Struggling with Burnout? Word Poop Happens

Whoa. Sorry about that. Thanks for cleaning me up.

We are now over halfway through 2011, and the New Year’s Resolutions are long forgotten, dulled by the screams of children racing through your house on a sugar high. Perhaps this was the year you vowed to take that novel more seriously, and you set out with bold promises of daily word count.

The first week of January, you were off like a shot. The creativity was flowing, and you couldn’t remember a time you felt so alive. You might have even wondered why you put this off so long? Fingers flying across the keyboard, you laughed in the face of all your naysayers.

Now? Seven months in?

Calgon! Take me away!

Maybe you are heading into July, and, what was so exciting and fun in January, now feels more like slogging through a rice paddy wearing ankle weights and snow shoes. I feel your pain. So when you hit that mental wall, what can you do to push past and find that same kind of energy? Here are some tips to help.

1. Recognize that stalling is normal.

When we start off with a new sparkly idea, it is like a first date that goes really well. We spend every spare second dreaming of our next time together, and every moment apart is torture. But, like the dating world, the one month point with our new project marks a transition in our relationship. This is the point we often ask, Can I commit for the long haul? ‘Til “published” do we part? By 6, 7 months? There needs to be a committment.

Be encouraged. Just because we don’t get giddy every time we think of our work in progress in no way means that something is wrong. It just means we have an opportunity to dig in and go deeper. This is no longer a fling, a wild fleeting affair. It’s a commitment. That’s a good thing.

2. Revisit the plan.

There is a saying we used all the time when I was in sales. Fail to plan and plan to fail. Many writers (I’ve been guilty) just take off writing without any prior preparation. It is usually about the 30,000 word mark that this initial failure to plot starts becoming clear. We stare at our screen and realize our story is so complicated the reader is going to need a GPS and a team of sherpas to navigate our plot.

What went wrong?

Maybe we should have spent a tad more time plotting. We have a choice. Keep writing, or stop and make a plan. Often, if we will just go back to the original idea and construct even a basic outline, we can easily see where we got off track. Think of it like taking a wrong turn on a road trip. We can keep driving and hope to stumble across a familiar interstate, but the better idea might be to drag out that AAA map we ignored in the beginning because we wanted to be “spontaneous.”

Frequently, when we hit a mental wall in our writing, it is because our subconscious is shouting, “You took a wrong turn!” If we will listen and retrace our steps, we will be cooking down the Inspiration Interstate in no time.

3. Revisit our goals.

At the beginning of every new year, a condition called RDD sweeps the globe, and writers are particularly vulnerable. What is RDD? Reality Deficit Disorder. I don’t know if it’s the champagne or peer pressure that makes us believe we can lose thirty pounds, build our own California Closet out of spare Popsicle sticks,
and win the Pulitzer by summer.

Let’s be honest. New Year’s Day makes us crazy. Spring Break only reinforces the original crazy idea and summer is the first time we can really grab hold of some sanity.

In January, we seem to lose all grasp on reality and forget that we do have a life. We have spouses, children, pets, day jobs and needy houseplants that all need our attention, too. These things don’t just go away because we decided to write a book, which you have probably been reminded of in the past seven months.

Oh yeah, I guess I do need to sleep.

If you are burned out, then it might be a good time to revisit your original goals and grant some grace for temporary insanity. Clearly the original goal was a tad unrealistic if it’s now summer and you are only halfway finished and are now afraid of your computer. Obviously you needed longer than 8 weeks to write
your opus magnus.

Just because we move a personal deadline does not mean we have failed. Sometimes our creativity will lock up simply because it is caught like a deer in the headlights. Give your muse some breathing room, and she might just spark back to life.

Summertime is a great time to set new goals. If you are live in TX it is currently hotter than the hammered-down hinges of Hell and you are pretty much forced to stay indoors to keep from spontaneously combusting anyway. Make use of that indoor time.

4. Focus on love.

One great way to rest and recharge our creativity is to read. Remind yourself why you love to write. Get away from your own work and out of your own head for awhile. Go to the pool and read the kind of stuff that inspired you to want to write that novel in the first place. This is a good way to recoup, but still be “working.” Often, by “plugging in” to the creativity of others, we can recharge and be ready to write in no time.

5. Write No Matter What—Word Poop is Part of Life

One of my favorite quotes is by Stephen King. The amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work. 

If the goal is to do this writing thing for a job, we just have to get up and do it anyway. If you aren’t currently writing full-time, this is the time to train. It doesn’t get any easier; the demands just get steeper and the
deadlines actually mean something. There are consequences.

