• Reading & Writing Burnout

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 34 comments

    Discussion questions: Does your working life consist of a lot of reading and writing, and if so, how does that impact your literary life? Do you sometimes find it difficult to read and/or write for pleasure after a long day of doing those things for work? Does technology have a similar impact on your ability to read and write for pleasure? How do we combat these things?


    On this recent episode of Yak Babies my personal pals and I talk about how our work lives can interfere with our creative pursuits. Aaron teaches writing at the college level; Brick is a schoolteacher-slash-principal; and I’m a writing coach and editor. All three of us spend our workdays reading, editing, and/or grading words written by others, and a great deal of our attention goes to crafting written responses to that work.

    So by the end of the day, reading and/or writing for pleasure can feel not just daunting, but often impossible.

    Or, as Aaron says, “There’s only so much bandwidth in your head for dealing with text.”

    Does your workday involve a lot of reading and writing? And if so, does that affect your ability to read and/or write for pleasure? How do you combat this? Are you able to compartmentalize? Tell me about it in the comments.


    In this episode, Brick puts it well when he talks about the toll that just writing emails can have on his own ability, or available head space, to write at the end of the day: “Because of my role, the words I choose matter a lot, so I can’t just dash off emails,” he says. “They need to be thoughtful and detailed. Most of my communications now involve drafting emails, and when you’re using that skill for much of the day, the fun factor of doing it at home is not the same.

    And Aaron had an interesting thought about reading: “I’m doing so much more reading just in general because I’m on my smartphone … I’m even more text-saturated now than I was before. I feel more burned out with reading now because I’m always reading on my phone, I’m always engaging with text in some way.”

    Do you think technology has a similar impact on your ability to write and read for pleasure? Do you spend what you’d consider too much time reading/writing on your smartphone, crafting emails, surfing the internet, etc? Are there any ways in which technology has aided your reading/writing life?


    I know some editors who have an opposite reaction to spending all day working with other people’s words; dealing with such output inspires them to create their own. It’s similar to a feeling you may have experienced when after finishing a particularly excellent book, you slam it shut filled with determination to create something of your own with that much power and beauty.

    Or you slam it shut determined to give up on writing because you doubt you’ll ever create anything that comes close.

    I guess that like with so many of the things we talk about, there are lots of possible answers and viewpoints.

    I’m eager to hear yours. Share your thoughts in the comments below.


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2020 writing project you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. If you have a manuscript that’s ready for some editorial care, check out our various critiquing, editorial, and proofing servicesJoin our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    david lemke

    Milestone this week; after writing, at the most, a total of maybe 4 pages in half a year, I’ve sat down and written something for a story in the past couple days, not a lot and I didn’t write very long, but it was a restart. Since January the writing I did was a dribble for the Artist Way, back story, character interviews, Quora and comments on Facebook. I think I finally have broke through a very solid writer’s block. As far as reading goes, my goal for Goodread’s readers challenge was 50 books and I’ve read 15, well behind,… Read more »

    david lemke

    Along with all the novels and novellas I have in progress, I have a long short story called Vermin after the hero, a smart ogre who wants to write, and ends up joining a writer’s group of elves and humans and lead by a gargoyle. I have no real interest in publishing it unless I put together another collection. Also, no-one has criticized it so it’s not under siege.

    david lemke

    Actually tried with one of the novels, “The Cat Complained,” but didn’t get a word. So David, you talked of your work, but have been able to do some of your own writing? Picture, me prepared for writing group, before Coronavirus.

    david lemke

    I love that you we can post pictures. Can you fill us in on what all the other icon do?

    David Duhr

    I don’t understand all of them, nor do I know if they all work, but if you hover over them it’ll tell you. There’s a spoiler alert, you can strikethrough, make lists, etc.

    david lemke

    B, I U S

    Barbara Mealer

    I haven’t been writing a lot since I’m in editing mode right now, but I find it difficult to write emails and updates for my website and other sundry things while sitting down and writing 2-3,000 words isn’t that difficult. I do make it a ‘habit’ to work on my writing, but it actual writing, editiing (you need complete manuscript to edit) or classes. I do attempt to keep up with my reading, but work is interfering with that. I’ve gone from 24 hours to over 40 hours a week in the last two months. So much for retirement.

    Barbara Mealer

    It depends on you. If I have been a groove, I’ve written 8K words in a day. I don’t do that unless I’m not working elsewhere. For now, 2-3K words a day is my normal since I am working on getting us and the horses moved. We are putting in the solar panels and just need to get them hooked up and the rest of the fence done for the horses.Word has been interfering with getting things done, including writing.

    Barbara Mealer

    Still in progress. The fence and solar system comes first.

