Working Past Burn Out and Getting Sh*t Done

If you’ve been following me the last year or so, you might have noticed that I have a habit of doing a terrible job of writing on a regular schedule until I’m forced to work myself into exhaustion or illness or both. Then I end up completely burned out and uninterested in anything to do with writing…until I’ve once more procrastinated into a corner and the whole vicious cycle starts all over again.

Maybe you do the same sort of thing? Maybe you’re better at pacing yourself.

I’ve seen all sorts of answers to the perennial problem of finding time and motivation to work. Some people use handy sticker charts. Others bullet journal everything. Some just never seem to get it to work.

Either way, today I thought I’d tell you a little about how I’ve gotten past that cycle.

The biggest roadblock for my productivity in the past has really been myself. Those extreme periods of ridiculous word counts leave me feeling like a worn-out husk of a writer. They kill any joy I might find in the story or even in the process of putting words to the page. And they make it almost necessary for me to step back—waaaayyy back—and rest.

I’ve been doing something different for Book 3 of THE LAST MAGICIAN series. This time, I’ve been forcing myself to work at a more steady clip in the hopes that I won’t end up hating everyone and everything—especially myself and writing.

Here’s how it works:

  1. I got myself a small notebook. Like a tiny little notebook. I’ve tried bullet journaling and I’ve tried pre-made “make your goals come true” journals, and the fact is that I don’t have time for all of that apparatus. But I DO need something to keep myself honest. I went with small, simple, and stripped down.

    I keep track of what I want to do each week and what I’ve actually done. And I only do one week at a time. That way, if I majorly screw up a week I can regroup and start again.

  2. I took an honest look at my schedule and set myself up for success rather than failure: A) I teach during the week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I just can’t put all of the energy I need to into the classroom and still be able to come home and be creative. So I stopped making a plan to do that. B) I used Scrivener to tell me exactly how many words I need each day to finish a draft with a couple of weeks to spare. C) I make my daily word count reasonable—and SMALL.

    At first I kept making these RIDICULOUS word count goals, and then when I failed, I’d just feel like a failure, which *spoiler alert* is not the best incentive to keep working. Now I set 500 words as my minimum and try to hit the daily Scrivener target as my goal.

    I also made ridiculous work goals—like working for 8-10 hours on my off days or working every day without a break. Those just made me miserable. Now I make myself do 4 30-minute shifts every day that I plan on working. That’s two whole hours. If I do more, awesome. But I’m not setting myself up for unreasonable goals.

  3. Freedom is my friend. I got the Freedom app for my phone and computer, and I set it to 30 minute intervals. It’s kind of my take on the Pomadoro method. 30 minutes can feel like forever if I’m not on a roll, but it’s still doable. Every 30 minutes I note my word count for that sprint in my notebook. (Kudos to Tess Sharpe for that strategy).

  4. I let myself stop when I reach my goal. Before, I would think, “omg I have to sit and not move and only work for the entire time my kids are at school.” Sometimes that worked out fine, like when I knew where the story was going and I was on a roll. Sometimes it just made me feel like a failure. Now, when I hit my daily goal, I give myself permission to stop—even if it only took 2 hours.

    What I’ve found is that, if I stop, I’m more likely to want to hop back into the manuscript later. Instead of dreading writing, I’ve figured out a way to give myself the space to breathe and be creative again. It’s also given me a way to fit research into my writing day, instead of using research as an excuse not to write.

So I know that you’re probably thinking that none of this is rocket science and how didn’t she figure this out before. I don’t know. What can I say? Writing is hard.

Will this system work?

Who knows. I still have 3 months left until my deadline and a TON of things I still have to figure out about the story. But for now I’m feeling more productive and happier about writing than I have in years. For now, I’m remembering that creation doesn’t have to feel traumatic and awful.

So tell me, how do you get yourself motivated and keep yourself on track?