The Scorch

I was never exactly burned out.  Well, it can’t be burn out, can it, when you still want to write, and still have fun writing?  When you find yourself reading something and going “oh, I could write this take off that…”

But about six years ago, I became badly scorched, you know, like food at the bottom of the pot, when you forget to stir.

I was stirring of course.  Well, at least I was going around in circles and not getting much done.

I think what capped it was exactly six  years ago, the year of the six books and homeschooling the kid.  I wanted to write.  I knew what to write.  But it just wasn’t making its way from the head to the page.

Of course, since then I’ve written a lot of other things, including much fantasy and science fiction.

But I seem to fall back into the scorch at the slightest provocation.  And provocations can be really slight – like my getting sick for a while; getting worried about something else; having a series of medical tests (even though they’re routine); worrying about one of the kids’ health.

Just that and I get thrown back into “the scorch” where I’m not exactly burned out, but nothing much is getting done either.

Symptoms of the scorch include: feeling like I simply don’t have the strength to write, as though writing were a stone too heavy for my ability to lift.  Not being able to read anything new.  Not even something I really want to read.  It would require my emotions to engage and I can’t do that, so instead I re-read stuff I read as a kid, like Agatha Christie and Rex Stout.  (Not to read would actually be impossible.)  Not getting much done in anything else, either, because I keep wandering off in the middle of doing something like laundry, having completely forgotten what I was going to do next.

The scorch is a delicate condition and I’m not sure it has a cure, as such.

Well, I’m sure if I spent a month by the pool, drinking funny drinks… I’d get awfully sick.  But that’s besides the point.  I’m sure if I had the means and ability to take a vacation for a month or two, or if I were in the position to not worry about money ever for the rest of my life, I could eventually recover.

And, you know, if pigs had wings they could fly.

So the scorch has become a condition I manage.

Things that help manage it:

Take the day off.  Take a nap.  Play with the cats.

Go for a long walk.

Find something in a genre I’d never write and read it.

If all else fails, take two weeks off and paint a room.

Sometimes all of those fail, and there’s nothing for it, but to do them all over again.

You see, the scorch is a condition that is brought on by anxiety.  When it first occurred I was very much afraid of not being able to keep my obligations, and that my career would come to an end, because the books wouldn’t be good and—

Well, that’s gone.  The career can’t come to an end, because I have indie.  But there’s all the series I started because of the publishing business being the way it was.  They all have fans and I can feel them breathing down my neck for the next book.

And yet, it’s not the end of the world.  No one can fire me but me.

The problem is that the dinosaur brain doesn’t know that.  The dinosaur brain is still very scared and when the pressure gets too great it decides it’s all about to fall apart.

And then you start smelling the scorch.

And it’s time to take a long walk, and a deep breath.

Which is what I’m about to do now.

And my writing column is up at PJM (it goes up every Tuesday afternoon.)  Straighten Up and Write Right.


  1. I feel your pain here Sarah. Not being a published writer I don’t have all of the little stuff, but I work two jobs at 70+ hours a week and haven’t had a day off since January. Well, ok. I did call in sick one day because my gout was flaring and I couldn’t walk but that doesn’t count…

    I know how rough it can be. Don’t give up. Prioritize, delegate, etc. You’ve got those two boys living with you make THEM do the heavy lifting sometimes.

  2. I’m so confused. I can’t find part SEVEN of your novel in 13 weeks PJM series, not with their search box, not with Google. I can find 6, 4, 3, and some others easily. This one is labeled part 8. Help!

    I think it would help a lot if you linked to at least the previous part at the beginning or end of each new part.

    1. Found it – something about not rotating the cat – the search engines are FAILING. Huh.

      SEO isn’t all powerful?

      Clearly on the screen is “Novel In 13 Weeks, Part 7”

      Google! Are you listening?

      Problem solved.

  3. Also, had no problem getting right into the story in Part 8 from your beginning. Don’t know what your first commenter normally reads – but it made perfect sense, and established a lot of things right off the bat.

    But then I’ve been reading SF for ages.

    (Don’t leave comments over there – it requires registration and I simply cannot add one more thing. BTW, just reading your column exhausts me – good job juggling.)

  4. Burnout comes from stress, and I suspect the same for scorch.

    Can you identify the causes? Eliminate any of them? Go on a stress hunt, kill them where possible. Better yet, set them against each other.

    You have shorts you want to put up, and subscribers who expect extra goodies. Combine them, put a story up every week and ask for comments and typo and grammar hunts. Do not sweat the rewrite; remember that (1) over polishing makes for dull and (2) perfect is the enemy of getting them up on the Kindle store. Get them to no “reader’s trance breaking” errors, publish and forget them. Get that bit of stress over and done with.

    You’ve got your blog. Take one day a week (or randomly, when you need the time for other things) and toss us a job. “Opening paragraphs must have a purple boa, a lawyer and happen in a library. Post your opening _before_ you go back and read the rest.” Well, not that one, we’d all just strangle the lawyer with the boa in the library. Or find the body. Or have the rare purple boa that escaped . . . Or, “How would _you_ reform healthcare” or . . . anything that occurs to your twisted mind.

    Life tasks, the shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry. You’ve mentioned plotting while ironing. What other tasks can be done while still in writer space? Do the _other_ ones, the ones that don’t work with work, early and get them out of the way. Do the others while plotting the next chapter, or working out how to get the dreaded “Liberal Influence” out of the next scene.

    Heh. Hear me. Sometimes you have to just trudge through the bad times. There is an other side.

    1. “Go on a stress hunt, kill them where possible. ”
      Oh, great, now I gotta be sure to put on my body armor for the next week in case Sarah comes hunting for me …

      1. Since she claims to be much better with a knife than a gun, I would recommend forgoing the heavy body armor, and putting on your running shoes.

    2. Did you ask for this?

      The trouble started when the lawyer walked into the library with the 5 m long, purple boa constructor lifting its head from his shoulder. The boa had a couple of coils around his torso over his Armani suit, and its tail slithered along the floor behind him. Steve, our ever vigilant militant librarian challenged him immediately, naturally.

      “Sir, I’m afraid you’ll have to leave your pet outside,” she said, all 5’4″ glaring at the tall man and his snake.

      The boa constrictor looked back at her, black eyes like two eight balls stolen from pool tables, and a bright green tongue flickered momentarily between shining white teeth as its mouth opened. Then it said, “Honey, if I leave him alone, you would not believe the mischief he gets into. Or were you offering to carry me? Now where is the colonel?”

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