Heart Breathings

How To Avoid Burnout As An Author

May 30, 2018 by Sarra Cannon

A Writer's Life

Burnout is a very real and dangerous thing for authors and entrepreneurs. Our ability to make money rests solely on our ability to create and market our work, which means that periods of sustained burnout can completely tank our income and productivity. Today, we are going to talk about how to avoid burnout as authors.

Burnout: physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.

I am intimately familiar with burnout and depression. In 2016, my career was thriving, my income was up, but I was completely wiped out emotionally. I had been pushing myself far too hard for far too long, and my body and mind simply couldn’t keep up.

Instead of recognizing the warning signs of approaching burnout, I thought the solution was to work harder. Push myself more. Force myself to work, even when I didn’t feel like it. I thought that I would eventually get over that hill and be able to keep going.

Except that didn’t happen. Instead, I completely burned myself out. I ran out of gas, both emotionally and mentally, and I simply could not give any more of myself to my career. Fixing this wasn’t a matter of just taking a day off or going to get a massage.

It had taken months for the burnout to build up and come to tipping point, and sadly, it took just as long to get back to a place where I could joyfully work again. Almost a year, in fact. It wasn’t pretty, and even now, in 2018, I’m still paying for that time I had to take off. I’m still playing catch up. It’s not an idea situation to be in, but once my level of burnout went too far, I had no choice but to take a long break.

Burnout is a very real danger for all of us who are pursuing our dreams as writers. We wear so many hats, have to-do lists that are staggeringly long (and never finished), and we are constantly having to adapt to the market, which happens to change sometimes overnight.

As creators, we must learn to take care of ourselves.

The good news is that if you can learn to recognize the signs of burnout, you can take action the moment the warnings start to pop up. Taking quick action can save you from needing to take months (or years) off from work, which can honestly save your career.

Watch today’s video on recognizing the signs of burnout and avoiding it before it’s too late, or continue reading this post below.


Recognizing The Signs of Burnout

At first, the signs of overwhelm and burnout can be subtle. Maybe you’re feeling a little more tired than usual, or maybe you just feel like you’re having an off day and can’t seem to focus.

Over time, though, if you start to notice the following signs or symptoms, you might be getting dangerously close to burning out:

  • Always Seem To Be Tired
  • Your Stress Levels Have Been High For A Long Time
  • Lack of Focus or Concentration
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Illness or Other Physical Symptoms (Eye twitching, pain in joints, etc.)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression or Feeling Worthless
  • Irritable or Angry
  • Feeling As Though All The Fun Is Gone
  • Detachment
  • Hopelessness
  • You Feel Like You’re Working Your Tush Off, But You Aren’t Actually Being Productive

These are just some of the signs of Burnout, but if you find yourself experiencing several of these symptoms multiple days or weeks in a row, please don’t ignore them! It isn’t normal to feel tired, hopeless, and stressed for weeks on end, trust me.

If you allow things to continue the way they are now, I promise that eventually, you will hit a wall and you simply won’t be able to power through. It’s much easier to make simple changes before you hit that wall than it is to recover after suffering complete burnout.

How To Avoid Burnout

Photo by Thien Dang on Unsplash


Make Changes Now To Avoid Burnout

The best way to avoid burnout is to reduce the stress in your life. Easier said than done, though, right?

As author entrepreneurs, we constantly have so much to do that it feels as though there’s absolutely no way to do it all. Many of us are also parents. Some of us have full time jobs outside of our writing. There simply isn’t enough time in a day to get it all done.

If you want to stay mentally healthy, though, you have to understand that no one expects you to be perfect. You don’t have to get everything done. What you need to do is figure out what your priorities are and only worry about the things that truly make a difference in your life and your career.

Reducing stress might seem like a daunting task, but trust me when I say that taking a step back and making time for yourself now is going to be a heck of a lot better for you than suffering a mental collapse that takes you out for almost a year.

Here are my top suggestions for reducing stress and avoiding burnout. These are good to start implementing now, even if you don’t have any signs of burnout, but if you are seeing some of the signs or symptoms now, please take this list to heart and begin working to implement these suggestions today.


Make a List of What’s Stressing You Out The Most.

Write it all down. Your son’s soccer practice. The dirty laundry piling up. The social media scrolling. Your deadline. Whatever it is that makes you feel anxious or tense on a daily or weekly basis goes on the list. Rate each item from 1 to 5 in terms of how much stress it adds to your life. 1 being “barely any” and 5 being “omg, help”.

