Tuesday, October 10, 2006

To Carthage Then I Came...


Well, no, not me.
I don't go up in flames very often.
I've noticed an interesting spark on a few blogs lately: the topic of burn-out. The ultimate writer's block. An occupational paradox.
Seems the effects may consume agents and editors as well as writers.
The Writing Coach comments on it, for one. Faith of Freya's Bower may have lost hers.
The frustrations, the aggravations, the snide back-stabbing and other didoes are cited as a principal cause and creation of smouldering, creeping resentment.
For others, a sense of stasis, a permanent hiatus, a lack of satisfaction and accomplishment may be a preliminary symptom, when effort and reward are weighed and found wanting. A fear that this is all there is - and it ain't enough.
People decide to move on, up, down or away, from editorial to agenting, from writing to publishing, or the reverse.
Or become readers again, re-born as reviewers. Some immolations make one wonder if burn-out is at the base of the fiery darts and town-square stakes.
I doubt if many quit outright. I suspect the creative impulse, the lure of language, is usually too strong to allow that.
I wonder if a genre-switch or a move to another medium may sometime be a calculated method of forestalling total melt-down as a writer, to re-kindle the passion and fan the desire and the dreams.
I wonder if burn-out mostly afflicts the intense and dedicated.
One thing I reject - that such who suffer from it couldn't have been Real Writers.
I wonder if this conflagration-and-ashes may threaten us all at some point in our careers.
We do play with fire after all.
And maybe the only way to avoid it is to die young.

24 comments:

Ric said...

Sometimes, what you want is not what you get.

Sylvia Plath wanted to write for the New Yorker - they never bought her work and she felt herself a failure.
Yet her poetry is exceptional.

The trick is finding your strength and playing to it. I don't write Pynchon (and say quietly to myself - who would want to?) and that's okay. I can make you cry, and believe and see life in a different way. And that's enough.

Savannah Jordan said...

Burn out, for some, is inevitable, I believe. Some work too hard, their fires too hot to sustain themselves. Fire is not, after all, a commutalistic event--something has to be consumed.

When I feel that, "I can't do this anymore" feeling coming on, I change my focus, tinker in a new genre. For me, the pilot light never dies, but I do turn down the heat intentionally every now and then. :)

jason evans said...

Dying young.... You're probably right. Those tragic, romantic, lost talents who died at the height of their powers had all the luck.

Bernita said...

So, Ric, you're suggesting that ambition, mis-placed or not, may be a contributing factor?

Excellent analogy and preventive measure, Savannah!

Bernita said...

I rather think their heirs and assigns felt luckier, Jason...

Jaye Wells said...

"A fear that this is all there is - and it ain't enough."

You hit the nail on the head. Thank you for not repeating hackneyed phrases or trite advice about perserverance. Not that I'd expect that from you, but the last thing you need to hear when you're feeling burned out is some cliche.

MissWrite said...

This is such a demanding career mentally. It takes a great toll on those from the highest to the lowest, and burn-out is not at all uncommon. I agree wholeheartedly that it certainly doesn't mean 'they were never writers'. (Especially since I've been the victim of such flames.)

Oh yeah... walked away for several years once -- okay, mostly because I was going nowhere, had no support system (other than a great hubby, but no net, no etc... way back in the stonies) and I had young children.

Then, came back (they always do... usually anyway. How can you deny what is in your soul?) Had a great thing going, and catasrophe struck a house I was with and left a book an orphan... it was kind of the final straw for me as well... crash and burn. Left for a year.

Back again. Maybe it's the bad-egg syndrome, lol, can't get rid of them damned things.

Really though, taking a break doesn't even mean not writing sometimes, it just means away from the business for some.

Now, when the ugly kisses of heat lap at my fingers and tear at my soul, I do much the same as Savannah... a little artful joyriding into a different genre, sometimes a totally different medium altogether... art is art, and first and formost, above all the jockeying for position, marketing, clamouring for publishers attention... we are artists.

Bernita said...

Platitudes are scant comfort when one may be facing a wall of flames or sifting through the ashes, Jaye.

That history sounds familiar, Tami!
Then the inner phoenix is unleashed...

Ric said...

Old story, been done a million times, but apropos to this discussion. A Wonderful Life - chasing your dream and realizing that getting the dream isn't the goal, it's all in the chase.

Burnout, I think, happens to all of us at some point. But, we might get singed by chasing a dream that isn't ours. Try and try and try to write a literary bestseller but make money writing Harlequins.

If, as you say, Bernita, the Muse keeps calling, the words keep flowing, but it is alltogether possible we are pounding on the door of a burning building, trying to get in.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Augh geez! I hope I don't die young...my schedule is full through the next couple of years! LOL!

In the CBA I don't think this problem is as prevelant, because our focus is more on bringing glory to the Lord, rather than on ourselves.

Don't get me wrong...I mean we do want to be noticed, and be famous writers and make tons of money and have a million fans...

Oh, poo! It's hard to explain!..I am at a loss for words...LOL!

Faith-driven is maybe what I'm looking to say...it's what the Lord leads you to do nad being true to that, not so much what you desire to do...

Now I think I'll stop....I'm rambling!

Bernita said...

"...pounding on the door of a burning building, trying to get in."
When they speak of the sad state of the publishing industry, Ric, that metaphor is a hot one!
Well put!

An interesting observation, Bonnie, but I don't think writer burn-out is particularly fueled by an incandescent ego, since very successful writers suffer from it too.

Sela Carsen said...

I concur, Bernita. I've known ministers and missionaries to burn out, as well.

I've had my feet held to the fire and it hurt! You get this sense that the fire has already been through and all you're left with is ashes. I'm not even sure why I'm still doing this because at the time, it sure felt like there was nothing left at all. Now there's a steady flicker, so I keep writing.

Bernita said...

I suppose the secret is to prevent it from getting out of hand, Sela - if possible.

archer said...

I think either Studs Terkel or Gay Talese wrote a book about work in which he asks people "What would you REALLY like to do for a living?" The next chapter is about someone who does what the last person thought of as a big dream job. Everybody is burned out and has basically had it.

I think someone should do a book called "Who would you REALLY like to be sleeping with?" Then the next chapter is about whoever is sleeping with that person, or who did once, and got sick of him/her.

"He sure looked great, but he leaves his underpants on the floor like I'm the !@#$ maid."

Robyn said...

I'm only now realising what a toll my mother's death took on me- some write as cartharsis, but I could not write any fiction, my present MS or anything else, for months. As my depression went, so did the blocks.

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

Fortunately I’m far too old to die young, so that’s not a concern for me. :-D

I really like what Ric said: “A Wonderful Life - chasing your dream and realizing that getting the dream isn't the goal, it's all in the chase.”

That’s what it’s all about. It’s the actual day-to-day process of the work one must love, not the anticipated outcome. Sure, I enjoy the success, the money, the fans, etc., but that’s not why I write. I write because I simply love to do it. It makes me happy. It’s my dream.

I think we all get burned out every so often, mostly when real-life complexities interfere with our dream and cause us to be stressed and overtired. But if what we do (writing; editing; reviewing; etc.) is truly our dream, we eventually find our way back.

The snide back-stabbing, etc. that you mentioned, Bernita, is quite real (thanks in part to the anonymity factor when working online), but people face jealousy, immaturity and small-minded individuals in most any career. It’s how we react to it that makes all the difference. I’ve learned to ignore it, keep things in perspective and refuse to give that sort of infectious negativity any credence. Life is just too short to waste it mired in misery. I’d much rather spend my time writing. :-D

As usual, another wonderful post, Bernita!

Dakota Knight said...

I agree with Savannah, burnout is inevitable. We all need to take a step back sometimes and relax, which can be hard to do for an ambitious author ready to make her mark on the world.

I think pacing is important. I try to leave time out for things other than writing (the operative word being "try").

Bernita said...

A naked Emperor approach to sex, Archer, I suppose.
Sexual burn-out...oh my.

I envy those who can use sorrow and tragedy as fuel, Robyn.

Thank you, Daisy, and thank you for your wonderful comment. You make a crucial point - the fire may be dampened but not dead.

I think we all need to install personal smoke alarms, Dakota!

M.E Ellis said...

Hmmm. I get burn out occasionally. Those times I stay away from the computer for a couple of days and act like a human and not a writer. It works.

I always write something every day, though. It might not be my WIP, but it'll be my blog, emails, a poem. I don't think I have had a day without writing something for ages!

:o)

S. W. Vaughn said...

Tolkien must have suffered this...

It burns us!

Have had many an occasion to recall a line or two from Tolkien lately, including my favorite:

What have I got in my pocket?

I can't turn the flame down. Oh, well. If the phoenix can survive immolation, so can I.

spy scribbler said...

One thing I reject - that such who suffer from it couldn't have been Real Writers.

I absolutely agree, Bernita! Any job is up for burn-out, but especially one that you pursue with a great deal of time, energy, and heart. Thanks for the links! Lately, I've been feeling burnt-out on life!

Ballpoint Wren said...

And maybe the only way to avoid it is to die young.

Lord, I hope not!

I admire prolific artists who produce good quality work throughout their lives, but I tend to think I'm probably not of that caliber.

Patrick said...

I've hit what felt like "burn-out" with a couple of my "real" jobs over the years, but even when I'm frustrated enough to seriously consider tossing my computer through the nearest window, I've never really felt like I've been burned-out from writing. That's still like more of a getaway than torture.

I don't know that I've found my strengths in terms of writing, and I still have more than a little doubt at times that I'm writing anything remotely deserving of publication.

But I still feel comfortable doing it. Maybe that's a sidebar question:

What's worse, a good writer who falls victim to burnout or a bad writer who never is phased by it?

Bernita said...

Good insulation, Michelle.

Yes, you can, Sonia. Flames don't always devour, they may renew.

I really, really hate that Real Writer false profundity, My Spy.

And I tend to think you are, Bonnie.

The problem with the absolutes of polarities, Patrick, they make us think the answer is in either/or.