The Difference Between Discipline and Burnout

One of the reasons I’ve always thought I couldn’t be a full-time writer is this: writing drains me so quickly. Many great writers, including Flannery O’Connor, Mitch Albom and others say they could only writer for two hours a day, maximum.

It’s emotionally draining.

And I think they’re onto something. In light of some deadlines I’m trying to meet, this last couple of weeks I’ve spent well over 2 hours a day writing. I’ve gotten quite a bit done…but I feel burned out. Not only do I feel burned out, every time I sit down I feel discouraged because of how little I’ve accomplished in those hours.

Why? Because I’ve become product focused, goal-oriented. And while that works in business, it doesn’t work in art. Art takes time. It’s a tortoise eat tortoise world out there, and trying to be a hare has caught up with me.

So lately, I’ve been readjusting my commitments:

Set daily writing times throughout the year, rather than writing months. As I blaze through finishing multiple writing projects right now, I start to see the value of setting aside time every day to write. If I’d done more of that, I could have just as much done without the burnout.

Remind myself, as I sit to write, how much I enjoy the process. I really do love to write. But lately as I’ve sat down I’ve thought: ‘Deadline. Deadline. Deadline.’ That’s no fair to me. I do love to write – I need to savor it.

Don’t think about “finishing”. It’s Anne Lamott’s greatest advice: take it bird by bird. Don’t worry about finishing. The end will come, when it’s there. Write one page at a time, because that’s all you can do.

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  • Tim

    Your last point is good advice for more than just writing, Nick. I think it applies to life. We’ll be done when we’re done.

    • nmcdonal

      I see what you did there. Nice, Tim.

  • Andrew Gilmore

    I totally agree. 3 hours per day is pretty much my max. Is it seriously draining. Consistency over time (on just about anything) trumps bursts of productivity. Think tortoise, not hare.