Once you have your full list in front of you, write out an idea of how you could reduce stress in that area immediately. For example, if your July 1st deadline is stressing you out because you know you’re way behind, you could (a) push the deadline back to August 1st or (b) schedule a writing retreat with your best friend next week and focus solely on the book to hit your deadline on time.

As another example, let’s say your son’s daily swimming practice is stressing you out, because it’s taking three hours out of your work time. Brainstorm ways to either get out of taking him to practice or getting your work done while you are there. You could contact another parent and switch off weeks taking the kids to practice. You could ask a friend or family member to help out a few times a week. Or maybe you could take your laptop with you and work in the bleachers with your headphones on while your son swims.

There is always a solution that can reduce stress, even if that solution is just to back out of a project or committment. I know we always hate to say no or back out, but at the same time, when your mental health is at stake, nothing is too important.


Journal, Meditate, and Unplug

When I’m stressed to the max, and I just can’t take it anymore, the types of things that seem to help me the most are journaling, meditation, and stepping away from my devices and social media accounts.

Stress and overwhelm for me tend to come from things outside of myself. Things I need to do, negative people influencing my mood, etc. If I pay attention to what’s really going on, I usually realize pretty quickly that I’ve somehow managed to get off-center. I’ve moved out of alignment, and I need to bring myself back to a focus on my life’s purpose and my joy for writing.

Some of the best ways to do this are to step back from social media and online activities, get quiet, and listen to my feelings. I know this may sound kind of hokey, but it’s so incredibly important.

Sitting quietly in meditation with no distractions often helps me to still my racing mind, forget my ridiculous to-do list, and get back to the core of who I am and what I want out of life. Once I’ve refocused on my true desires and purpose, I write in my journal, letting all of my feelings out on paper and working through them in solitude.

For me, I find that after a few days of quiet and reflection, I start to breathe more deeply and my mind begins to slow down and focus again on the things that are truly most important.


Spend Time With Positive People

When I was a school teacher, I was always complaining about everything. It was ridiculous! I had never been the type of person to see the negative in every situation, but after a few years of teaching, I found that I was constantly annoyed and upset.

After taking some time to reflect on why I was becoming this way, I realized that every single time I went into the teacher’s lounge or had any social time with the other teachers at my school, all we did as a group was complain. Whoa. This was a huge wake-up call for me.

Complaining and being negative had become the core of our social interaction as a group.

Ever since then, I’ve been hyper aware of the general attitude of the people I spend most of my time with. Now, there’s no one on earth who is going to be happy all the time, but if I find myself in a Facebook group or with a group of friends who are constantly complaining about the industry, I step away immediately. Of course, I always try to move things in a positive direction when I can. I’m not positive all the time either! Not by far.

But if a group of people (or even one specific person) in my life are constantly complaining and bringing me down, I find that my own energy tends to lower, as well. I’m going to be honest with you. I just don’t have time for that in my life.

I’m there to help a friend through a rough time, and I will be a shoulder to cry on when things get tough. But if someone consistently makes me feel bad about myself or has a negative attitude every single time I see them for months on end? I have to step away.

If you are feeling the signs of burnout, take stock of your friendships and the people you are spending your time with both in person and online. Look at the general attitude of your Facebook groups. Check the tone of your conversations with your best friends. If you are surrounded by negativity and complaining, you are going to have a tough road ahead if you want to recover from or avoid burnout.

Step away now, if you can. It might mean cutting some people out of your life permanently, and for others, it might mean stepping away for a short period of time until you have found your joy again. The key is to remove as much negativity from your life as possible, and instead, surround yourself with people who make you feel good.

One thing that has helped me is to spend time with people outside of my career. I usually spend all my time online with other authors, but when the talk gets too negative, I like to step away and make a playdate with one of the moms from my son’s class. I like to get out and meet with people who are not authors, just to remind myself that there is a world outside of writing, haha.

It helps with perspective, and spending time with positive people is going to help you get out of this funk you’ve been in. Trust me on this one.


Prioritize Your Tasks

This one is a bit tougher, but it’s so important! If you want to avoid burnout, you’re going to have to take some things off your plate for a while. This means writing down everything you need to get done, and then prioritizing the items that are most important, delegating the things you can hand off, and deleting the tasks that can wait.

