Friday, November 11, 2022




So you might have noticed the blog has been dark for ...ahem... a spell.


Some weeks back I noticed a serious lack of enthusiasm about getting out of bed.

And even less for doing work.


I wanted to read published novels, and watch tv (oh streaming services, how you beguile me!)

and eat a lot of sushi that wasn't seasoned with writers' tears.


None of those things come with bags of filthy lucre, sadly.


Fortunately I recognized them as early signs of burnout.


Burnout comes from a lot of things, but here in Agent World it's often associated with relentlessly long hours, tasks that never quite get finished, and too much on the to-do list.


So I started turning off my computer at 5pm.

And closing the door to the office.


And giving myself permission to be ok with NOT getting my to-do list tamed every day.


And letting go of some things I really loved (the blog) so I could just veg on the couch and go away.


It took about four weeks to regain my mojo.

I'd gotten some things done, and tried to keep clients posted on status of their stuff, so I wasn't digging out from a lot of angry emails and things that were on fire.


Burnout is a very real problem when you're working on something that never seems to get done, even things you love: writing a novel, remodeling a house, raising small readers.



Can you recognize burnout?

What do you do to take care of yourself when you do?





Beth Carpenter said...

I'm glad your mojo is returning, Janet. As the nights grow longer at the same time as the to-do pile grows taller, it's easy to fall into, if not hopelessness, at least discouragement.

KAClaytor--I love the concept of "scheduled joy." So important.

I had just turned in the last manuscript of my contract when my mother passed away early this year. I've been working on her estate ever since, but I haven't written, not even to turn in a proposal. It's been nice reading and working on other things without feeling guilty about hovering deadlines, but I'm starting to worry that if I don't start writing soon, I'll never write again.

Theresa said...

You were very much missed, but how reassuring that you recognized the signs of burnout and did what you needed to get back to burning brightly.

Good novels, turning off electronics except for streaming, time with the grandsons, and some chocolate have been pulling me through some recent burnout and preparing me for whatever lies ahead with this newest book proposal.

KAClaytor's scheduled joy is a wise approach. Beth, I think I understand about your recent loss. My mother died in 2021 and I'm still feeling long-term effects.

Michael Seese said...

Glad to hear you're doing well.

I'm recognizing it right now at my current job. 50-hour weeks. Two employees transferred to other groups. AND the powers-that-be want people to come into the office again (which really isn't necessary for my role).

shanepatrickwrites said...

Go for a walk beneath as many trees as you can find. While moving and changing your perspective, meditate on how they are rooted in place and must deal with whatever comes their way.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

You were missed, but I'm glad you took care of your health and it's good to see you here. I also like KAClaytor's suggestion of scheduled joy.

I've had times when it's felt like I'm walking up to my waist in mud. Through my current church, I belong to a Circle of Practice. Several clergy meet monthly with 2 who are facilitators. The time we focus on a poem or brief devotional, the trust we have built, the knowledge we're all on wild seas together in varied ministry settings, has been life-affirming.

It also helps me that election day is behind and next week I'm on vacation, a staycation, maybe with an overnight or two nearby!

S.D.King said...

Yes, Janet, burnout has hit me, too. I finally left a job that I loved in 2014. I had been belittled and betrayed one too many times. A year later I was asked back to serve as the head administrator - I said no. Then I started writing.

I am glad you took the time to regroup - regain strength - refocus. It is wonderful to have you back, though I admit, I was worried. I checked on Twitter and you were still doing Wordle, so I figured you were OK but taking a break.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Oh my Queen, yes, burnout gets us all. And you did just right.

It is so frustrating when you feel like you are pushing against an unmovable wall that will never let you be. It is really hard with writing. But it happens at my work as well. Taking care of yourself is paramount. Stress really is a killer and if you keep going through the motions, the burnout continues to get worse and worse to the detriment of both mental and physical health. Definitely, vegging out on the couch, putting limits on your work time, and letting yourself live are essential. It will make things better in that long run.

I make myself do what is required to survive during those periods. Eat, dress, meet deadlines to keep employed, and take time off if I have it to take. And I abandon my writing for a while and turn to reading. And playing video games, playing guitar, and taking long walks. Tea and streaming. Whatever it takes to get my head on straight. Therapist on speed-dial.

Take all the time you need. Everyone is different. Your journey is your own. And we're not going anywhere. We are forever grateful to you and nothing will change that. Be well, our dear shark.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

There's a reason bourbon and burnout are close to each other in the thesaurus.

