Thursday, June 20, 2019

Writer's Burnout

Kameron Hurley's essay in the latest issue of LOCUS focuses on burnout. This isn't the same as "writer's block" (which some authors maintain doesn't actually exist, as there is always an identifiable reason for being "blocked").

The Singular Cure for Burnout

She discusses the "hustle culture," the need to work two or even three jobs to make financial ends meet. I must confess I'd never thought of freelancers as "working class folk," as Hurley classifies them in this article. In terms of income, though, a moment's thought makes it clear that the earning level of most freelance creators places them in the same income bracket as working-class employees—or lower. The typical writer's annual income, divided by hours worked, falls below minimum wage. Hence the "side hustle" that Hurley vividly describes. As she puts it, she couldn't afford to quit any of her day jobs because she was "hustling for health insurance."

Some of her comments strike me as chilling to contemplate:

"How are we monetizing our hobbies, our passions?" Isn't a "passion" something we pursue for the love of it?

"If you can’t carve out an hour in your day [to squeeze in writing between the day jobs], you must just not be working hard enough…." If many creators have to work nonstop like that, no wonder they tend to suffer burnout.

"I could have it all, it seemed. I just couldn’t remember much of it. I was too exhausted." Just reading that sentence makes me feel tired.

"I found that the only personal experiences of any note that I was mining for my writing happened in my twenties. All I could remember of my thirties was… working."

Upon googling remedies for burnout, Hurley discovered, "All the advice was the same: seek 'balance.' Meditate. Get enough sleep. Eat healthy." None of those sources recommended the "cure" mentioned in her title: "Do less." Her overall conclusion is, "Our culture worships busy-ness, but we, individually, don’t have to." Yet how does one do less and still pay for necessary expenses, not to mention the all-important health insurance?

The only time I came close to "burnout" was during graduate school, especially while working on the PhD. I wrote little or no fiction during the years of attending classes and producing my dissertation. Constant, high-volume academic writing left my brain too numb for imaginative creation. Throughout my adult life, I've been lucky to have what every author needs—a well-employed spouse with a secure career and high-quality health coverage (in our case, through the U.S. Navy). Unfortunately, not all writers are in that position (or, maybe, want to be).

It's fortunate that most of us don't write mainly for the money. On the other hand, royalties have symbolic importance, because they represent readers. We write in the hope of being read. Low sales can make one feel there isn't much point in writing, since nobody will read the stuff anyway. While that feeling in itself isn't exactly burnout, it can get discouraging. That "What's the use?" malaise sometimes creeps over me, especially with three publishers folding under me within the past few years. While I haven't stopped producing new fiction, right now I'm mainly working little by little on getting the "orphaned" works re-released, partly through a new publisher (Writers Exchange E-Publishing) and partly through Kindle self-publishing.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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