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Blog Briefs: On Burnout, with Stephen Dedman

In which a bunch of authors & editors are invited to answer the question: How do you deal with creative exhaustion?

Author Stephen Dedman gave me this exact advice some years back. It helped me then, & it’s making me think now.

When I run writers’ workshops, I ask everyone to write a list of their reasons for writing, or for wanting to be a writer (not exactly the same thing). Possibilities include fun, money, the challenge, to entertain their children, to prove someone wrong,  to impress someone (a la the cavalier poets), etc. I stress that the list is for their benefit, not mine, and they’re not obliged to show it to anyone if they think their motives are disreputable (a la the cavalier poets), but they should keep a copy. Then, if they become stuck or exhausted, they can consult the list and see whether whatever they’re writing at the time matches any of those reasons. Is it fun? Will it make money? Is it challenging them? Does the plot require too much sex or violence for their intended readership? If it doesn’t tick any of the boxes, then they should either think of new reasons or (as Martin Livings has suggested) quit. There are other ways to have fun, other ways to make money, other challenges, other ways to entertain children or impress adults. Come back to writing when there’s something you really want or need to write.

– Stephen Dedman is the author of four novels and more than 120 short stories.