A Freelance Writer’s Guide to Dealing with Burnout

BurnoutMy pen flew across the room, narrowly missing my 14-year-old cat who had chosen that moment to stick his head out from behind the sofa following a long nap. I cursed. I was sick and tired of writing self-help articles. I'd been writing several such articles every day for two or three weeks. The tone of my writing was beginning to change from sympathetic to sarcastic, and I found myself having to self-edit more and more severely.

I was seriously burned out, but what to do about it? I needed the money. Since I had to keep writing, and I couldn't keep beaning my cats with pens, I had to find a way to deal with my burnout. Fast. Here are some ideas that worked for me.

Work on Something Different

Sure, it was a bit of a pinch, but I reduced the number of self-help articles I was writing and started working on some projects I wanted to publish on Kindle. I also took on some editing projects. Branching out didn't solve the problems entirely, but the variety did help take the tedium out of writing the self-help articles.

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How to Get Your Novel Off on the WRONG Foot

Anger1The good news for writers is that Amazon Kindle and similar platforms allow them to get their books directly to readers. No longer does a writer have to search frantically for an agent and wait to get the nod from one of a handful of major publishing houses.

The bad news is that many self-published novels are not edited, proofread, or scrutinized in any critical way before being offered to the general population. And believe me, some of the novels that show up on Kindle can be described in one word: horrible.

Many others, however, fall into a gray area. They're not really that bad. The characters are solid. The plot has possibilities. The writing is okay. They just contain a few too many rookie mistakes. Most of these mistakes become obvious in the first few pages. Readers who encounter them usually move on to something else. A few of the cranky ones may leave bad reviews. 

If you've published a novel that isn't doing as well as you'd hoped, give it another look to make sure it doesn't contain any of the following mistakes.

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7 Healthy Activities That Won’t Take Five Minutes of Your Time

HealthAh, yes, the glamorous life of the freelance writer. It you have a day job, like me, you stumble out of bed at the crack of dawn. Looking like something that escaped from Tales from the Crypt, you try to jolt yourself awake with caffeine while you commit a few hundred immortal (you hope) words to paper.

Eight and a half hours later, having spent your lunch break writing a query letter, you walk in the door, plop yourself down in front of your computer, and write until your eyes won't stay open another minute. The next day, you do it all over again.

This may be a productive lifestyle, but it's hardly a healthy one. However, all is not lost. There are several health-promoting activities you can engage in that won't take even five minutes of your valuable time.

Drink a glass of water. The average adult needs about eight glasses – or 64 ounces – of water each day. Staying hydrated will keep your joints loose, promote heart health, and help you stay alert and mentally sharp. 

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Writing with Mania

ManiaDuring my struggles with bipolar disorder, my main challenge has been depression. I've found dozens of ways to force myself to write when I'm crying, stuck in the depths of despair, and even suicidal. 

Mania presents a whole new set of challenges. My thoughts whiz by in no discernible order. Sitting still to capture any of them is next to impossible. I'm cranky and anxious and I think everything I write sounds like crap.

But the work still has to be done, so I've developed a few techniques to help me write even in the throes of mania. If you deal with these issues, too, I hope you find these tips helpful.

Stay in Touch with Your Doctor or Psychiatrist

If you're manic, your medications probably need adjustment. Your doctor may want to changes the dosages or even try a different medicine altogether. Remember that new medications often take a few weeks to reach their full therapeutic effect. Don't give up on them too soon.

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Coping with a Bad Review

Anger"Writers fall into two groups: Those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review and those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review." – Isaac Asimov

Asimov is right. Bad reviews hurt. Even the ridiculous hatchet jobs with half the words misspelled. Even the reviews that totally miss the point of your story. Even those that try to be kind. They are all attacks on little pieces of your soul, and they all draw blood. 