Take as long a break as you need Janet. We'll be right here.

Steve Forti said...

Burnout is very real, and we all hit it sometimes. I'm glad you recognized it for what it was before it overwhelmed too much. Never be afraid to take the time you need or ask for the help you need. I recognize it when I get too easily irritated or for too prolonged that I can't reset. I know I need the time or space to recover. It can make all the difference, even a little comfort can buy some peace.
Hope it helped for you, and glad to have you back. And hope everyone else out here is taking what they need to stay right for themselves and their people. We're all here for each other.

Shah Kou said...

I'm a rather cynical type (but with a big heart) by nature. And even I don't understand how a literary agent does was she does. It seems like a damn hard slog. I have the upmost respect for those of you in this role. To have authors hopes and dreams (and careers) in your hands, to have to have your artistic and business hats on simultaneously at all times...and to have to deal with the ire of some wanna-be-agented writers who overestimate their talent/ability (or the readiness of their manuscript) directed at you because you simply don't connect with their work? Well, that's a job that would have me taking "burn-out leave" after my first month in the role. Throw on top of that running a blog and a website where you try to help writers improve their craft/queries and better understand the publishing industry...all I can say sushi and watch deserve it...and then some.

Shah Kou said...

Also (why do I always do these second posts? Afterthoughts are clearly a big part of my life)your job is to look after your clients. Anything "extra" you throw the way of those of us who read your comments and advice for free, is simply a kindness you extend when you have the time and energy. For anyone to expect this to be a constant is simply not fair on you. Thank you for all you impart, but please only do it when you feel you can.

Lennon Faris said...

I kept checking here, then with a tiny worry, Twitter every few days. Glad to hear everything is OK. Take your time for sure.

To truly relax I have to not be needed by anyone or any creature. I take a cup of coffee and close the door to my art room and put on my headphones and basically shut out everything. For a bit. Then I come back, and I am less grumpy and ready to give again.

We got our first snow of the year here yesterday. Time to get out the candles and hot chocolate. It's the best time of year to create some art!

The Noise In Space said...

I've started gameifying my to-do list. Each week, I have a point goal, say 250 points. Then I break all my tasks for the week up into four categories--100 points, 50, 25, and 10. I can do whatever tasks will get me to that 250, and if I hit my goal, it's a good week. Most importantly, it reminds me that I don't have to do everything, which keeps the feeling of overwhelm at bay.

Of course, now that I've done this for a few weeks, I can see that I keep putting off those big 100-point tasks forever, so it's not a perfect system. But it's something.

Katja said...

I'm so glad you're feeling better and recognised the signs and took care of yourself. Self-care is very important.

I'm currently struggling with something similar - similar feelings and stress - because I am moving away from the UK very soon (only a few weeks left to go). And preparing for this move stresses me out! There is SO MUCH to think about. And while I've advanced and started packing, I still feel that pressure from some weeks ago, because while I've ticked off tasks from my to-do list, time is running away at the same time and keeping the pressure up.

Sadly, I don't have much to help myself with this in this case. My deadline is inflexible and coming closer every day.

I do try to think of the nice things, though, that are awaiting me once I will have got through this. I know it's worth my efforts.

KDJames said...

Burnout can be devastating, Janet. I'm relieved you recognized it. Protect yourself as if it were wielding an actual sword.

I don't have burnout, exactly. More feeling like I can't possibly handle any more. My Scandinavian stoicism is rearing its head right now and saying, "We don't talk about this. Stop it." Maybe just a brief recap?

My mom died in February. Expected, a blessing in many ways, still difficult.

Shortly after that I listened to a doctor say, "The results are inconclusive, but I'm calling it cancer." You're WHAT now?! But it was in order to refer me to an oncologist who could run more definitive tests and suggest treatment if needed.

Closely followed by an epic fight with an insurance company that lasted six months (yes, they eventually fucking paid the bill) (NB: if you decide to come for me, best make sure you're right because I will destroy you) (they were wrong).

Not so coincidentally, I had to wait six months to have the next-step test that would reveal whether I had cancer anywhere else. During those oh-so-long months, I convinced myself I had ALL the worst cancers, probably had 6-8 weeks to live, so what was the point of anything. [spoiler: I did not and do not have cancer, anywhere]

Two weeks after that relief, I learned one of my younger sisters is slowly but quickly dying from a brain tumor (inoperable glioblastoma).

Plus there's been the election year stress.

