Burnout and the Writer

I have mentioned burnout here and there on this blog over the years, but I’ve never really addressed how this has impacted me as a writer. As a teenager, I wrote stories, and that continued through college. I even wrote some stuff after I got married. But these were always “just for me” stories that I never intended to publish, so there was no pressure to keep writing. When I was done with the story, I was done. I didn’t write anything else until I felt like it. So from 1996 to 2006, I probably wrote seven novels and a few short stories. Back then, I wrote as the whim hit me, and then I rested until I felt the burning need to write again.

In late 2007, I finally gave into the desire to write romances. I held off for a long time in writing romance because in my family said romances were “trash”. I stuck with reputable genres like fantasy and thriller. That decision caused my writing output to explode. I had many story ideas built up within me for years, and I had trouble writing fast enough to keep up with them. I got into paperbacks in 2008 with Amazon (back when they had CreateSpace), and then I got my feet wet with ebooks in 2009 on Amazon and Smashwords. It was great. I felt like a kid at the world’s most amazing playground. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t restricted by what others told me I should or shouldn’t write. I also never thought anyone would read my stuff. I thought I was going to be the only person reading my books. That, ironically, made writing super easy. When you are just writing for you, your only concern is pleasing yourself. The inner critic doesn’t exist.

In late 2010, I started to see these strange $20-$50 deposits coming into my bank account. It took me a couple of months to figure out they were coming from Amazon. Suddenly, I was aware that people were reading my books. The first time someone commented on my first draft blog post, I was scared because I was no longer putting the story up in front of empty space. Someone was on the other side of the screen. I had to push past the fear to keep going, and it was not easy because the critic started to emerge at this point. Then the 1-star reviews came. The negative emails soon followed. I received positive feedback and reviews, too, but it’s always the negative that shines the brightest. I almost quit in 2011 because I no longer felt good enough to write stories. It didn’t matter if I loved my work. All that mattered was that someone out there hated it.

But I manged to push through the fear. It took time. It was not easy. But the creative well was still full. My biggest problem was what book to write because I had so many ideas. In 2012, sales exploded. This was a time when writing was super easy. I had the ideas, I had the motivation, and I was aware that people out there really did enjoy my work. I even got invited to do some interviews about self-publishing. I won’t lie. It was fun. 2013 through 2015 were harder even though I made more money because suddenly this was a “business”, and day after day, the message going out to me (and other authors) was that if we weren’t treating this like a business, then we weren’t “real” authors; we were just “hobbyists”. (They’d add that there was nothing wrong with being a hobbyist, but your opinion didn’t matter because you weren’t serious about writing or selling books.) Looking back, I can see how this mindset has hurt a lot of writers.

Anyway, I didn’t realize it at the time, but 2016 was when I started to burn out. The creative well was starting to get low. My income dropped for the first time ever. I blamed it on the fact that I had taken time off from writing to move to Montana. So I renewed my writing efforts. If I could just get more books out there, my income would return. I was so focused on the money that I missed the fact that my creative well was suffering. I wrote a lot of books to market around this time, mostly because I was out of ideas. I looked up plot ideas that were popular at the time and gave them my own spin. (I did this until 2018.) I studied up on how to write to market. I didn’t want to waste me time writing something that wasn’t going to make money, so I’d only pick stuff that I thought had the best chance of bringing me back to 2015 income level. Though I was writing the stories myself, the process felt more robotic than creative. The stories were all formula. I was just churning out the words. I always tried to be mindful of my parameters, and I tried not to go in any extreme that might alienate any of the readers. I also didn’t slow down the writing. I dictated a lot, and this only sped things up. It also made editing a nightmare.

I thought the reason I was crying a lot during this time had to do with my struggle to make the same money I was making back in 2013-2015. As I write this, I wonder if I was crying because my body was trying to tell me that I needed a break, that I was burning myself out. Giving up the money side of things did make me happier since I could stop writing those market books. I cried less. But the fact that I was exhausted and struggling to come up with story ideas created a different kind of dissatisfaction. I didn’t know what to do about it.

I do think choosing those passion projects and going outside the “safe zones” did enable me to keep going for as long as I did. I love the Marriage by Fairytale Series I wrote during this time because I went dark and deep with those stories while embracing the genre I still love most: romance. I also had the chance to go dark and deep with the Wyoming Series. The foundation for that series was partially created by Stephannie Beman, so I can’t take full credit for that one, but she did allow me to write out the entire series, and for that, I am grateful because it’s one of my favorite series to this day. So even during burnout, there can be moments when excitement peaks through and you’re able to do your best work. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.