    John Liebling

    Editing about 35 pages a week. Showing more, compared to telling. Improving clarity. And still creating. And most importantly, I am in a deleting phase. None of the above is easy. Still enjoying the process. Telling myself to get up and out and walk around my neighborhood. Since nobody will be going back to any gym, any time soon, I think I will be purchasing an exercise bike. I read a lot of political articles and so, reading books for fun, just isn’t happening. I have an editing schedule and I am keeping to it. Project I’ve been working on… Read more »

    John Liebling

    I am going chapter by chapter and haven’t arrived at the two or three chapters I have in mind, for total removal. Not sure what sort of holes that will make. Perhaps none. Even if that is the case, not sure if I refer back to some action or dialog in other chapters, I’ll find out when I get there. At one point this novel was 181,886 words. My goal is to get into the 120,000 – 130,000 range. And though I’ve removed a lot, well a lot by my standards, when I convert telling into more showing, the word… Read more »


    I am retired, yet I find myself getting burned out with computer reading/writing more than when I worked a day job in IT support. It takes the form of overdosing on screen interaction via PC, phone, and tablet. It wears me out and reaches a point when I need to just leave the tech alone for a few days. Even video contributes to this, so I’ll also leave the TV alone too. There is some kind of addiction to elec tech that makes us want to fool with it. I even found that when I recently started reading a printed… Read more »


    When my comprehension drops. When it is difficult to generate words to write. When I’m just tired of looking at the screen like when I can’t take another bite of sherbet. Cabin fever contributes, which is an ongoing condition these days.

    Hans De Léo

    Burnout on reading? Not really, it’s just that I read more news these days than I should. Probably not a good thing either. It puts me in a head space where writing more than a few sentences is difficult.On those days when I can unplug from the propagandists that pass for journalists these days that I can make real progress on writing. In general, burnout is something I’m more familiar with than I’d like. I’ve met people that had burnout to the degree they couldn’t do much of anything. Fortunately, I never got that bad. On the other hand, the… Read more »

    Hans De Léo

    Not sure I can describe the signs accurately. The signs can be subtle and when you have that “I have to get it done” or “I’m going to drive through this” attitude you won’t recognize anything until you hit a brick wall. Then you’ll wonder where it came from. When you’re writing and it’s just flowing, those are the good times. It’s when things are slowing down or maybe not moving at all that you have to pay attention. Signs that you should take a break include feeling like you’re forcing yourself to write something or wanting to be anywhere… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    I’m all over the map with this one. Currently, I both write and edit for clients and I have my experimental WIP plus leisure reading. I love the balance. As an experiment, my WIP requires daily output and is a fun challenge focused mainly on process rather than on what the final product will actually look like come December 31. I view my jobs for clients as getting paid to get an education because I learn from and am fascinated by the material I work with. Added to the mix are caregiving, activism, and various and sundry physical limitations. It wasn’t always thus. My creative writing… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    BTW, I experienced my first WBN dream last night. Your prompt was to discuss “a story idea that you did not want to have” (or something to that effect). Your post cited an article on the topic that had appeared in New York magazine (that is, an article that doesn’t exist in real life). In the dream I could see their masthead clearly, reproduced as an image on the blog, with its distinctive extenders. (Welcome to my subconscious.)

    Elissa Malcohn

    I suspect it was prompted by my listening to the first album (of six) of The Caretaker’s Everywhere at The End of Time. I’ve got three albums to go. The Caretaker (aka Leyland Kirby) spent 20 years composing 6-1/2 hours of experimental music meant to convey the stages of dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s. The series is a masterpiece and is utterly devastating; listener discretion advised. 


    Sometimes the saying “everything in moderation” finds applicability, and I think it applies here. While I aspire to be an author one day, my life is immersed in Information Technology. IT guys, like myself, have been stereotyped as non-sleeping machines, like the very computers, servers, and various devices we operate. And for good reason. We never seem to get off them. IT resides in an ever-changing, fast-paced world. Writers, like us computer geeks, have to make time for their craft to remain sharp, vigilant, and trendy. This means more time reading, writing, and researching. The bygone days of the 8-hour… Read more »

    Last edited 3 years ago by MJ DelConte

    I think that writing and reading are all about hope–hope that you will discover new truth, create something beautiful, be heard, touch someone, understand something you didn’t understand before–but we have had our hope trampled on. I just got a huge dose of hope tonic, watching John Lewis’ funeral. Nancy Pelosi mentioned that over the Capitol, as he lay in state, there appeared a double rainbow in the sky. It hadn’t rained that day. She wasn’t speaking allegorically. I found lots of accounts and pictures of this. It is phenomenal. I just googled and found that a double rainbow represents… Read more »

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