I have chapters due to my agent. He needs 15,000 words. In the past 6 weeks, my grandmother has been in the hospital three times and nearly died twice of a bacterial infection (she is fine now), I had surgery on my right hand, and I have an 18 month old who actively pursues Death every waking moment. All great excuses  to not write, and it’s likely no one would have held it against me. But I wrote anyway. I want to be a big author one day and life is not going to stop to give me time to write. I figured it was great training for the next legs of my career.

Almost every day I sat at the computer I wrote pure unadulterated CRAP. I made writing goals of 3000 words and I wrote 3000 words of garbage. Not only did I write garbage, but every word was like pulling literary teeth. Why? I was tired, sore, strung out, and sometimes full of pain medicine. But I knew a little

The best writing is often behind a wall of garbage. We have to prime the pump. And, yes a lot of gross words coated in leaves, mud and squirrel dropping might come glopping out, but there will come a point where beautiful pristine spring-fresh awesomeness will start to flow and you will need a mighty large bucket to catch it all. It took 5 weeks of writing redundant junk to get to this past week. My writing has been better this week than ever. My subconscious has come up with stuff I never could have thought of deliberately. But my subconscious needed me at the keyboard clearing out the word excrement. I had to clear out my mind and then clean up my Book Baby.

Too many writers go to their “Book Baby” see it’s covered in word poop and they just figure they will come back when the baby smells like roses and angel kisses. Nope. It will still be covered in word poop and if you leave it long enough, your “Baby” will be painting the walls of your hard drive—

Okay, I’ll stop.

Just go change its diaper and get to work. It’s a Book Baby and word poop happens. It goes with all babies.

In the end, know that writing a book is more like a marathon. We have to train, prepare, and then pace ourselves, or we will end up curled in the fetal position on the side of the road waiting on the rescue van. It’s normal to make mistakes and have setbacks and feel less than thrilled about our decision to become a writer. What is important is to remember that all of the doldrums and depression is temporary, but the thrill of publication is forever.

What are some ways you use to bust past the writing doldrums? What do you think causes your creativity to “lock up?” What tactics do you use to get unstuck? How do you handle Word Poop?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for this last bit of month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of June I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Important Announcements

Due to 4th of July Holiday, winners will be announced on Wednesday.

I am teaching a Blogging to Build Your Brand Workshop at Write It Forward. Sign up HERE. If you want to blog and you need my dedicated help to helping you find your own unique brand and develop a plan for blogging, then the $40 Blogging to Build a Brand will fit that need. In this class I will run you through exercises to help find and create a brand as unique as you and then tailor it to connect with your future fans.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.


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  1. I totally stalled after my last book. Wrote it, did edits, then nothing. The weird thing was, my brain was still going nineteen to the dozen. Ideas were there, characters were blowing each other up, stories were occurring, I just couldn’t bear the thought of writing any of it down. I opened up a new document a few times with a story hammering the inside of head, screaming to be let out, then as soon as it spotted the blank screen it sat down on its hands and refused to move.

    “I’m not going down THERE,” it said, in the most supremely bratty tones you can possibly imagine.

    I despaired. I probably ranted. No doubt my CP remembers this period well. Then I went to the cinema. Saw a film (Fast 5). Loved it. Walked out into the car park with ideas for a screenplay. Awesome! So I downloaded Celtx (thanks again to my CP who knows where to find these things) and wrote screenplays for the next two weeks. Which means I worked on two because a friend’s partner had an idea for a tv show but he wasn’t a writer, so could I write it for him? (In case you’re wondering, I wrote the pilot episode and he loved it.)

    After two weeks of that, the ideas were back for fiction. They were happy to go down in prose form again. Then I changed my mind about which book I was writing next, but at least I was writing again! 20-something thousand words later, the brain is still moving. No doubt by the time I finish the next book and edit it, I’ll need to take another break. And the screenplays will still be there.

    I really need to streamline this process…

  2. Word poop. Heh heh.

    I love the cute picture of the baby.

    I’m definitely in burn out mode. I’ve had to step back these last couple weeks and admit to myself that I have to stop working so hard or I’ll eventually end up in a psych ward. I get so excited about a project, I burn the candle at both ends trying to get it done, but alas…I’m human, not a robot.

  3. I’ve heard several authors say ‘You can’t revise a blank page.” or soemthing about allowing yourself to write crap. I’ve done it, and then deleted it once my brain and creativity got together and finally started to work! LOL! Writing daily has been on my to-do list for over a year now. I don’t know what I’m waiting for, but I think it’s time to stop waiting.