So, how do you cope with bad reviews? Here are some ideas:

Resign yourself to them. Any time you put a piece of your work out in the world to be judged, someone is bound to find it lacking. Sometimes the reasons are solid; sometimes they're idiotic. But the naysayers will exist and they sometimes insist on voicing their opinions in the most obnoxious terms possible. Sometimes the best way to deal with this kind of criticism is just to expect it and accept it. Edward Albee, for instance, became so used to harsh criticism that he once quipped, "The only time I'll get good reviews is if I kill myself."

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10 Writing Goals I want to Meet in 2016

Muses2OMG. It seems like just yesterday that I was watching Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and anticipating a nice afternoon of football. Now we're finished with Christmas and it's almost time to think about those pesky New Year's Resolutions. Maybe I'm masochistic to make them at all, since they often fall by the wayside along about February, but somehow I just can't seem to resist. So, anyway, here they are, the 10 things I want to accomplish as a writer in 2016.

1) Get a New Computer. I'm not saying that my computer is old, virus-ridden, and slow, but the "Original Property of Thomas Edison" welcome message must mean something. Seriously, my technology is so far out of date that I can't even Skype, and my memory is strained to the breaking point with out of date files and pictures I'll never use again. It's time to upgrade.

2) Publish. In this new world of online publishing, "publish or perish" isn't just a phrase for academics anymore. Right now I'm working on two books: one is a book of Halloween/horror stories for lesbians, and the other is a nonfiction compilation of lists for writers. My goal is to publish both of these books by the end of March. Then I'll start on two more.

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9 Favorite Holiday Movies and Specials and How They Made Me a Better Writer

1000612128One of the things I love about the month of December is the chance to see some of my favorite Christmas movies and specials. These are programs I've enjoyed for years, often since childhood. In some cases, I can almost recite the dialogue along with the actors. All of them have influenced the way I view the world and, to a certain extent, the way I write.

  1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). Narrator: Burl Ives. In this sweet TV special, chock-full of my favorite holiday music, Rudolph is reviled and shunned for his glowing nose…until that very nose helps to save Christmas. Writing Lesson: Rudolph doesn't succeed in spite of his differences; he succeeds because of them. Don't be afraid to be unique.

The Ref (1994). Stars: Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis, Dennis Leary. In this unlikely but clever tale, a burglar takes a feuding couple hostage on Christmas Eve and ends up saving their marriage. Writing Lesson: The dialogue in this movie is fantastic. I watch the Spacey/Davis scenes whenever I get blocked trying to right a particularly nasty argument.

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My Three “Magic” Wishes

 

Genie-bottle

I've never had the good fortune of coming across a genie's lamp. It's probably just as well. If I did, I can see myself wasting my wishes on the usual crap – fame, fortune, exotic travels, perpetual youth, a gorgeous and intelligent partner…mmm, my mouth is watering. 

But suppose I wanted to use my three wishes to bolster my writing career? What three things would I ask for then? That's a little tougher, but after some thought, I've come up with the following three requests.

1. Skin as tough as rawhide. 

I could be wrong, but I believe at least all writers are at least somewhat sensitive people. We see things in a way others don't, and we use our words to share our unique perceptions. Any time you put yourself so far out there, you risk getting slapped down, and hard.

The ultimate question is how much the slap disables you. I know many writers who brood about rejections and negative reviews for months if not years and many others who can shake it off in the span of a few seconds. 

Me, I still remember phrases from my first rejection letter – and it was a form letter. Needless to say, that kind of tenderness makes it hard to write letters of introduction and pitch publications with ideas.

Therefore, my first wish would be to grow a tougher exterior so I can get out of my own way when it comes to approaching publishers. 

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Where Do Characters Come From?

Sparkling vampireNonfiction and editing are my bread and butter. They help pay rent on the apartment and keep the car insured. But I have been spending some more of my time playing around with fiction. That means coming up with characters who interact in the worlds that I create. Where do these people come from? A conglomeration of places.

