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Why is it so easy for writers who follow Christ to be derailed? Why do we, who are made in God’s image, forget that and find ourselves worn out, tempted to quit, or even angry and frustrated? Part of the answer is that we’re human and fallible. But the biggest reason is that we don’t ask ourselves the right questions to help us avoid, or escape, burnout. Come learn what to ask and when!
But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!
We’ve spent two earlier episodes talking about strategies to avoid writer’s burnout. It may feel like a lot of time to devote to this one topic, but God doesn’t mean for his children, made in his image, to live tired, rushed, stressed, burned-out lives. That’s not an effective way to, as it says in Philippians 2:15-16, “…shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.”
And it’s not an effective way to, like it says in Hebrews 12:1, “…run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” We don’t want you to set a pace that you can’t maintain, or set a pace that leads to you giving up before you’ve run the whole race.
With that in mind, let’s get to the last few tips we have for you.
If you’ve ever heard flight attendants give the safety procedures before a flight, you’ll know that when they’re talking about the unlikely event that the aircraft should lose cabin pressure and you need to put on an oxygen mask, which will hopefully drop out of the ceiling like it’s supposed to, you’re to put on your own mask first before helping anyone else. That might seem selfish at first, but then it becomes obvious: You can’t help anyone if you aren’t breathing yourself.
We’ve talked about this before but it’s worth repeating. Make sure you’re eating, sleeping, resting, rejuvenating, and getting the exercise you need. We have to plan time for self-care. It’s not a luxury, it’s an imperative.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “You are not your own; for you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. It’s God-honoring. So don’t stick self-care on the “maybe” list, or the “if I have time after everything else” list. There’s only so long you can get away with mistreating your body, heart, and spirit before something breaks down.
BE WILLING TO DELEGATE
This tip gives you another way to take a few things off your plate. Take a look at everything on your to-do list and ask whether you’re the best person to do it. Sometimes you’re at a point where it makes sense to hire a virtual assistant, or some help with childcare, or other household tasks, etc.
For example, it’s not just okay, but healthy to give kids responsibilities. Yes, there’s some extra time involved in teaching kids a new task, but that should pay off in the long run.
Women in particular can sometimes have trouble delegating. We feel guilty for, say, hiring someone to do housekeeping. Where do we get this idea that WE have to clean our houses? Don’t give in to an “I can and should do it all” attitude. That’s dangerous, especially since it far too often has roots in pride. Or comparison. Delegation of the tasks that someone other than you can do is an opportunity to develop a team mentality in your household and career.
Practice UNNECESSARY CREATIVITY
This tip can help maintain and even grow your ability to be creative. I was reading a book by Todd Henry called The Accidental Creative (affiliate link). One of the things he suggests for people in creative careers is to dedicate some time in your week to what he calls “unnecessary creativity.” This is anything you consider a creative task that doesn’t have any pressure. You have nothing at stake. It’s just fun. This technique, he says, helps build your creative muscle so you can be more creative during your work times. You become more able to be creative on demand.
One of the things that does this for me, Karen, is feeding, caring for, and photographing the birds in my backyard. I’ve rebuilt our bird-feeding station any number of times because I’ve realized I could do something better, or even something prettier. I looked for pretty teacups and saucers to use as feeders for the finches and mourning doves. I mix different types of food together, and build different types of feeders, to draw a greater number of different birds. Just recently I added bark butter as a menu option for the birds, and it’s been such a treat for me to see new birds coming to partake. It all lets me be creative just for the fun of it, and that brings me joy.
For me, Erin, I love photography. It’s completely unrelated to writing. There’s no pressure. I just like to take pictures out in nature and look at them. I love closeups of birds and other animals so I can see the amazing details God put into each bit of his creation. I try to make interesting compositions. Sometimes I succeed, but often I don’t. Especially when the bird I was photographing flew away right before I snapped the picture. No worries, though. I simply delete those pictures. I’m just stretching my creative muscles.
Think about the creative things, aside from writing, that you enjoy: baking, quilting, working with your hands, building things, landscaping, making music. Whatever it is, don’t see it as a waste of time that you could’ve used writing. These are ways to improve your brain’s capacity for creative work.
