Back in 2022, on my L.J. Diva website (now migrated here), I did a post about getting back to Before. I’ve mentioned it in previous posts, and some of what’s in that post is also here, but I’ve expanded greatly on it with what’s happened since, especially concerning burnout, which is what this post is about.
Burnout can last for weeks, months, or in my case, years. Here’s what happened to me…
From late 2019 to early 2020, I had brilliant ideas for a novel, or two, but pushed that insane inspiration aside to try and focus on writing other stuff, namely the final Porn Star Brothers novel, And Always. It was an overwhelming effort to write it from April until August with a September release. The book only came about after deciding, in 2019, to not write the 40-plus short stories about certain characters in the series, which meant not leaving Spiros & Jenny as the last book, but to wind up the series with a book of stories concerning the last five grandchildren who were yet to find their forevers.
I also had to deal with companies not doing their job, continue to run multiple websites and sets of social media, and then try and do other things. A LOT of other things! I finally ground to a mental halt and knew I needed a break. From EVERYTHING!
By January 2021, I hadn’t even attempted to write those new novels as I was battling to get my hardcovers and large prints under my three names finished after they were delayed from 2020. They were finally released in March, April, and May 2021. They, for the most part, were finally done. But I also had leftover kid’s horror stories from 2020 to complete and release, adding more pressure.
It was around this time that I came to the conclusion I had burnout, and it had taken me two years to figure it out. I don’t remember how it happened. It could have been a blog post, a social media post, or something I read in a book. It made a lot of sense because I was mentally and physically exhausted. My brain had been screaming at me to not write, that it didn’t want to write, and that it needed a break. Hell, at times, it didn’t even want to write anymore. Ever!
Not that I’d known I had it, after writing over one million words in The Porn Star Brothers family series, and releasing a book every six months from 2016 to 2019 when I not only had to type up an extra 15,000 words and then write an extra 67 pages for DeLuca, but then write Spiros & Jenny as well, all under my L.J. Diva pen name. Plus, for every one of those years, I was also writing and releasing horror stories for kids under my pen name, T.K. Wrathbone. And in 2016 I’d also released my Poems of a Musical Flavour series under my name. Nope, I didn’t know I had it at all. Until I did.
But even realising I had this thing called burnout; it didn’t stop life from happening because other issues were also bubbling up.
In September 2021 I had ANOTHER awesome idea for a novel, but had to put it on the back burner for other things, thus extinguishing the inspiration for it. That novel is something else; it made me rub my hands together at all of the twists and turns my brain was coming up with. That has NEVER happened with any other book I’ve written.
And, after small ideas had been percolating in my brain, simmering away under the surface like a volcano ready to blow, I knew something else was bubbling along with it. So, I took time off from the gym I’d started at in April, wrapped up a few other things, sat down at my desk and wrote copious notes. Thought upon thought poured out of me, mainly about WHY my writing life wasn’t working anymore. How could I get back to the way things used to be? What the hell was happening? Was it just burnout or was it something more?
The answers were, that I wanted to get back to before all of the pressure of everything I was doing, and that I was creatively stifled by the hours spent going to the gym. I decided to leave, as my most energetic hours of the day were being wasted there. Hours I could be writing and creating. Hours I could be getting back to before all of the stress when I wrote filled with excitement for my characters and my stories. I made the decision to change how I did things moving forward.
But, as is life, things had to become harder, before they became better.
In November 2021, I saw a movie called Colossal and had another idea for a novel. But I still had those pesky kids’ stories to finish off. Something I was forcing myself to do because I’d put them off in 2020.
Then, over the last month of 2021, I had more thoughts, because the thought train had gathered speed. And that train wanted to change EVERYTHING as it moved forward into a new year.
It was time I stepped back and made more time for myself to once again be creative. To once again write what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted, and not set myself ridiculous deadlines that I couldn’t possibly meet, because that had been a big problem. I’d set myself deadlines for writing and publishing and could no longer meet them. I’d spread myself across too many outlets and the inspiration and motivation had disappeared.
I made the decision to close my jewellery business and delete its social media accounts. I made the decision to close multiple social accounts of my two author names and go silent on the rest. I made the decision to post more often to the accounts in my name.
I’ve written millions of words across three names, multiple genres, stories, non-fictions, stand-alone novels, and a family saga that burned me out, and it was now time to go back to before. Before having all of that, before doing all of that, before when I wrote with no stress and no publication date.
THAT is what I wanted to get back to. It was just a matter of letting myself write whatever my muse gave me. I wanted to get back to writing freely.
But, another problem, from conversations I’d been having with myself from 2020-22 and after the end of the PSB series, was that I didn’t want to write long novels anymore because they’re time and energy-consuming. I was physically exhausted from handwriting those novels and wanted to ease back into it, creating shorter works around 75,000 words so I could produce more.
And I thought I could do it in early 2022, when I started the novel from the idea in September 2021. But eight pages in I had no idea what I was doing because it was going to be the first book in a duology and I’d never written a duology that coincides with each other. I had no clue which way I was going to write them. So I chose to write a stand-alone novel instead.
Anything for You was an arduous labour of desire and love that my mind fought against. It wasn’t ready to get back to writing. It was throwing up roadblocks to stop me from doing it. The main bugbear was my arthritis. I looked for easier pens to write with, I bought rubber pen grips to make gripping easier, I baulked and reared at the actual physicality of writing. I didn’t want to write long novels, because it was going to hurt. But I still didn’t want to write in general.
Even as I argued with myself over Anything for You, I realised that maybe the argument was moot. Maybe I was just destined to write the books I was meant to write, the ones I was given by the universe or the muse and I just had to stop arguing and do it.
