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Writing Tip: Beating the Burn

October 21, 2013

Writer’s Burnout

by: Tyler Lane

We’ve all been there. You’re seven pages deep on your big, important essay that’s due tomorrow, and you’re feeling accomplished and proud and you only need to squeeze out a conclusion and suddenly something inside your brain screams “NOOOOOOO! I am DONE. No more thinking, no more writing. Nope. Nope. Nope.”  So what do you do? If you’re like a lot of us, maybe you just slap down the last few words your mind can sputter out. Maybe it doesn’t sound so great, but you call it a day anyway because you are seriously burnt out.  But what about those first seven pages of literary eloquence and verbal prowess, with every comma in place and every lengthy quote blocked? You are doing you and your paper a huge disservice by not wrapping it up thoughtfully (for tips on writing a stellar conclusions, see our older entries)! I know, I know. At this point you’re probably thinking…

Oh, naïve writing consultant, I understand the importance of writing a strong ending to my paper, but you don’t seem to understand that I am one semicolon, one transitional phrase, one more blasted footnote away from using this keyboard as a battering ram on my computer monitor! I meant it when I said I am D-O-N-E DONE!!!

 Sleeping at Work

Deep breath! There are a variety of ways to combat writer’s burnout before you even start writing and maintain the momentum it takes to finish your paper up strong:

  • Have some sort of plan to guide you as you write. This could be an outline, or something as simple as a bulleted list with all the main points you want to hit. In addition to helping you maintain a clear focus in your paper, having a plan before you start will make the assignment seem much less daunting and therefore less likely to leave you prematurely burnt out.
  • Choose your workspace wisely. Writing in a place with lots of distractions will leave you thinking about all the things you’d rather be doing than writing your paper, and this will probably lead to you getting that “DONE” feeling much more quickly.
  • Have everything you will need to write your paper ready to go. This means having any sources you may need available at your workspace or pulled up on your computer, having your rubric handy, and already having your coffee made when you sit down to work. Again, this is about eliminating distractions. If everything you need is right there, you won’t have to walk into the living room to get your book and get sucked into another philosophical conversation with your roommate.

So there are some preventative measures you can take to fight off burn out, but what can you do if you’re already there? It’s all about finding which techniques work best for you and your personal style of writing. When I start to feel burnt out, I usually let myself eek out those last few words to form a not-so-great conclusion, and then walk away from my writing for as long as time permits. Then I’ll come back to it with a clear head and work on revising the ideas that I managed to get on the paper. However, don’t just take my word for it.

Advice from UWC Consultants:

Jerry: As a creative writer, I often find myself facing the struggles of writer’s block, a sensation that can be likened to trying to eat ice cream with a fork. When I find myself in this sort of situation, I make myself take a break because, even working on the most strenuous of deadlines, you can spare fifteen minutes to complete some sort of mindless or inactive task. Fold your laundry, read a few pages out of your novel, or browse the newest updates on BuzzFeed; just do something that you know can help take your mind off the assignment at hand, so you don’t melt all of your brain cells trying to make that next sentence happen.

Morgan P.: Whenever I get burned out on writing, I take a break from the writing for a little bit. I read, draw, practice the piano–I find another creative activity that will help me come back to the writing with an open mind. Also, I find taking a nap helps me to relax, regroup, and return to my writing with a little more clarity.

Matthew: I suppose this applies to any homework, including papers, but I always recommend tackling smaller, simpler tasks to help increase one’s feeling of productivity. Let me explain: Sometimes I find it hard to even start a big project like a paper. In that case, I “warm up” by doing some smaller tasks that I can complete easily: they might be other homework assignments that I can knock out in less than half an hour; I might check my email or balance my checkbook; or I’ll do some housework- anything to get me started feeling accomplished.

When I’m burned out on a paper, I do something similar. If I can’t walk away and take an actual break from work (say the paper is due the next day- oops!), I’ll work at some smaller tasks. On the paper itself, I’ll insert the page numbers, fiddle with the Works Cited, or go back to edit and revise (or just read) what I’ve already written. Anything that can help me feel like I’m not just spinning my wheels can help me keep a positive and productive mindset that lets me push through.

I also recommend mood-setting music that can play on repeat in the background without being a distraction. I tend to favor DragonForce’s “Through the Fire and the Flames” or Avenged Sevenfold’s “Carry On.” “Eye of the Tiger” might also be appropriate. It should be a fairly lengthy song that is generally upbeat and doesn’t demand a lot of attention.

Of course, the absolute best way to avoid burn-out is to use BDS- start ahead of time and write in Brief Daily Sessions so that writing the paper can become one of the small tasks that increases feelings of productivity on a daily basis. It’s all in the mindset, essentially.

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