If you simply can’t push back your deadline, the writing and creating takes priority. But maybe you can delegate some of the household tasks to your husband or kids for a week while you work to get the book done. Maybe your author BFF wouldn’t mind creating a few teasers for your social media posts one afternoon so that you don’t have to worry about it. Perhaps you’ve been meaning to get those paperbacks formatted for a few months now, and it’s time to just pay someone else to do it instead of keeping it on your plate.

And when it comes to that cool idea you had about starting a podcast and a new twitter campaign? It might be a great idea…for next year.

When you write down everything that has to get done, I guarantee you’ll be able to find several items on the list that can be handed off to someone else, pushed back to a later date, or deleted entirely.

And don’t forget that if someone asks you to put yet another thing on your list right now, you have every right to say no! If you’re already feeling burned out, the worst thing you can do is agree to something else. This is a time to take care of yourself, and saying no to new projects can be the best way to do that until you feel better.


Take Time For Yourself

In this entrepreneurial world of “never enough time”, it’s hard to find time for ourselves. Before I was a full-time author and mom, I used to do things like read books, get my nails done, play games on the XBox, and binge-watch TV series.

You know, normal things that normal people do all the time.

The deeper I get into my career, however, the less I have time for things that feel frivolous or “just for fun.” I tend to want every minute of my day to feel productive.

This is a fast-track to burnout, so if this sounds familiar to you, please pay attention to this next bit!

It is ridiculous for us to expect ourselves to work 18 hours a day! It isn’t healthy, and as creators, it isn’t good for our creative minds. We need a break, and that means taking time off to do things that are truly just for fun.

If you find that you haven’t taken time for yourself in a long time, try making a list of all the things you used to do love doing but haven’t had time for lately. Gaming was a big one for me, and when I recently started feeling the familiar and insidious signs of burnout, I decided to pick up an old game I hadn’t played in years. I made an account, and now I’m spending at least an hour a night playing this game.

It isn’t outwardly “productive”, but it’s a mental break that is very badly needed for me. Taking this time allows me to be twice as productive when I sit down to actually work, and without these mental breaks, I start to fall into diminishing returns in my work very quickly.

What types of things do you love? I challenge you to set aside at least one hour a day to do something on that list. Something just for you and just for fun. If you’re a work-a-holic like me, this is going to feel deliciously forbidden and exciting. Have fun with it, and let yourself relax for a change!


A Few Final Tips

Just a few final tips for avoiding or heading off burnout if you’re starting to feel the symptoms:

  • Set work hours. Give yourself a “quitting time” and no matter what’s gotten done or is still on your list, when that hour hits, put your work aside. No exceptions.
  • Exercise. Writing is a very sedentary job. Getting up and moving around for at least thirty minutes every day can work wonders for your mental and physical state. I try to take walks every day, and I’ve also started doing some yoga videos in the mornings. It’s helping more than I expected it to!
  • Don’t Ignore The Basics: We all need to sleep, eat, and drink. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep every night, eating three healthy meals a day, and drinking plenty of water.
  • Switch Your Focus To Gratitude. Focusing on negative things or even focusing on the things you want to achieve can add anxiety to your life. Try switching your focus to gratitude and see how much that shifts your energy in a positive direction.
  • Focus on How You Want to Feel, Rather Than What You Want to Achieve. Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map helped me in so many ways when I was going through an extended battle with burnout. She emphasizes a focus on desire and how you want to feel, rather than starting with only what you want to achieve and do.

Finally, please remember that there is no deadline for massive success. You have the time you need to achieve your goals, and you’re going to get there faster if you take care of yourself along the way.

We live and work in an extremely fast-paced world, but if you want to thrive for years to come, you have to learn how to take care of yourself.

Focus on productivity and the things you can control. Do what you can to shift your mindset to positive thinking and gratitude. Cut toxic and negative thoughts and people from your life. The more you can reduce stress, the better off you are going to be.

Have you ever suffered from burnout and overwhelm? How did it affect you? What steps did you take to overcome it? Let me know in the comments!

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Sarra Cannon


  1. Lisa says:

    This was wonderful information and truly helpful. Thank you.

  2. Tim Seabrook says:

    This is really useful and interesting information. While I’m not in a place even remotely close to burnout, a friend is and I now have her watching this.

    Thanks for all the advice. Very useful.

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Sarra Cannon

Hi, I'm Sarra!

I have been self-publishing my books since 2010, and in that time, I've sold well over half a million copies of my books. I'm not a superstar or a huge bestseller, but I have built an amazing career that brings me great joy. Here at Heart Breathings, I hope to help you find that same level of success. Let's do this.


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