time off
  • Feelings of overload and non-appreciation
  • Too many obligations
  • Insubstantial remuneration
  • Boredom
  • Lack of socialization
  • Habitually working too many hours at a time
  • Insufficient support systems
  • Being a perfectionist
  • Low self-esteem
  • Disinclination to delegate
  • The need to be in authority
  • “Feeling overwhelmed.”

Additionally, Marshall breaks down the symptoms of writer’s burnout as follows:

  1. Physical
  • “Headache”
  • Irregular sleep pattern
  • Fatigue
  • Illness
  1. Emotional
  • “Depression”
  • De-energization
  • Irascibility
  • Withdrawal
  • Non-productivity
  • Unenthusiasm
  1. Behavioral
  • Seclusion
  • “Alcohol and drug abuse”

Marshall then suggests the following 18 solutions for burnout:

  1. Unclutter your workspace – clutter can cause confusion whereas orderliness can increase clarity.
  2. Don’t compare yourself to other writers realizing that there are those who are worse and those who are better. Aim for self-improvement and “enjoy the process.”
  3. Welcome constructive criticism.
  4. Read books on writing for pleasure.
  5. Engage in free-writing (i.e., writing for fun)
  6. Don’t attempt to write under tedium, fatigue, and stress. “Take a walk.”
  7. “Breathe in ‘calm’ and breathe out ‘peace.'”
  8. “Take 10-minute breaks throughout your work day and walk away from everything digital. Go outside for a breath of fresh air. Sit silently and gaze out a window and daydream.”
  9. Take time off and do something irrelevant to writing (e.g. “go to the beach, watch the sunset, attend a museum or art fair, etc.”)
  10. “Do a mind dump by writing down everything that comes to mind on paper. Write down dreams, goals, memories, random thoughts, ideas, everything. Do this for fifteen minutes. Next, read over your list and look for future topics and ideas for your writing.”
  11. Experiment with other writing styles than your preferred one.
  12. Share your writing frustrations with a family member or friend, or seek professional help.
  13. “Avoid sugar and caffeine. Drink enough water and get adequate sleep. Take nutritional supplements. Learn to meditate or schedule a massage.”
  14. “Exercise – partner with a friend to dance, walk, or bike. Get outside and move.”
  15. “Expand your mind. Learn new things. Study a second language, read about great philosophers, and everyday heroes. Avoid depressing news both online and off.”
  16. Spend quality time with family and friends.
  17. “Slow down and be of service to others. Send a distant relative a hand written note, talk to a lonely neighbor, send flowers to someone special, make a meal for someone who is ill.”
  18. Change your scenery by alternating areas and locations in which to write.

In short, though writer’s burnout is significantly more severe than writer’s block, it can be overcome.


MishaMFB. “The Differences Between Writer’s Block and Burnout.” https://www.wattpad.com/124437087-100-things-you-should-know-about-writing-part-2-32#gs.r6YO9NU (accessed January 23, 2017).

Marshall, Tess. “Recover from Writing Burn Out: 18 Tips for Writing with Gusto.” http://writetodone.com/recover-from-writing-burn-out-18-tips-for-writing-with-gusto/ (accessed January 23, 2017).


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