1. They're real people I've met. If you're a writer, you've got to be careful with this one. Live people often don't feel flattered by their fictional counterparts. I handle this by taking just a piece of the person I know and completing the character in another way.

For instance, in my book, Visiting Grandma, Danny's neglectful mother has a serious drinking and drug problem. In that way, she reminds me of the mother of a classmate of mine when I was in sixth grade, but so many other details between the two women are different, I doubt my friends mother would recognize herself.

2. They're real historical people. If you're writing about a famous person, especially one who no longer shares the planet with us, it's okay to make him or her recognizable. But even then you have degrees of freedom. Just look at what the Showtime Series The Tudors did with their lean, mean Henry VIII.

I also think it pays to remember that not everyone was seen in the same way by his or her contemporaries. Will your Mark Twain be the toast of American literature, for instance, or will he be the villainous knave whose books Louisa May Alcott wanted banned?

3. They're good ole me. I show up a lot in my characters, both the good and the bad. My viewpoint, my feelings, my preferences, my strengths, and my weaknesses help fuel my creations. Again, though, I don't want my readers to be able to look up at me scornfully and say, "Oh, that's just you." So I cut and paste and add and subtract and come up with a character with some of my quirks and some of his or her own.

Years ago, for instance, my work appeared in an erotic anthology under a pseudonym. The main character sets the events rolling by trying to rescue a young man from his abusive Top. That's something I would have done in a heartbeat, but in so many other ways this character and I were completely different. For instance, I'm female, not currently partnered, and not into the BDSM scene.

4. They're literary devices. Vampires. Werewolves. Fairy Tale Characters. Soldiers. Parents. The Beautiful Popular Girl. The Shy Genius. Pick almost any stereotype you want, and you'll find hundreds of characters to guide you on your path.

Of course, they won't all be exactly the same. The hellish vampire in Dracula is very different than the sparkling vampires in the Twilight Saga or the longing to be human vampire in Interview with the Vampire.  The idea is to pick out one or two common characteristics (e.g., light is a no-no) and then use your imagination to come up with the rest.

When I wrote "James aka Janie," for instance, one of the main characters is a bitchy, popular girl, but in the end she uses her personality in a positive way to help her transgendered friend.

5. Imagination. Imagination is what brings all the elements together for an unforgettable character. For example, if I were writing a story about Alexander the Great, I might incorporate parts of real life veterans I've known. I might read up on the history of Alexander. I might insert myself into the story by thinking about how I feel after a victory or a crushing defeat. I might look at the stereotypes of the ways gay warriors have been portrayed in history. Finally, I would let my imagination combine these elements and add many more. The result, I would hope, would be an interesting, well-rounded character with a fascinating story to tell.

How to Keep Your Muses Healthy

MusesLet's be honest. My muses can be total bitches, especially when I'm already feeling depressed and they heap criticism on top of me. Never is their imagination more devilishly clever that when they're telling me all the things that are wrong with me and all the reasons this planet would be so much better off without me. "You're nothing," they whisper. "A talentless nobody. A pathetic creature. You do nothing but take up space and air. Somebody would probably throw a big party if you really did swallow all those pills. You couldn't be a bigger loser if you tried. If you tried even more than you do already, that is."

So, yes, my muses torture me when depressed thoughts take over my mind. But they're also the ones who come up with the perfect word or phrase I need when I'm writing an essay or a story. My muses suggest plotlines and then patiently rework them when I'm not happy with them the first time. And it's my muses who help introduce a theme and then tie it all together neatly at the end of the tale.

I need those creatures to write just like my body needs air to breathe. But how do I keep my muses focused on my writing rather than on  my real or imagined character flaws? Through careful care and feeding. And I do mean careful. I've often thought that Hagrid should have taught the Hogwarts students to care for muses in the Harry Potter series. At least then I'd have had a little more direction. In the meantime, the following techniques seem to work well for me in managing my muses.

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