The problem is, you end up using the last of your ideas when you don’t give your creative well time to fill back up. From 2008-2022, I’ve written 98 full-length romances. I’ve done one full-length thriller. I’ve done a few books in others genres, and I’ve written some shorts. I am exhausted. I barely have any new story ideas. I feel like I’m running on fumes. People ask me when I’ll have another historical western romance out. I don’t know. I don’t have a single idea for a historical western romance right now. My mind is a complete blank. The well has run dry on that one. And that’s scary because I worry that I’ll never get any water back in there. I have just a little bit of water left for the Regencies, and I’m going slow with them because I don’t want this well to dry up, too. Any creative wells for other genres is dry. I did consider writing another genre, but that landscape is as barren as everything else. All I have are four Regency stories in my arsenal, and I’ve been working on three of them for about a year.

When you’re in the writing “business”, you need to get books out all the time. You can run ads to help. You can put your books in multiple formats to get additional sources of income. Those help to buffer from serious financial loss, but they don’t prevent a good drop in income from happening. The real money comes from the new books. That’s why I believe a lot of authors will run to AI or a ghostwriter to help them write stories. (And I think AI will win out because AI is cheaper and faster.) The creative well dries up. You can’t keep going at a hectic pace forever. I used to think that taking two days off a week would buffer me from burnout, but it didn’t. It just delayed it. Taking a long break from writing so you can fill the creative well back up is not easy. It’s also not easy to slow down when you’re used to going fast. You feel guilty because people are waiting for the next book. You feel like a failure in the writing community because you couldn’t last. As a writer in the writing community, I’ve fizzled out. My time has come and gone. My opinion has, in writing groups, become irrelevant because I’m not on board with all of the new stuff, nor do I have the energy to get on board with it.

I don’t know what stage of burnout I’m in, but it’s terrible when you dread sitting at the computer. You tell yourself to “write through the pain” because “real writers bleed words on their paper”. That’s what other famous writers did, right? No one ever says what you’re supposed to do when you’re at the end of your rope and feeling like you’re starting to hate writing stories. And then you start to cry because this was the one thing in your life that you’ve loved since you were a teenager. Writing has defined me for most of my life. It’s the one big passion I’ve had. People usually have a couple of interests. My interest has just been writing. You take away the writer, you take away who I am. It used to come so easy, and now every word is like pulling teeth. I want to save my creative well. I want to love writing again. By taking it slow, I have had days where the light comes back. Today, I was excited about writing, and I had fun. Yesterday, things fizzled out, so I left the computer to watch TV and cook a meal that took two hours to make. On most days, I don’t even get on the computer to try. I believe this is the way out of burnout. I believe you need a lot of rest. I believe you need to spend time with family and loved ones. I believe you need to exercise and eat right. I also think it’s okay to keep writing through it. You just need to go slow. Take it one day at a time. Don’t force it. Just let the creative well fill up on its own time. I’m determined to beat this thing. I just need to be patient.

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Marriage by Obligation Series will Get a Book 5

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while know that I’ve been on the fence about whether or not the Marriage by Obligation Series will have more than 4 books. Right now, these are the books I’ve been working on for this series:

Secret Admirer ebook cover  Midnight Wedding ebook cover  The Earl's Jilted Bride ebook cover  Worth the Risk ebook cover

During the course of writing in Midnight Wedding today, I realized that the story idea I have for the secondary character in Midnight Wedding would be best placed in this series. Specifically, it would fit in after Worth the Risk.

I’ve already picked the title, if it’ll fit nicely on the cover. (Sometimes you think a title will work until you see the way the words are placed on the cover, and then you realize you need to change the title.) I can’t use the cover I originally wanted because the title (The Duke’s Return) no longer works. The hero for Book 5 will be a marquess, not a duke. So I have to go with a new title and a new cover. At the moment, the title will be Anyone but You. The good news is that since I’m making this cover myself, I can adjust the title if I have to. My income has taken such a nosedive that I’m having to cut a lot of things from the budget, and paying cover artists is no longer an option. I will do my best to make it look pretty, but this won’t be a pre-made, and that will mean it won’t be as nice as The Duke’s Return. I have to let The Duke’s Return go because the story line no longer works. I would rather drop the story than force it because forcing a story means it will be awful. I am very happy with this particular series, so I believe it’ll reflect my best work.

Right now, I don’t have ideas for other stories. I expect that other ideas will come in time. The case of burnout I had was worse than I realized. It’s only now that I’m excited about writing again. I’m taking things slow as I recover from it. The last thing I want is a relapse.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The Rapid Release Craze is Hurting Authors and the Quality of Books

When I say rapid release, this is how I define it: Rapid release is where you set the goal of writing and publishing a new book every 6-8 weeks.

I understand why this craze came to be a thing. Readers can read a book or two a day. There is no effort in reading. It’s a passive activity, like watching TV. I mean, it can seem like effort if you’re not enjoying it, but if you aren’t enjoying it, you can stop doing it. As a rule, readers are choosing what to read. This is fun for them. It’s easy to consume this product.

