Author Burnout

Written By: Timothy Fish Published: 12/12/2007

Most writers spend many years writing and do not see a lot of success. Most authors are wannabe bestselling authors and the failure to reach that goal can take its toll. Writing can seem like a thankless job. While writing books is fairly new to me, I have been writing for several years. I always appreciate it when someone tells me how much he enjoyed what I wrote. It is always a nice feeling when an editor of a newspaper, no matter how large, asks permission to reprint something that I have written. Then there are times when recognition by other people is much rarer and it is easy to question whether the effort is worth it. Literary agent Chip MacGregor was addressing this issue when he said, “Look for how you can serve others. There's something about hands-on ministry to others, even in a very part-time role, that causes us to be far less me-focused.”(

Chip wrote of turning to things outside of writing that will help others, such as teaching reading to children. I am all for that, but I believe that authors need to turn their writing toward others as well. Successful writing is always, always, always about the reader. What is it that made Harry Potter a success? It wasn’t because people wanted to see the author succeed. Harry Potter was a success because it was a story that people enjoyed. The most successful non-fiction books succeed because they provide customers with the information they need to succeed in their own efforts. Family and friends may buy a book because they want to help the author, but most people will only buy a book if they believe it will either help or entertain them.

What this means is that an author who wants success, an author who wants to stay motivated and an author who wants to develop a fan base must focus on one thing. The most important thing to any author should be the reader. There are two extremes of writing. One extreme is the need to fill space, to make the writer look good or to write just to write. We see this when people are writing to post to a blog, among other things. The writer doesn’t have anything that she wants to tell her audience, but she knows she needs to say something or they will go away and never come back. The other reason to write is to communicate with the reader. The writer has something that he wants the reader to know or he has a story he wants to tell the reader. Writing is not one or the other, but it has degrees of both. The best writing, the writing that has the greatest potential for success is that which is primarily for the benefit of the reader.

I once had a conversation with some people about teaching a training class. Often, training classes have several sessions in which the same thing in each session. The question was why an instructor would not get bored with the material. My answer was that while the material is unchanged, the people are different. The joy that the instructor gets from teaching the class comes from being able to train the people to do something that they were unable to do before. If his only goal is to step through the Power Point slides one more time then he will be bored and his students will be bore. When the instructor’s goal is to teach material to the students in front of him it is much more interesting because he must determine what the students already know and how he can get them from that point to a point of greater understanding of the topic. His focus on people makes a difference in both his enjoyment of the task and his effectiveness.

Writers seldom have the opportunity to tailor their work for individuals, but the priority they place on the people who will be reading their work still plays an important part in their enjoyment of writing and their effectiveness with their audience.