Creative Burnout

Rowena here. Using my covers because I don't have an image that applies to this post.

I came across this article about Steph Swainston, author of the Castle Cycle. She’s decided to step back from her writing and train to be a chemistry teachers. She says:

‘I have to get back to real life again. It wasn’t an easy decision, because it took a lot to get to the stage of being a published author. But during my teacher training so far, I’ve dealt with so much – flooded schools, fire alarms going off, children being sick …Chemistry feeds that sense of wonder that made me want to be a writer in the first place,” she says. “Besides, I’ve never said I won’t write again, just that if I do write another book, I’ll do it on my terms.’

This is interesting because I was at the crime writers conference  SheKilda, last weekend and I attended a panel of script writers who write for both TV series, True Crime series and movies and they said they wished they had the freedom of novelists. Their scripts are constantly being interfered with by the TV executives.

At the same time I do understand what Steph means. I’ve found since I took up teaching movie treatment, script, storyboard and animatic not only has it been mentally stimulating but I’ve discovered a real appreciation for top notch TV series and movies. Many aspects of good story telling apply to both the written word and movies.

Establishing character, introducing the world of the story, arousing the audience’s interest in the core premise of the plot, eliciting their sympathy for the protagonist, maintaining narrative tension and pacing and, of course, delivering a punchy ending.

Film has advantages in that music can enhance a scene, although I have heard there are kindle books coming out with appropriate sound tracks to enhance the reader’s immersion in the story world. Film also has the advantage of setting up the world with an establishing shot. What writers have to describe, the camera can pan over and the audience can put it all together in their head. The challenge for a writer is to write ‘filmicly’ so that the reader can visualise the story as it unfolds.

So are you ever tempted to take a step back and put your writing on hold for a while? Does letting the ground lie fallow result in more creativity when you return to writing?



  1. Picking up a thought you threw out: music and sound to “enchance the reader’s immersion in the story world”??? Excuse me, but that would so drag me *out* of any immersion! I can’t stand music ‘interludes’ between chapters when I’m *listening* to a book! Having music would be distracting.

    Yes, movies use music to do what writers *used* to have to do with words. Shakespeare and Marlowe and those folks didn’t have pocket orchestras, so they had to set the mood with words.

    I can think of few things that would ruin my reading enjoyment more than music.

    This added to the fact that everybody reads at a different rate. I read a lot. Which means I read *fast*. I read a book a night, given time, and if I’m on a a real book bender, I can read three a day. What kind of music can keep up with that?

    Sorry, Rowena, but that was one of the most chilling sentences I’ve read about the future of writing,

    1. Lin, it was a ‘what the …’ moment for me, too. I can’t listen to music while I write and I would just screen it out while I read. But I think it is interesting that marketers (?) would assume this would help sell a book!

  2. John Ringo says he collects little ideas, data, news, odd people and so forth like beads on a string. When he’s writing, he plucks off the beads that work and uses them. When he’s running short of beads, the stories get thin and hard to write. So it’s time to go collect more beads.

    Ms Swainson may have run out of beads. Or been stressed out by today’s economics. Or been taken over by a former passion. I love science, myself, and I hope teaching, kids, and chemistry will load up her idea beads.

    1. Pam, I like Ringo’s description. I’m always collecting fascinating ideas, concepts, snippets of information. I don’t consciously use them as I write, but I find they bubble up in a new form suitable for the book and when I think about it later I realise where the idea came from.

      I do find teaching very rewarding. I’ve discovered a passion for story telling through film.

  3. I listen to music while writing and sometimes while reading BUT listening to music I didn’t choose, piping out of tinny speakers in a kindle (or the like) would kill everything.

    What you say about movie/novel writing is interesting. Would a graphic novel fit somewhere in between? You don’t need so much description but dialogue becomes all important.

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