If you had told me two years ago that I would ever loathe writing, I would have called you a witch doctor. No, not the healer, but the kind who aids your enemy to finish you just because you seem happier and more successful than they are. Thanks to burnout, I got toasted!
I still want to deny hating writing from time to time even after changing my mind so many times. About a month ago though I was sure I would never write again. Not a text message, but a blog post like this one.
This is what went down.
For the three and a half years now, I have done everything in my writing power to give voice to feelings and thoughts of people around me as a ghostwriter. It all started after a one-week training on online jobs landing me into a well that promised to never go dry.
The plunder also came with the joys of working from home allowing a constant affair with my kitchen fixing a cup of coffee whenever I needed a lift. Sometimes cookies or nuts were allowed into the threesome.
On a good day, which happened more often than not, I would have a complete article, a happy client on the other side of the globe and some dollars trickling into my bank account!
Then some witchcraft happened.
I got a review writing assignment from UK right in the middle of an e-book writing contract. I had agreed to do the latter in 10 working days and was determined to deliver. I knew I should have turned down the new job to avoid burnout but greed craved for a week at the famous Maasai Mara, a sleek 13.3-inch HP Elite Dragonfly Notebook and an all-girl shopping spree without begging for money!
The new job came with a glittering pay coercing me to create time for both assignments. The boom lay a few days ahead after all.
I promised the UK client that I would complete his work in 14 days. In my opinion, I was well able to provide him with 6000-word reviews for seven different secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) services in the stipulated time. That was besides the 10000 words I needed to complete a 20000-word e-book on the lives of digital nomads in Thailand.
So, off I went to work.
The first two days went well. I rose earlier than the African cock, had my morning devotion, fixed a mug of coffee and perched my growing weight on to my new Yamasoro ergonomic office chair. One tap on my ever-on laptop landed me right where I needed. Online. It was work time!
My breaks were both strategic and numbered. If I ever left the chair before 4pm, I was either taking nine strides to the bathroom or 14 to the kitchen to refill my mug with a double espresso.
On the first day I completed two reviews, at least 12000 words typed from thorough research and a new chapter added to the e-book. I had about 9200 words to go with the e-book and the previous chapter refined through ruthless editing.
The second day I upped the game with two more reviews, two review edits and three chapters for the e-book. I made sure to clock 13 hours of work with only the self-prescribed movements. Call it non-stop working if you may.
By this time I was hell-bent to complete the reviews in half the time so I could give direct all the creative juices to the e-book. After all, I had set a record of crafting half of the e-book in five days; book outline included, and had no intention of slowing down.
In each one of these days, I salvaged the fridge for leftovers, heated what needed the warmth and served such to my family promising to make them something fresh when the cooking mojo kicked back. At least that is what I thought and planned.
But the third day began on a different note. When I woke up at 2am after the famous 4-hour sleep, if it qualifies for such a title when the body is enduring overuse, the side of my head throbbed in pain. I swigged my dose of infused water, creeped into my sacred corner after a cold shower and settled on a thick pillow ready for my morning ritual. It was time for a tête-à-tête with the Life Giver.
“Dear God ….”
Silence, my body longed to go back to bed. Not only was I struggling to keep my eyes open, but even the few words I read in the Holy Book did not add up. I pushed myself to complete the ritual so I could return to work. I failed.
Well, not totally. Thirty minutes down the line I had done something close to morning devotion marked with a series of incomplete, “Thanks…”
It was not yet time for the first mug of coffee but on this day the urge for the caffeine was high. I lusted for it. On went the kettle and down came the espresso.
One hour down the line, I had ten browser tabs open, one double espresso drowned but not a single word on my waiting Notepad. What the heck was going on?
I Hate Writing
By this time the nearby mosques were on full blast but I could not hear a word. Blame it on the silence in my brain or maybe the noise that yielded nothing. I glared at the marching cursor on the screen with nothing to offer. How difficult could reviewing a VPN be?
I had lain to rest at least two dozens tech reviews in the last one month and enjoyed every cent from each. And with four from the new assignment completed, I knew I had what it took to generate more.
I scanned through the outline I had concocted to build a stunning review, none of the guiding questions made sense. By this time my eyes were wet from a mix of the throbbing headache and fatigue. And the words on the browser window began to blur.
May be it is time for a naughty espresso; four heaped teaspoons of Italy’s Lavazza ground coffee in 300ml of hot water tipped with a hint of gin after pressing. I dare you!
You see, I am not a believer in the proverbial writer's block. In my opinion, if your brain refuses to generate new words there is no need of staring at a marching cursor cursing yourself. Instead, spike the moment with some fun! Click To Tweet You could take a walk at the beach, go out with a friend and laugh about nothing or dance to some music.
That had been and still is my anthem. But on this particular day, I wanted nothing to do with my own antidote. Words and words alone were the answer.
Maybe the nine strides to the bathroom, a stopover at the house’s water hole to wet my face and arms with freezing water and rolling my eyes at the image in the mirror would do the trick. When the trip was done, I perched again on my executive black leather chair for a new trial.
My fingers found their place on the keyboard. Nothing.
The alarm went. 6.45am, time to prepare breakfast. I dragged myself out of the workspace, plugged the kettle and scanned through the breakfast list stuck on the fridge door for a quick-to-fix breakfast.
If only I could setup a delicious breakfast in twenty minutes then return to work.
“Mum, you promised to make pancakes for breakfast today. We are tired of ….” I heard a child whimper in a sleepy voice beside me.
I looked up from the toaster; part of the breakfast was done. Why in the world did this child think I owed her anything when my own brain could not come up with any words to describe the feel of a mere VPN?
The next five minutes were marked by broken mugs, spilled espresso, scattered pieces of toast, mashed avocado splashed on the floor and a high-pitched downpour of verbal diarrhea directed at the innocent child.
“Why don’t you fix the breakfast yourself? You are old enough to know how, aren’t you?”
At the workstation, I was greeted by an email from the e-book client. He had reread the first chapter of the e-book and wanted the tone changed, for the third time. I had reworked every written chapter of the e-book every time he asked for changes and emailed the new job to him. But he shifted the goal all over again saying he was unsure of what he wanted. The painful process!
Had I long lost my writing talent?
What made me think I could pull it off this time?
Was I even cut out for ghostwriting?
Besides, I had not written any content for any of my blogs in months, what made me think I could write for others?
Maybe writing was not my life’s purpose. Or maybe I had exhausted my quota for ghostwriting and was trespassing in the career. Maybe it was all over and I needed to move on and search for the answer for my living.
Burn the House
I do not remember if anyone ate on the fourth and fifth day. All I know is that I did not leave my desk except when I needed to refuel my body with more coffee or empty what was not absorbed of it in the bathroom. Still, no results.
By the sixth day I had fought with everyone, planned to throw them out of their home and when I finally settled on making dinner, it was in absolute silence. I also flooded my cells with countless glasses of South Africa’s Bartinney, Cabernet Sauvignon, all chilled.
When I needed to sleep, I tuned to audiobooks that spoke of identifying one’s purpose. And even then, I could neither concentrate nor remember a thing the reader said. Sleep evaded me as the proverbial 4-hour sleep turned to two hours of tossing on the sofa when everyone else retired to bed. The other two hours joined the rest in the marching cursor staring competition. One eye against the other.
On day seven I decided to engage in a conversation. You would imagine it was some sort of apology. Wrong!
But that would have to wait until I completed the work at hand, which would mark the last of the text I would ever write.
May be returning to Kanamai where I hid during the last burnout and wrote ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ would bear fruit.
And maybe leaving at that particular time would slay the elephant in the room and give everyone peace!
Every member of my family had had enough of my destructive habits. I had become dangerous to even myself; I hardly showered, ate or left my desk without fussing about it. When I spoke, I complained or painted everyone in bitter words. Talk of motivational speaker turned devil’s advocate. And the deadlines for both the e-book and the reviews were approaching. I needed salvation. Fast!
I had neither responded to any text messages nor picked any calls since the day I began writing the reviews. The only use I had for my phone was the alarm, otherwise it remained on silent with its face hugging the surface of my 32-inch rustic brown Homfio computer desk.
Someone suggested that I speak to a friend, anyone who would favor a walk at the beach and maybe dinner later on. They even called one of my few friends and set a date. Another insisted on an impromptu holiday, time away from the family.
After lots of begging, I gave in to the latter. I served no purpose at home anyway, so going away for a day, or a week would do no harm. In a few minutes one member of my family was packing an easy holiday bag, another was sending emails to my clients asking for an extension of time and the other was ordering for Uber with strict instructions to deliver me safely to my friend’s farm in Kanamai, Kilifi County.
The Uber driver tuned to some smooth saxophone jazz in preparation for the 2-hour journey. I must have slept sometime deep into the trip.
The green life in Kanamai has the kind of healing effect you would only find in the well-manicured gardens of Kopan monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. On a sunny day, the heat is calming unlike the punitive version in Mombasa. Even the Oxygen there is of a different caliber, purified for top level consumers.
I had three days to rest according the emails sent to my clients, then I would resume work. For those three days I swore to make use of every enviable thing at my host’s farm.
My mornings started at 4 am with one-hour devotion and guided meditation. I then joined Leslie Sansone in a 3-mile Walk At Home and Nick in the HIIT, on YouTube. Later on I swam for 45 minutes while hydrating my cells with fresh water before touring around my host’s garden. I made a point to pick some fresh vegetables, feed the birds and play with the dogs.
At midday I tidied my new office/bedroom, replaced the old pink and red roses with a fresh bunch before preparing lunch. At 3pm I entertained my host’s friends over a variety of card games, fresh juices and homemade cookies. As the sun went home, I returned to the swimming pool to cool off in readiness for a laughter-filled dinner with the host!
Maybe burnout is not an act of witchcraft after all.
Whether writing is my life purpose, I still do not know, and would not care less. All I know is that it helps me share important life lessons through entertaining make-believe stories, like the one you are reading right now. That way, you and I grasp the chance to enjoy doing what we love without sinking into the hellholes of burnout like the character in this story.
Do I love writing?
Well, I intend to write till I breathe my last. Call that love, lust or infatuation, any vocabulary that suits the occasion. Meanwhile, the next time you want to teach the world something you believe would save lives, hire me to convert it to a story like this one for you.
If you intend to be productive doing what you love or any kind of work for that matter, love your life as a matter of priority. The reason is, when you were born you found other people working, and you will leave others working. Work is here to stay, but you are not.
So as you work, eat fresh and healthy meals, drink a lot of water, play, exercise, meditate and spend time with people who care about you. If you schedule all this in your daily timetable, you will never taste the wrath of burnout. I promise you!
Have you experienced burnout before? Share your thoughts below and save a fellow reader from it all.