Writing the book, however, is a lot different. It takes time to come up with the idea. Some ideas take years to properly develop. Then you have to figure out how to execute that idea in an entertaining way that will keep the reader engaged. (I get not all readers enjoy the same book, but there is always going to be someone out there who will enjoy the book that has been written.) Then there’s the matter of getting the cover, having the thing edited, formatted, and published. It takes time to do all of that. I honestly believe this is why so many writers are running to ghostwriters and AI to do the writing for them. It is hard to keep up with that hectic pace long term. You can do it short term, but when you’ve been at this for years, it takes a toll on you.

Some people write faster than others, but there is not a single person out there who is a robot, and sooner or later, real life shows up to knock you down. You can’t continually pump books out like a widget on an assembly line. Not on your own efforts, anyway. It’s not healthy. The human brain needs time to relax. The human body needs to move around. The human spirit needs emotional connection with other people. We can’t spend all of our time in front of a computer writing the next book. I believe walking and dictating a book takes away from the creative break that walking provides. I think, to be a healthy writer, we need to detach ourselves from our work on a regular basis. Otherwise, I think the writing becomes stale. For writing to be fresh, the creative part of the brain needs to rest. Sometimes I think the best thing we can do for our writing is to spend time with loved ones and/or doing something we love that has nothing to do with writing. The more fulfilled we are in other areas of our lives, the more fulfilling our stories will be. Writing for the long haul is a marathon, not a sprint.

I’m not a fan of ghostwriting. I think it makes you a publisher because you’re not writing the story. To be a writer, you need to write. But ghostwriting has become popular among the self-publishing crowd because of the rapid release craze. Writing has gone from something people did for love to something people do for money. When money is the focus, you want to do everything you can to keep those books coming out. Unless you have a side gig that pays the bills, you need those books to keep money pouring in. The problem with ghostwriters is that they want to be paid. I think AI is going to replace a lot of ghostwriters because AI doesn’t need to get paid. Sure, you’ll pay a subscription service to use AI, but that service is cheaper than paying a person to do the work. There’s a debate going on about whether AI can create stories worth reading. I think AI will be able to reach that level for those “write to market” books because AI is good at imitation. And writers who are motivated by money will want to use AI because there’s no way a human being can keep writing books on the rapid release schedule for years and years on end.

While AI books might satisfy for the moment, I don’t see how they can satisfy long term. I don’t believe the quality will be there in those books. I just don’t see how AI will ever be able to replace human creativity. I think AI books will be cookie cutter type of stories. They’ll be forgettable. If your goal is money, this works fine. You’re just looking to sell a widget.

At the end of the day, I think AI’s appeal will be for those authors looking for a short cut in creating a book. I don’t believe those books will have that great of quality. Maybe they’ll be polished, but the story itself will probably be lacking that human creative edge. AI might mimic a lot of things, but I don’t see how it can have “heart” in its work. I remember years ago (maybe a decade ago) when I was full of my own pride and thought I knew all there was to know about selling books. I was in the whole rapid release and make good money trip. To this day, I remember one of the comments I received from a writer who said that they would rather focus on getting a good story out there that would touch people long after they died. At the time, I told this person that I would rather make the money. Well, I did make the money. And that money is all gone. The dirty little secret no one seems to be willing to accept is that those highs don’t last forever. Sooner or later, things go back down.

All I know is that the books I wrote that I invested myself in still matter to me to this day, and a few readers out there still reread them. I don’t see how AI will ever be able to produce those types of books. To produce those books, you need your creativity to be at its best, and to do that, you will need to give yourself time to work on your health, work on your relationships, and work on other things that interest you. You can’t be glued to your computer all the time.

I started reading because it was an escape. The middle school years were rough for me. Long story short, those books I read were my friends. I put myself in those characters’ shoes and lived all sorts of adventures. Those stories still make me smile when I think back on them, and now I’m all grown up with kids who are reaching adulthood. But I remember those stories, and I still love them. I started writing because I loved reading first. Those stories helped make me the writer I am today. They will always have a special place in my heart, and I’m glad for the writers who took the time to write them, even though those books are no longer being published. Those books have been forgotten by the majority of people, just like our books someday may be forgotten by most people. But who knows if they will be remembered decades from now by a few? Maybe something you’ve written might change someone’s life for the better.

It is unfortunate that books have become nothing more than a widget to a lot of people. Storytelling is such a beautiful gift. When you write something that you love, the story means something. At the end of the day, people are still people. We need human connection. When I read a book the author loved writing, I feel that I get to know something about that author. That book is a part of who they are. When I get a chance to talk to that author, it makes me appreciate that person a lot more.

This human connection is what is lost when we’re in a rush to get books out there. There’s a difference between writing fast and rushing, and I’m talking about rushing. Rushing is about rapid release. Rushing hurts the quality of your work. And I believe that rushing ends up harming your physical and emotional health. The best long term strategy for a writer who wants to keep their love for writing alive is to take a deep breath, relax, and do what you can to nurture your creative spirit.

I write all of this after dealing with burnout for a couple of years now. I even got the point of hating the process of writing, even though I did enjoy the stories I was creating. I am just now getting to the point where I love writing again. It makes a huge difference when you love the process.

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments