Author Burnout: A Self Diagnosis (Or How I Got Addicted to Marshmallows and Supernatural)

As I mentioned briefly in a previous post, I’ve been struggling with what I’ve been calling a general malaise or sadness for a while now. That in fact understates the situation, so I’m looking at it in more detail now. I’ve been having trouble coming out of my ‘funk’ because there are a few things going on in my life and it’s been too hard to narrow down the root cause. I still think there might be more than one (on another day, we’ll talk about the joys of peri-menopause YAAAAY), but for now I need to focus on what’s screwing up my writing mojo. One issue at a time seems the way to proceed.

Not this kind of burnout

Not this kind of burnout

Through a thoughtful process of elimination I’ve come to conclude that I’m suffering burnout. I’ve often used the term ‘burnout’ in the past two years, but in an offhand way. I didn’t know burnout was an actual thing until I googled and started reading. This from Wikipedia:

Burnout is a type of psychological stress. Occupational burnout or job burnout is characterized by exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm and motivation, feelings of ineffectiveness, and also may have the dimension of frustration or cynicism, and as a result reduced efficacy within the workplace

My ‘workplace’ for this discussion is the publishing industry and I have experienced all of the above in recent times. It was like Wikipedia was seeing inside my head. My attention was captured. The article goes on to state that occupational burnout has 12 phases. I’ve linked them to my personal feelings from a writer’s perspective here:


  1. The compulsion to prove oneself (ambition, which for me was to earn enough income to make writing my full time job. This ambition is at the centre of all problems that came after it, which you’ll understand as you read on)
  2. Working harder (focusing solely on work in order to satisfy point 1)
  3. Neglecting needs (hobbies, exercise & entertainment are put aside in favour of writing—because again, point 1 people!)
  4. Displacement of conflicts (awareness that something isn’t right + inability to see why. Because how can I be sick of writing—I love writing! How can you hate something you love so much?)
  5. Revision of values (work or writing becomes the new value system; it is chosen over hobbies + relationships. ‘All I have to do is work a bit harder and it will pay off in the long run’. THEN I’ll get hobbies.)
  6. Denial of emerging problems (blame for moodiness aimed at excess of work i.e. I’m just tired because I have too many projects at the moment. After this deadline I’ll take some time out… yeah right).
  7. Withdrawal (isolation from others [because they don’t get it, do they?] lack of hope or direction [because let’s face it, you’re not sure if you get it anymore but you can’t admit that because that might mean you’ve been trundling down the wrong garden path all this time])
  8. Obvious behavioral changes (Writing becomes so hard you become an expert procrastinator. I never understood procrastination until this happened to me)
  9. Depersonalization (life turns into a series of mechanical functions without value, you become divorced from your own life. You can’t afford to care so much anymore, because caring hurts)
  10. Inner emptiness (can lead to over indulgence in things like food; alcohol. You’re trying to fill up a bottomless pit, though, and there aren’t enough chicken flavor twisties to do it)
  11. Depression (exhaustion, indifference, hopelessness)
  12. Burnout syndrome (Physical and emotional collapse, may need medical attention)

    Hmmm, ambrosia

    Hmmm, ambrosia

Wow. I’ve been through every one of these phases, except for number 12. Thankfully I’m not at phase 12 and maybe now that I think I know what’s going on, I can avoid it altogether. But the rest of it…oh yep I can identify with every single one.

I think it started back in late 2013, when the first book in my Wild Crush series, ‘tanked’. I don’t use that word anymore, but at the time it was how a book failing to sell as expected was described by us publishing industry types. Unforgettable Summer definitely did not sell what I was hoping, or anywhere near the number of copies of my previous books, Erica’s Choice, A Man Like Mike, or Moonlight Mirage (to which SUMMER was linked). So in essence that felt like a ‘failure’—because aren’t we supposed to gain new readers with every release, not lose them? (this is old paradigm thinking though. Releasing good books isn’t enough anymore, which I touch on a bit farther down). That was when my focus on how a book sold, rather than how happy I was with it, began to cause serious issues.

[FYI it’s kind of a hard thing to do, writing a book and FINISHING it, getting it published and having people LIKE it. I did achieve all those things with SUMMER. Really, that ought to have been enough. But as long as the first phase of my burnout journey—ambition—was still at work my focus would be on sales, because without sales I’d never satisfy that one integral goal of making writing my day job. As long as I was continuously frustrated in that area, then all the other steps in the process would follow as surely as dominos knocking each other over. I see this only now, of course].

digital ageSince SUMMER I’ve seen sales of my books decline steadily. It seemed no matter what I did—how much effort I put into a book, how sexy I made it, how good I thought it was—nothing would make more than my already loyal readership buy it (thank you loyal readership for keeping me hanging in there though! I love you guys so hard!). And on this side of the fence all we authors hear is people telling us, not just to publish or die, but to find new readers or fade into obscurity. It’s all about NEW readers, which means marketing, advertising, social media sluttery, drunken monkey dancing and trying to go viral without getting a rash. All this takes up so much time it seems like there’s none left for writing anymore, and that’s when you start to wonder why you got into this business in the first place if you don’t have time to do what motivated you to open that first word file to being with.

