Never Apologize: A note to writers about burnout guilt

Disclaimer: the following writing advice is based on the author’s personal experience of writing fiction and does not represent any hard or fast rules. Your mileage may vary.

Writers get burned out. Maybe now more than ever. Hustle culture for writers comes with all the struggle—late nights, weekends, and maintaining an online presence squeezed in around a day job, family, and health—with very little of the reward that should come with hustling. In fact, a 2018 Author’s Guild survey shows the median American author income in 2017 had dropped to an annual salary of $6,080.

Yikes on bikes, that’s bad. As a writer myself, I’m depressed just looking at that number. No wonder authors turn to all kinds of side methods for adding to that measly income, like streaming, Patreon subscriptions, Substack newsletters, and freelance editing or public speaking. In addition to just writing a book—already an incredible accomplishment!—we have all this other work to do. Probably also a day job.

All of which adds up to writer burnout. Frequently.

Many elements bother me about writer’s burnout, but what gets me the most is when a writer comes back and apologizes for the absence.

This happens a lot. And it’s so rarely for a fun reason, like they bounced off to the Bahamas for a nice vacation. Almost always, the grind has taken a toll on their mental health, or a family member passed, or their car broke down and they lost their job and someone kicked their cat. So they dipped without notice. But now they’re back, baybee! So sorry about that! Time to suffer for the art some more!

Who’d apologize for taking time away from getting paid literal pennies, if that, to deal with any of those issues?

A writer would.

For my part, I write at least two blog posts per month (rookie numbers, compared to many a writer), maintain a monthly newsletter, an online presence on socials, and am squeezing in writing time around all that. None of it even makes me any money (what even is the point of affiliate programs, anyway?). Once I have publications out there I’ll actually get paid for, those will also amount to next to nothing.

I, too, had to almost completely stop all writing and writing byproducts in 2021. Late in the year, I at last finished a fanfic I’d been picking at for three years and wrote two new short stories, but only because I dropped writing blog posts, maintaining my Patreon/Ko-fi, and my brief foray into streaming my writing process. I fell straight off the face of the earth because I was Done.

And you know what? Nobody minded that I’d gone. I got one (very kind) comment noting my return when I made a new blog post early in 2022. Writers don’t owe anyone their writing—unless they’re actively getting paid for it. But as demonstrated above, they’re barely getting paid at all.

So writers, don’t apologize when you burn out and have to disappear for a while. Make your return a joyous reminder to your audience that you’ve returned. Because when you burn out again—and you will at this rate—you don’t want them to associate you only with your frequent apologies, your shame, your guilt. Just make those breaks a part of your production schedule. No one can see that anyway. No one can prove you hadn’t planned a cool vacation all along.

Explain. Give notice if you must. Whatever.

But never apologize.

Got any questions about apologizing for writer’s burnout? Let me know in the comments below. If you have any stories about YOUR experiences with writer’s burnout, I want to hear them (craft discussions are, after all, the whole reason I write this advice column).

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