I went on to handwrite one full notebook and three pages of a second, and then decided to eliminate handwriting altogether and typed up the rest, sucking it up until I finished it. The novel’s not as good as I originally wanted, but it’s done and released and I’m happy with it. It’s far longer than 75,000 words, a trend I saw coming from a mile away.
It was clearly never going to be possible to write short novels. But I still bucked against it. I even made the decision to never handwrite again, just type up every book I was ever going to create. I went through my notebooks and pulled out stories I’d started and typed up what there was. But, one year on, I went back on that, too.
In 2023, I bucked against it all again, wanting, and trying, to write a 75,000-word novel. I started handwriting that novel in March, and made the decision to not publish this year, removing the pressures of the deadline and timeline I usually set for myself. But then I stopped on April 11th to migrate blog posts from my two author sites to this site and my style site in the lead-up to closing them in September to eliminate even more stress from my life. Plus, I updated both sites along with my publishing house website.
I didn’t get back to that novel until June 11th, and even then it was a struggle. So, I pulled out an old trick. I read a Jackie Collins novel and voila, that night, off I went and wrote about twelve pages. It wore off the next day, but my mother had been sick and I was still a bit all over the place, so I amped it up and put in a heroic effort, got some excitement going in me, and it was done and dusted in July.
But, during those weeks of writing, I had kept asking myself, why am I still struggling after four years? What are the real problems going on here? Why can’t I do this anymore? Why can’t I do it the way I used to? Do I even want to do it anymore?
I didn’t know, but I damn well wanted to find out.
And I realised one night, when I had sat down to write, that besides the freezing cold weather wreaking havoc on the arthritis, I just didn’t want to do it because I was bored. I was bored with writing in general, bored with the book, and bored with writing this particular story which had started four years ago as an idea. It was four years too late, basically. I had no interest in it, no excitement for it.
And when I said to myself, it doesn’t excite me anymore, I have no excitement for it, ten seconds later my brain said, then you need to get excited. You have to get excited about writing again if you want to write the stories on your list and to finish this book.
Because the cold hard fact was none of it excited me. Between having so much to do all the time and the old arthritic body, writing had become a pain, a physical, emotional and mental one. It wasn’t exciting and I wanted the excitement back, so clearly what I’d been reading in the books from the library had sunk in, and that led to many more questions.
What was I going to do about it? Could I get the excitement back? Where was I going to get it from? Was writing just a decade-long thing? No, it’s been a sixteen-year-long thing and ongoing, and I’d been writing for eleven years straight, and publishing for nine. I wanted to keep doing it. I had so much more to write and stories don’t write themselves. But how was I going to do it?
And it wasn’t just excitement I needed to get back; I wasn’t inspired by any of it either. But I guess excitement and inspiration go hand in hand when it comes to writing.
Plus, my plotlines were a mess compared to the neatness of previous book outlines. They were a confused mess like my brain, unable to be laid neatly one after the other in order of how they needed to be. What I’d once been able to do with novels had escaped me and left me with a hodge podge of scenes.
I gave it the analogy of a dot-to-dot puzzle. I had once been able to start at number 1 and hit every dot in order as I went around the puzzle to get a complete picture. But with the last two novels, I started at dot 2 or 3, and lurched back and forth, jumping ahead and falling back, until I made it around in a mess of missed dots and scenes I’d thought of, but not written down in the outline or the book. The book I wrote in the first half of the year is a disaster I know will be fixed in the editing, but that’s not the way I used to do it and it’s annoying me. So, I can categorically say it’s a short novel, 200 handwritten pages long, but who knows how many words it’s going to end up when I attack it with a set of steak knives and create a viable product.
As I come to the end of this post, do I have any of the answers now at the end of the fourth year of burnout?
I believe it’s finally over. For now.
My thoughts have been, that I can keep guessing and keep asking myself questions, keep reading books about writing, keep making decisions about blogging, websites and social media, and maybe, one day I’d find the answers in a paragraph on a page. But, maybe I’ve had them all along and didn’t know it until I had a lot of thinking and figuring out to do.
I’m my mother’s carer, and my health has declined year after year. Both have contributed to the hideous all-consuming burnout I’ve suffered after writing over a million words in a short amount of time. All of that meant I needed to cull and restructure my business to be smaller and better, and remove as many pressures from myself as possible. If that also means posting less to social media, and being on socials less, then so be it.
I was also bucking against the obvious, not wanting to write long novels anymore, but maybe that’s just the way it is for me. I need to get back to writing out clear plotlines and having everything ready before I start. I need it all to flow again. I need the time and space, not pressure and constrictions. I need to get the excitement and inspiration back like when the Porn Star Brothers series poured out of me. It was pure magic waiting for its time to happen. Just as when my first four novels poured out of me.
I need to read my Jackie Collins books again, and get my Jackie Collins on. I need to let my characters lead the way and take charge. I need to give my muse the reins again instead of keeping them to myself, holding them tight against my chest.
I want to go back to the good old days, in a better way, and I’d say I’m pretty much there after starting a second novel in October and actually being excited about it enough to write most nights. And thanks to daylight savings and warmer weather, I’ve had more energy during the day and I started compiling next year’s to-do list as well as lists for things to do over December and January which I’ve started early thanks to more energy. At this rate, I’ll have a lot of things done and dusted by Christmas on top of my stories, so I’ll see what happens moving forward into next year.
Throughout all of this, the goal was to make my life easier. To get back to before the write, edit, publish, repeat cycle. This year, I just wanted to get a good stock of stories and get ahead of myself, and hopefully, I’ve done enough by getting everything done and over with in the first half of this year and then closing my two author sites in the second. As I write this now, I can say that burnout feels like it’s over after four years, and I now have the freedom to write freely once more.