On Friday, my trusty washing machine bit the dust. It felt personal.

Yesterday, my youngest sister tested positive for covid. She's fully boosted and otherwise healthy, but still.

I'm telling you, I am so done with this year. Waiting to see whether it's done with me.

I'm not saying all this to elicit pity/sympathy. Bad stuff happens, to everyone, everywhere. I'm not unique. It's more to say that my ability to deal with things and take them in stride has been significantly diminished during these pandemic years. I think that's true for a whole lot of us.

Be kind to yourself, and to strangers. Have patience. Take care of yourself. We're all doing our best, even if the definition of that has changed. May it be enough.

Tim Lowe said...

Burnout was unavoidable over the past few years.

Burnout is two suicides in the family in 14 months. One two weeks after your mom dies and you can't have a funeral because of Covid.

Burnout is walking through a crosswalk and getting hit by a pickup truck (your wife gets hit too) on the one year anniversary of the world shutting down.

Burnout is going to work at a public school and trying to help kids overcome the misery while your own children are at home, unsupervised, suffering mental health issues of their own (the kids are fine now. Totally fine. Thank God).

Burnout is losing your agent midway through pandemic.

Burnout is going twelve months without being able to write anything, or at least anything meaningful.

The good thing about burnout is it burns out. Eventually.

Glad you're getting there, Janet. It sucks. It's no fun.

Devouring writers is much more fun.

-- Tim Lowe (ever since I got a new Gmail I can't figure out the blogger comment thing. I know, another thing on the list. Thankfully, I'm no longer burned out)

Kregger said...

You sound like you are on the mend.

One year, after a winter layoff, I felt a pleasant anticipation for the forthcoming sailing season rather than selling my boat. That's when I knew I was getting better. It had been a rough year.

Sometimes our hormonal/endocrine/neurotransmitter levels get damaged from negative feedback loops and need readjustment. That's a polite way to say some brains need medication.

It's not always forever. Some bootstraps simply need a little extra tug.

Unfortunately, some depressions are like repeated concussions. The more you have the worse they get.

I look forward to future improvements.


Karen K. said...

"Simplify your life...then commit to what remains."

The sign featuring these words hangs just outside my bedroom door (where I routinely ignore it). On the occasions when I do notice it, I realize how profound the words are.

Not everyone has the luxury of doing this temporarily, let alone permanently, but I strive for it nonetheless.

When I feel burnout coming on, I actually feel the need to declutter something. My closet. Some files. A drawer. Seems counter-productive--to add a chore to an overwhelmed life--but I need to feel as if I'm in control of something. And getting rid of crap feels good, dammit!

I'm glad you were able to simplify your life enough to get your mojo back on track. We all need to do that at times.

Mark R. David said...

I've been naturally able to avoid burnout, by being incorrigibly lazy and embracing it. However, I realize that solution may not work for all :)

My sister is a middle school teacher, and last weekend came up with (what I thought was) a brilliant solution for hers. She locked herself in for a David Lean watch-athon, in order by temperature: Doctor Zhivago (cold), Lawrence of Arabia (hot), Bridge over the River Kwai (sweaty).

Heather Wardell said...

Karen K, that is a wonderful sign! I have copied the text and will post it somewhere I'll see it regularly.

Thank you. :)

ryan field said...

I'm not so sure if it's burnout or just time to move on. With me it all started with a cancer diagnosis in Aug. 2021. After having been published with all the LGBTQIA publishers, and writing and having published over 150 gay romances, I just decided to stop after my diagnosis. fighting cancer is a full time job itself. I'm also a hybrid author and I have one book ready to go that I finished two years ago. It's a sequel to a book that was received well. But I just don't even feel the need to publish it. And I'm not depressed or upset about that. I just don't want to do it. So I don't think that's burnout. I think it's reevaluating one's life.

Brigid said...

Oh, KD, I wish I could drop off a stack of books and a pot of tea for you. What a long, unfurling nightmare. I'm so sorry for your loss, and the loss you are expecting with your sister. Wishing you comfort, and your younger sister a quick recovery.

Janet, I'm so glad you are beginning to get your mojo back. I think of you often, despite my mostly just lurking these days. You, and this community, make a difference in my life.

My mom has a brain tumor that, for 36 hours, we thought was cancer. It might become cancer, but it's not now and the neurologist is unconcerned. That was two weeks ago. I don't feel like I've recovered yet. But I'm writing again, and that feels wonderful.