This afternoon I took a “lunch break” from work, my allotted half-hour of outside time, during which I walked up the street to get coffee with my friend Kate and help her film an autobiographical TikTok. We were sitting outside Golda drinking iced mochas and I was attempting to explain to Kate why I no longer felt like writing anything and then I finally admitted it: “I’m burned out, I guess,” I said.
Why did it take me so long to arrive at this very obvious conclusion and name what’s wrong with me? If I had to guess I’d say it’s probably because I didn’t want to admit to myself that something so obvious could be my problem. But it turns out years of making writing your identity and your sole revenue stream isn’t, uh, sustainable. I wrote on staff for years. I blogged on weekends at my first job because nobody told me to take a break and I conflated working visibly all the time with a sense of self-worth and a career path forward (the guys who made more than I did out the gate after our internships ended did not do this, and probably still make more than me). I wrote my way through a targeted harassment campaign at my second job because I wasn’t given a choice not to. When I was thrust into the world of freelancing for the first time I wrote because it was the only thing I knew how to do. When I started my non-journalism full-time job last April I continued to freelance because a) I wasn’t used to having a stable job and kept thinking it would slip through my fingers so I had to keep writing (hello, financial insecurity-based trauma) and b) there was truly not much else to do with my spare time back then besides set a timer to open the windows and clap for frontline workers at 7 pm (I assume we have all continued to do this in our apartments in the intervening 15 months).
Now I have mostly divorced my identity from what I do for a living, which is healthy, but I still have a gnawing feeling when i’m not getting bylines—which is entirely of my own doing, I know if I were pitching I could and would be writing for the editors I love and respect at outlets I care about—that I’m doing something wrong. But every time I open a Google doc to start jotting down ideas, I freeze. My brain is worse than empty. It just feels like it’s full of cotton balls. I do my work during the day, but when it comes to anything involving freelance writing or journalism I’m running on fumes. I want to write—about how the internet has warped our identities and behaviors, about food and labor, about tech—but I don’t know what to say anymore. There’s always someone who has already done it better, anyway. I’m out of practice. The past 18 months (and the 6 or 7 years prior to that) have kinda ground me down.
Really, the point of writing this is to let you know you probably won’t be hearing from me on any extracurricular written projects in the near future until I take some time to recharge. I’m declaring writing bankruptcy for now. In some ways it feels like a privilege to be able to just stop writing cold turkey, as much as the extra income would be helpful to have, but as someone who’s so used to constantly juggling creative projects it also just feels kind of bad and scary and akin to failure. I feel a bit silly writing this down, because part of me thinks it could hurt my “writing” “career” to admit weakness, and everyone else just seems to power through it, but I know I’ve hit a wall and I’ve always tried to be transparent here. Hopefully the next time I publish something on here it’s only after I’ve had some time to get offline, develop a new hobby (?), and stop looking at my phone right before bed. Kinda doubt the last one will happen, but you never know!