  4. I tend to stall at the beginning. Getting those first two chapters written is always the tough part. Once I get through that I get into the groove and just get the thing written, not worrying about having to go back and make changes until I’ve got the first draft done.

  5. Kristen, thank you so much for this post. I’m in the doldrums with my writing right now and am so sick of revising this second book, I want to scream from boredom. And I needed some solid advice for what to do next. THANK YOU.

  6. I do have a tendency to stall. But when that happens, I find myself reading books! And it works, it really does. In fact, I almost get jealous – this author got it done, so what’s keeping me from doing it? That’s usually when I go and vomit words all over my computer.

  7. I’m in a pretty permanent stall so if I waited for that to clear up, I’d never get anything done. So I go to the coffee shop and tell myself, “I’m here for 3 hours or 3k words, whichever comes first.” I figure since I’m there, I might as well write. 🙂 It also helps to go to the gym. Few thinks help get the brain going like getting the body going. Love the analogy of the Book Baby. Great blog!

  8. Kristen, your excellent post reminded me of a quotre from a favorite author, Agatha Christie.
    “. . . . I had no joy in writing, no élan. I had worked out the plot–a conventional plot, partly adapted from one of my other short stories. I knew, as one might say, where I was going, but I could not see the scene in my mind’s eye, and the people would not come alive . . . . That was the moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”

    Just as when you don’t always want to go in to a day job, you still have to show up. Being a professional writer means showing up, even if we can wear our jammies and slippers to do so.

  9. I was having an up day on my writing today, so I’m not going to let this bring me down….I’ll just keep it in my pocket for a down day. Thanks!

  10. Keeping up with the creation of new fiction is a challenge I’m dodging right now. I’m querying a novel, so I find myself polishing a lot – considering feedback or reading something online frequently takes me back to the manuscript. (Please LORD, let an agent fall in love with it so I can be editing for publication, not out of desperation.) Then there’s those three blogs a week Kristen Lamb says that I have to write. In addition, my family is in crisis mode right now. I have three elderly family members, one in the last days of her battle with cancer, that are taking up more than their fair share of my life. And then there’s the rest of my life.

    So, I write poetry. It doesn’t really hone my skills as a storyteller, but it (and those three blogs a week) keep the creative juices flowing. Thanks for keeping us on track.

  11. I’m fried.

    Just came off two non-stop (fun) months of 2-3 interviews/day for my new book and am trying hard to get really excited about the loathed proposal I am writing (using that word loosely) for what I hope will be the next book. I only write non-fiction so spend a lot of time reading competing/complementary books first to narrow my niche. But I just have to keep putting my ass in the chair. It’s hard when you are exhausted, so I am allowing myself time to go a little more slowly than normal (and possibly than I should.)

    The challenge of moving onto the next book — baby metaphor alert — is feeling you’re abandoning the last one while still in infancy.

  12. I’ve been stalled this last month. I just finished my latest manuscript, and even though I wanted to start on the next one right away, my creative gears were not cooperating. I decided to try another creative outlet: drawing. Thankfully, I feel the muse stirring to life again, and I will probably do a major cleaning of my working space before I dive in. Having everything freshly clean and organized always makes me feel more energized.

  13. I’ve of course had this problem too– every writer does, I guess. In my current WIP, I hit a scene I hadn’t planned on, and had no idea what to do with it. I forced out 1,000 words of crap, and called it a day. I’ve found that if I write SOMETHING, my brain will then be forced to dwell on it because it was so horrible. My subconscious turns it over and over, and eventually, I have a better scene being formulated. I went back the next day and rewrote it. Some of the crap actually was good, and just needed to be polished, and the scene ended up so much better. But if I’d just left the page blank, I would have still had to come back the next day to a blank page. Writing crap is worth it because it forces me to think about how to un-crapify it later.

  14. Excellent post!

    My favorite paragraph (because misery loves company . . . I keed):

    I have chapters due to my agent. He needs 15,000 words. In the past 6 weeks, my grandmother has been in the hospital three times and nearly died twice of a bacterial infection (she is fine now), I had surgery on my right hand, and I have an 18 month old who actively pursues Death every waking moment. All great excuses to not write, and it’s likely no one would have held it against me. But I wrote anyway. I want to be a big author one day and life is not going to stop to give me time to write. I figured it was great training for the next legs of my career.

    I never decided to become a writer ~ I just wrote. It is in the doing that we become.