I’ve asked myself so many times, how can I possibly keep up? Me with my day job and my two kids and my life with other things in it besides writing and talking about writing? I can barely get out of bed these days, keeping up with the Joneses (or the Kindle All Stars), it’s simply impossible. Cue the depression and sense of hopelessness. Then the writing dried up…which depressed me even more and lead to whole days of eating marshmallows while watching Supernatural and not working because WHAT’S THE POINT? And at least Dean Winchester’s incomparable hotness is a pretty, pretty distraction (soooo so pretty). But it’s temporary. Every day I still face the fact that I’m probably never going to achieve step one on my ultimate list of goals, not now that the playing field has changed and I’m having trouble even catching the ball, let alone scoring goals. Writing may never be my day job. Never ever.


Dean W Pie

This is not my happy place people (Dean never did come to help). I thought I’d moved on from emotional eating years ago, but I guess in times of stress old habits come to the fore. I know I need to move out of this, but where, exactly, does one go from the bottom end of Boulevard of Broken Dreams?

Hopefully, one goes up. That’s what I’ll be focusing on making happen from now on. I’ve been reading a lot about author specific burnout (links at the end). The good news is, the research has given me some ideas. And a sprinkling of that most crucial of ingredients—hope.

If anyone out there is struggling with similar feelings, or has been through it and has some advice, I’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime I think I need to get back into yoga.


13 thoughts on “Author Burnout: A Self Diagnosis (Or How I Got Addicted to Marshmallows and Supernatural)

  1. Jess Dee

    I haven’t written since the 14th of May, 2015.
    That’s 15 months and 10 days.
    (But who’s counting.)
    And what can I put it down to? I wish i knew. If I did, maybe I could end the burn out,
    But for now, the words just aren’t there. None of them. So I have to satisfy myself with Sam – yes, I’m a Sam girl (although I’ll happily take Dean too) – because my writing isn’t giving me close to the satisfaction the Winchester boys do.

    Oh, and BTW – I don’t think there’s any shame in burning out. Losing your words is gut wrenching and devastating, and yes, it feels as though your world has been ripped out from under you. But there is no shame in it.

    1. Sami Lee Post author

      No shame Jess, just regret. And sadness. I miss the thing I used to love. I know you know what I mean.

  2. Jenna

    God love a duck woman.. I love you to pieces! I had no idea about the struggles you were facing. I will follow you always and forever ♡
    (If I MUST, I will send more marshmallows)

  3. Rhyll Biest

    I always find re-watching Supernatural therapeutic, though I prefer the cheese Twisties to the chicken ones! I’m finding that keeping my day job (4 days a week) and treating publishing as a hobby more than a business takes a lot of pressure off and allows me to enjoy writing. That approach isn’t for everyone but it sure as heck works for me! Best wishes for your writing recovery 🙂

    1. Sami Lee Post author

      Yes I’m trying to do that this year Rhyll. I am getting to that place where my perspective changes but it takes a while. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Cathleen Ross

    Peri menopause and menopause suck big time. You know the world won’t stop if you give up writing for a time. You need a break and that is more important. Most of us indies have fewer sales this year. That’ normal. I have a few promotional suggestions that have helped me if you would like to contact me privately. Being a mother and having a job is enough. You need to fill the well.

    1. Sami Lee Post author

      Thank you Catherine, I’ll keep that in mind. For now the idea of learning any more promo stuff is just exhausting. lol. But one day I think I’ll be up for it again

  5. Donna

    Hi Sami,
    So sorry to read of your battles. Your blog post really does showcase what an awesome writer you are.
    I hit 11 and 12 last year, resulting in a 2 month hospital stay. The first few weeks in the public system. Not recommended.
    It was a combination of things that saw me hit rock bottom but becoming an author was a big one for all the reasons you listed.
    18 months later and I still can’t read a book let alone sit at a computer.
    I wish for you a speedy recovery and hope you bring life to new characters soon. In the meantime enjoy your family and get back to Yoga. I will feel better knowing I’m not the only one with aching muscles (fat)


    1. Sami Lee Post author

      Donna, I knew you were sick but didn’t know why. ((Hugs)). I’m so sorry you’re still struggling, too. Just know you’re not alone. Many authors, even very successful ones, hit a wall but they simply don’t talk about it, partly because we feel or are even told we don’t have the right to complain. We’re doing what we love, aren’t we? It’s not like it’s hard work.

      We know differently. Contact me anytime if you want to chat. And yoga really is good for the mind as well as the body.

  6. Mary Adams-Legge

    Hi Sami,
    I loved your post., I appreciate your honesty, and I imagine there are many, many more writers who feel this way. Thanks for sharing, and I hope your methods to feel better work soon.

    Being a newbie writer with a lot of very successful writer friends, I understand how hard it is to see your ambitions seem to shrink farther away. Between my self-criticism and starting in the field so late, my self-doubts cripple me almost every day. Changing my expectations to “writing for the love of it” rather than “writing to make a buck” helped me a little. Not that there is anything wrong in being successful–not at all–but as you said, not losing sight of what made me want to write in the first place has helped me start writing more days than hoping to score higher on Amazon.

    I’m looking forward to your next blog and work of your heart!



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