Before a series of accidents and injuries took me out of the game for good, I was a competitive runner. Not a very good one, because my choice of parents gave me tiny little legs and a lack of speed, but I enjoyed lacing up my sneaks and getting out on the road—the discipline, the feeling of accomplishment, the community. Then, somewhere around the death of disco, those experts in the running community began sounding a drumbeat about cross training. If all you did was run, they said, it increased your chances of getting bored, getting burned out, and yes, getting injured. So, along with running, I played racquetball. I race-walked. I took up yoga. I swam. I lifted weights. Not only did this stave off my eventual need to quit the sport, it helped me segue into different activities that kept me fit and generally sane without the need to sign half my income over to physical therapists and chiropractors.
This brings us to the present. During a recent interview, an author asked me, “You’re so busy, how do you keep from burning out?” The first answer that popped into my head: it’s cross training.
On any given day, I could be editing a client’s novel, writing for freelance projects, working on one of my own manuscripts, or tackling any of the dozens of activities required for marketing my books and services. I add a little downtime when I’m feeling tired or overwhelmed, but the continual change in focus keeps my brain exercised. Each activity feeds on the other. Ghostwriting and freelance writing keep me flexible, because sometimes I’m required to be a bit of a chameleon to fit the “voice” of whomever I’m working with. That discipline has improved my ability to slide back and forth between projects and more easily drop into the characters’ heads. Editing and proofreading is a different form of exercise. Each manuscript brings something new and a chance to help other authors. And sinking into my own stories has a power of attraction all its own.
If I did just one of these tasks, over and over, it sounds like a good recipe for burnout. But really, independent authors wear so many hats it’s hard to imagine a scenario where we’re doing just one activity all the time. Although sometimes it does feel like formatting print books for CreateSpace goes on for decades.
What keeps your mind refreshed for the next task? Do you ever feel like you’re burning out? What do you do about it?
12 thoughts on “Cross Training: It’s For Writers, Too”
The one thing that might burn me out eventually is the pace. I decided last year that I would try to put out three novels a year. This year, I’m trying to arrange my production schedule so that I’m not drafting a novel (which, for me, is pretty much all-consuming) at the same time as I’m launching the previous one (which is also pretty time-intensive). At some point, I may decide to do only two a year, particularly if I start picking up editing work. But we’ll see how it goes.
Great post, Laurie.
That schedule sounds burn out-enducing, Lynne. At the end of 2013, when I was planning 2014 goals, I merely started thinking, “Three books a…” and I must have blacked out after that. It’s a blur. But it could be intensely energizing for someone else. For me it works better when I mix up the tasks. One full-length novel and a smaller work is fine for me in a year, along with everything else.
For once, a cliche is entirely appropriate, since variety is very definitely the spice of life. It not only stops you getting so intensely tied into one thing that you begin to burn out, it provides interest and fuel for many more projects you’ve never even dreamed of. It’s like fresh air, oxygen for the soul, and food for the mind.
Sure, we all need to concentrate at times, but by doing that in short bursts, with something different i between you can improve your performance considerably and reduce the overall stress of the task.
And the alternate activity for writers doesn’t have to have anything to do with writing, it could be knitting, cooking, running, polishing your furniture or gong out to concerts, anything different, especially if it gets you out of that chair and away from your keyboard (or pen and paper).
Laurie, excellent post. I hadn’t thought too much about this, but realize that I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve always been terribly undisciplined, so if I run into a brick wall on one phase or project, I just go to another. Lately I’ve been struggling with my latest WIP, so I’ve turned my attention to more left-brained projects, and then I know I can go back to it later with a fresh mind. I would never set a number of books to produce per year–that sounds like incarceration to me–yet in the last year, I have released three titles. I could easily go a year without another one, yet I will be working on lots of other things, all necessary to the whole. I never thought of it as cross-training, but that’s exactly what it is. Thanks for identifying it for me!
I believe you are right, Laurie; in everything you need a bit of cross training.
Couldn’t agree more. Although I only ever feel burnt out if I’m not writing. Or literally on fire.
“Cross training” is a great way to describe it, Laurie. Doing a variety of creative activities besides writing has helped me become a better, more confident writer. And the same applies to my other undertakings. When I’m actively engaged in different projects, they all benefit. Cross training not only prevents burnout, but it sharpens skills in seemingly disparate endeavors.
I flip flop between writing, gardening and teaching these days. I’m not sure I like it because I really need to be immersed in my stories to get anywhere. I’m not bored though, so I guess that’s something. 🙂
Just a question to Kat and EM – are we going to have to enter name, email and website address for long? I miss not being able to make a quick comment whenever something strikes my fancy. -wistful-
I can’t answer that. The old commenting system stopped nesting replies. We are waiting to see if they’re going to fix that. I apologize for the inconvenience.
BTW, is your form not auto-filling? I haven’t had to enter my information each time.
Part of what keeps me from burning out in writing is actual cross training. I run, do yoga, love weight training (trying to get back to my peak of 10 chin ups and 45 push ups daily). I got in a rut of just out of bed-on the computer-go to work-come home and write. There was nothing else. That burned me out. I’m not writing as much – but I think I write better and smarter. And when a novel starts to burn me out, I swap it out for short fiction. Keeps the fires burning for sure. Without actual fire, JD…
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