    Cooks cook. Dancers dance. Writers write.
    No excuses. 😀

    Someday I’ll say, I knew her when her 18 month was still actively pursuing Death every day.

    Hope you hand and grandmother continue to improve.

    1. I loved seeing this on the page:

      Cooks cook. Dancers dance. Writers write.
      No excuses.

      Enough said. 🙂

  15. You’re right about that. Should writing exercises count as part of writing? I figured if it’s a writing exercise, it should count especially since I’m bagging on the words.

  16. Again, your posts come at the perfect time. I was just starting to worry about my WIP stalling out and never getting back to work on it. I also started a challenge to get myself out of the rut because I figured if I can’t make it sound good now then I can at least slog through the mud and word poop until my mind is unstuck and happy with the project again.

    Thanks for the inspiration. Nice to know I’m normal (well, as normal as a fantasy writer can be).

  17. This was perfect for me today! I’m buried in word poop right now. I think I need to grab a book, sit by the pool, and enjoy my swimming little boys 😀

  18. I love, “Oh yeah, I guess I do need to sleep.”

    I say this a lot, and somehow it’s always a revelation.

    Love the poop analogy — so true. Messy and smelly, but true.

  19. I love knowing that I’m not alone. Thank you!

  20. I think I just hit the ‘I need to sleep’ part… I had the great plan of getting the first draft of my new WIP down in 6 weeks, but I kind of forgot this 6 weeks is my busiest time at work, plus I have kids at home on vacation. So it’s not going to be 6 weeks… And I need to forgive myself for not getting to that word count and keep slogging one despite it.

  21. “…an 18 month old who actively pursues Death every waking moment.” This is such a perfect description, it should be framed.

    When I’m stalled or smelling word poop, I work on something different. Probably the wrong thing to do, but I usually have 2-3 things I’m working on at once. And, I know — is the reason I have 2-3 things going at once because I don’t slog through? I don’t know.

    I also use the logline — tagline trick. I write it and post it. And try to remember to pay attention to it.

  22. A lot of truth resonating with me in this one Kristen! I too firmly believe in the importance of just writing stuff, Even if its poop.

    some things i do to help me find direction/get energized with my writing projects?

    1. I work on 2 or 3 projects at the same time. Then during the day, when i hit a wall with one or lose excitement for it. I shift to the other project and churn out pages for that one. I know some experts say not to do this, but it has worked for me. When i was writing the tsunami book, the pain of so many survivors stories was emotionally exhausting. So it was a relief to get away from that book regularly and lose myself in my YA romance/urban fantasy. I think those YA love-ridden characters saved my sanity!

    2. Get someone else to read your work out loud. I ask my 13yr old daughter to read bits out loud for me to listen to – hearing it flow from someone else, you can REALLY ‘see’ the bits that dont work and also find joy in the bits that sound AWESOME. And then of course, my daughter likes to add her two bits worth, which is hugely useful since she reads everything under the sun.

    Always enjoys your posts Kristen. Thank you.

  23. Thanks for the timely tips and advice. I may have to revisit my aversion to plans. LOL

    I also endorse your suggestion that we feed our creativity. I am so inspired to write when I am reading a really good book, or have just seen a terrific movie and I am all excited about story and what makes story work.

  24. Your blogs make me happy. <3
    That is all.

  25. I love the title of this post and your analogy, and that baby is adorable! Learning technology and being fatigued lock up my creativity. I find that a good book really does help, plus good music, and laughing is the best thing to perk me up, whether it’s a funny movie or hanging out with people who love to laugh and have fun. I’m glad your grandma is better, hope your hand is all healed up, and it sounds like your baby is a healthy little explorer. Have a great holiday weekend. Wish I could afford to take your workshop. It sounds awesome. Hopefully when things improve.

    • Christopher Staskel on July 2, 2011 at 1:56 am
    • Reply

    I’m popping that quote up on the back of my desk! Thank you for this awesome July 1st post – definitely timely.

  26. I had every intention of having a reading break now I’ve got two stories on submission but a brand new MG idea popped in my head and explodes onto the page every day. I cannot write all day long but soon I will have more writing time and I’m so excited about that! I should enjoy the summer with my 5 yr old before he goes to school every day and hopefully get my first draft done a few books read and land an agent for my subbed stories. Okay the last one is a long shot. I need to stock up on poetry too, I had 9 poems and a flash fiction piece published in four anthologies recently and have nothing left and no inspiration. Hopefully when I have a blogging break when my overseas visitors arrive I do all this recharging you are talking about and still get my writing done 🙂 Hope your mom will be okay and your hand, thanks Kristen.

