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Sunday, July 24, 2011

On Professional Burn-Out and Other Demons

Writer's block? It's something that happens to every writer now and again and it's something I can really always deal with. I'm not the sort of writer who ever really runs out of ideas, but I can be the sort who hits the wall hard when it comes to how best to implement those ideas. That always sorts itself out in time though. Sometimes time isn't even necessary. A day at the beach or a couple of afternoons spent reading instead of writing and I'm perfectly good to go.

Burnout is a different animal though. It sneaks up on writers almost without their realizing it. You brush off feelings of resentment you begin to have toward your clients as just you being tired... or maybe you even blame it on your clients and their demands altogether. You catch yourself feeling drained instead of energized at the end of your work day more and more often, but you just tell yourself you probably just need a good night's sleep. If your'e a passionate sort of writer (like I used to consider myself to be), you most likely assume that there's no way in hell burnout could ever happen to you despite these warning signs, but let me tell you right now that you're wrong. This is something that can happen to any freelance writer, no matter how much they once loved words, writing, or what they do for a living. 


Well, burnout (at least when it comes to my article writing and professional stuff) is definitely something I've been dealing with like whoa lately and it's been steadily creeping up on me over the past couple of years if I'm really honest with myself. At first, it was just a niggling feeling at the back of my mind and a little voice that pretty persistently kept saying: "You know what, Cat? I'm not really enjoying this the way I used to. I'd literally rather be doing anything else." At first, I only felt that way occasionally, but as time went by, I started feeling it more and more often. 

Now I would say I have that attitude toward pretty much every project I take on, more or less. Some are better than others, of course, but yeah. Even fun projects that I would have been over the moon about a couple of years ago now just seem like total chores. I think back on the days when I used to happily breeze through articles like they were nothing, churning them out with a smile on my face and turning them in well ahead of schedule. Now I look at the way I leave things until the last minute whenever possible and procrastinate all the time about anything work related and can barely remember things being any other way. That makes me sad, to be totally honest, because I miss the way I used to feel about my job and my clients.

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I'm sure many of you are wondering what on earth happened, because writing for a living was once this huge source of happiness and personal pride for me. For a long time, I wondered as well. Truth be told, I never dreamed of being a copywriter or a journalist... at all. I enjoy that as an aside, but I don't consider that to be who I am as a writer. In truth, I see myself as more of a storyteller. This is true whether we're talking about my writing, my art, or anything to do with the music I want to write one day. I think I had hoped that getting into what I'm doing now would open some doors for me in other arenas or lead to other things by now. I guess I currently have a big old case of butthurt in regards to the way it's only led to more of the same instead. I feel like I've hit a huge dead end and am faced with the big "what next" question that always presents itself when one finds herself in such a situation.

I've been trying to figure out what to do about that, because really. This has become a real problem for me. It's even beginning to affect my health by aggravating my depression, which naturally only makes staying on top of responsibilities and goals harder. I've spent lots and lots of time talking about things with people I felt would understand or be supportive instead of just going: "Oh, nonsense. Do you have any idea what I would give to get to write for a living? Stop whining and start appreciating how lucky you are." That's helped a lot. Seth gets it, because he writes and runs websites as part of his living, as do many of my friends. 

I've also been taking more days to myself lately. If I don't have anything that needs to be completed for work, I get on my bike and go for a ride by the water instead of trying to force myself to stare at the computer screen anyway and churn out something else I consider to be productive. I pick up a book. I've actually been reading again, which feels awesome! I watch a movie and let it inspire me and lift my mood the way I used to. I do things that make me laugh. I go out and take pictures to share with my Facebook friends when I get home. Recently, I've felt like I've been getting to a place where I can kind of think about writing again without feeling resentful or instantly negative at the mere thought, hence my popping in here to blog publicly for a change instead of just in my little personal blog at LiveJournal.

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I think that what may be the toughest part of feeling burnt out on writing really is for me is that it's taken away something that was once my primary outlet. Since I was little, I've kept journals. Once I got on board with computers and the internet age, I started blogging and have been doing it ever since that first day online. However, ever since I've been having so much trouble with creative burnout, I've found myself avoiding even my blogs and that's bad. Without them, I fall out of communication with peers and people I care about. Without writing my feelings and struggles out where I can see and reflect on them, they sort of build up in a jumble inside of me. Most important of all, without blogging and creative writing, there is nothing of my own unique voice going "out there"and increasing my chances of making the kinds of connections I wanted in the first place.

Naturally this is something I've been working on as well, because I think it is the key to reconnecting with what made me want to be a writer in the first place. I think it has a little to do with why I chose to open blogs and journals instead of simply running personal websites as well. I certainly didn't do it to post articles and resources all the time, although those are certainly great to offer as well from time to time. I did it so I'd have a place to tell stories. I did it so that I could connect with other people and write about my thoughts, experiences, and feelings in regards to subjects I'm passionate about.

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When it comes to this blog in particular, I wanted to let people in on the life of a writer/artist who is finding her way in the world still and discovering her voice as a professional. However, I've let the professional side of me take over too much, I think. Professional Cat thinks too much. She never posts unless she can think of something resourceful and useful to talk about. She's dry and boring. I really miss Creative Cat after whom this blog was named and I think so do my friends and readers. She was a person who never overthought things. If she had something to say or something to share, she simply hit the "new post" button without giving it a second thought and went for it. She was funny and she had a lot of fun with her writing.

I never wanted to whine in this blog or complain. Really, even now as I write this, I am wondering if I really should, because I don't want to hurt my professional reputation by outright admitting to being burnt out right now. I don't want to discourage other writers or artists who might be thinking about freelancing either by making this sound like a nightmare to avoid. However, I have come to the realization that things like this are all part of the journey, as are my thoughts and personal feelings about different aspects of what I do, and as such they should be recorded here. They're valid and they feel worth writing down to make sure the story I am trying to tell here is as complete as possible.