    1. really cute baby pic btw 🙂

  27. Somehow your timing is always bang on for me (Twilight Zone theme music in background … ). You cut right to the heart of the matter, give your readers a virtual shake, and make us laugh out loud. It’s a highly effective combination. As always, thanks!

  28. Excellent advice Kristen! It is always good to be reminded of why we set out to become writers, to know that we are not alone on this crazy road and that there are things we can do to overcome the inevitable obstacles that we encounter.

    You continue to be an inspiration that encourages the rest of us to press forward and pursue our dreams. Thanks!

    1. Well said!

  29. I’m glad you wrote about goals today–it falls in line with the launch of my Life List Club and so many other bloggers themes! What a great coincidence! “Writing is a marathon and we have to prepare and pace ourselves” is exactly what I keep in mind everyday. I’m at the computer at least 10 hours a day, networking blogging, learning from you and others, and writing. Originally I thought I’d be done writing my book by July 1st. HA! Not quite. If I get stuck I go back and read my outline and my timeline-it usually sparks a thought. Or, I’ll read a book for fun-no matter which book it is, i always get inspiration from it. Thanks for another great post, Kristen.

  30. Great post Kristen. Just the kick in my butt I needed to put my writing back at the top priority. I just started scheduling my time so I could feel I was making more headway on my own work. Thanks for reminding me it’s ok if everything I write isn’t roses and rather…poop. Never thought I’d write that word on your blog. Ha! Thanks for the encouragement and reality check!

    You should check out the Life List Club Marcia and I have started. We made it to help writers and readers keep the momentum going on their goals, writing and otherwise.

    • EllieAnn on July 3, 2011 at 2:25 am
    • Reply

    OH, don’t worry…I plan on giving away a GPS and team of sherpas with each one of my novels. 😉
    Thanks for the great post!

  31. Just what I needed to get my a$$ in gear for the start of A Round of Words in 80 Days…on July 4th!!


  32. Hi, Kristen! This is a great post. I just signed up for your July class @WDWP and I’m extremely looking forward to it! I am off to purchase your book, by the way. Very excited to learn all I can about branding!

    I absolutely thought your analogy of the leaves covering up brilliant ideas, was beautiful! You are right; a lot of people wait around for our lovely muse to visit him or her, but as Norah Roberts says, “buns in chair” and just write! 😉

  33. Love “spring-fresh pristine awesomeness”! Boy, do I know all about word-poop. So glad to hear encouraging words about it though. I struggle hard with resistance. I keep trying to show up to the page whether or not my muse is with me. Then I start to wonder why. Thanks for reminding me why.

  34. I’m behind after my travels into the middle of nowhere but wanted to say good post. Many people need the guidebook on how to reset. It’s okay to not be where you expected. Just keep pushing ahead. That’s what separates the successful from the rest.

  35. Great post, Kristen. Your sense of humor never fails to make me smile, even while I can totally identify with the situation(s). Thanks so much for the time you spend encouraging us!

  36. I have used Flash Fiction, 5-Minute Fiction, and HumpDayChallenge to give myself a chance to write something short and take a break from my WIP when I hit a wall. I really think blogging has helped me a lot to buckle down and make writing a regular, scheduled process.

    Moreover, I have long believed that too many amateur authors think everything they write is or should be wonderful. You have to be willing to toss out the dirty bathwater and keep the baby. Somewhere in all that writing is a gem, but it must be mined out from the rock.

  37. Thanks, Kristen. Excellent motivational post. I had your book recommended to me today by a new commenter on my blog. I’m really going to have to get it this time.

  1. […] Are you in the middle of your manuscript and feeling burnt out? Kristen Lamb gives some hope. Struggling With Burnout? Word Poop Happens […]

  2. […] Struggling With Burnout […]

  3. […] I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been going through a writing funk.  Here I have summer stretched out before me with loads of free time, and I can’t bring myself to start my next manuscript.  I tried, and what I got was word poop, to quote Kristen Lamb’s recent post on Struggling with Burnout. […]

  4. […] Struggling with Burnout? Word Poop Happens @ Warrior Writers Kristen Lamb [ @KristenLambTX ] discuss ways to overcome writer burn out. […]

  5. […] Dealing with Reality Deficit Disorder? Kristen Lamb has advice. Another brilliant woman whose every word I hang upon. Number 4 resonates with this blog very well. […]

  6. […] Lamb tackles Struggling with Burnout? Word Poop Happens. (Good stuff here […]

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