Yes, we’ve been telling you to do fewer things, so don’t make this something that feels piled on. But if there’s something you’d like to do to stretch your creativity into other activities, do it. Chances are it will be a relaxing break, so it does double duty as a part of self-care.
Burnout is a slow road we travel without realizing it. You have to assess your load on a regular basis. Things change. Seasons change. Activities that used to energize you may now drain you. And things that used to drain you might start to energize you. You might need to shuffle your daily schedule, or re-evaluate your deadlines.
Schedule regular times to ask yourself:
- Do I like the pace I’m on?
- Do I feel rushed?
- Do I feel stressed?
Yeah, when my (Erin’s) husband’s job went away a couple years ago, we were dealing with his unemployment for a year, while we were trying to get our house ready to sell. Meanwhile, I was trying to write and edit and produce new episodes of the podcast, and our dog got cancer and died. Then Alan got a job suddenly and had to relocate without me, while I packed up the house to move. Then the house sold fast and shrank my packing time. Then the sale fell through 5 hours after the moving truck drove away, and we had a weekend to find another place to live.
I couldn’t figure out why I was dealing with terrible bouts of fatigue, worse than I’d ever had in the past. Someone asked me if I was feeling stressed, and I said, “Well, I don’t think so.” Then I started listing everything going on in my life… Um, YES, I was stressed and I didn’t even know it.
Responsibilities can pile up and simply become part of your new normal. The last year, when my (Karen’s) hubby, Don, was so incapacitated by the pain in his hip, I had to take on his chores as well as mine. So when I started to find myself resenting all I had to do, I knew it was time to stop and evaluate, to find out what could change. You have to stop and ask yourself if that’s happening.
- Are the needs of my family changing?
- Are the demands of my day job changing?
- Or are the demands of my writing career changing?
For example, if you’ve recently gotten a contract, it may be a very different life now than just a few months ago.
Or, if you have something new you want to take on, ask what you’re going to take off your plate in order to make room.
Also, make a habit of asking yourself:
- Did I try to fit too much in my day today?
- Did I try to fit too much in my week?
If you’ve planned more white space in your life, that will help give you the time to evaluate as you’re going through your day. You can ask yourself:
- What have I learned about how much time I gave to my various tasks?
- Did I go faster or slower than I anticipated?
For example, some tasks that you may have systemized got easier or faster, and you can anticipate those taking less time in the future.
Also make sure to evaluate your mental, physical, emotional, and creative health after finishing big projects. Ask:
- How did it go time-wise, stress-wise?
- What should I change to make the next big project go more smoothly in my life and in the life of everyone around me?
- Did I give myself enough recovery time?
Plan specific times for broader evaluation into your schedule. Check in with yourself weekly, or at least monthly, and even quarterly and yearly. We’re not saying that you have to spend every waking moment navel-gazing. But we are saying that evaluation needs to be regular and specific.
And don’t hear us saying that you’ll never be tired or feel like you’re too busy. We live in a fallen world and things do happen. But what we’re trying to do is promote a lifestyle conducive to mental, emotional, and spiritual health. You want a pace that is overall sustainable even if you have some sprints now and then.
REMEMBER WHOM YOU SERVE
This last tip can help us keep our heads and hearts in the right place. As writers, we’re not here to be served but to serve. One of the most unattractive and unhelpful traits a writer can have is entitlement and pride. The world does not owe us. Our readers don’t owe us. God doesn’t owe us. Our task is to communicate God’s truth through words on a page. But also through our actions and responses everyday.
Why are we talking about this as a way to avoid burnout? Because the wrong attitude stirs up negative emotions that drain us. We can not feel rested when we’re feeling resentful or angry. We cannot effectively create from a place of hope when we’re frustrated and bitter.
Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” God is the one who judges our writing, our actions, our intentions and attitudes. And God is the one who rewards us. We may never see “earthly rewards” for our writing. We have to be okay with that because it’s God we serve and God who has reserved a priceless inheritance in heaven for us.
Because it’s God we serve, it’s also God who makes us able to serve. It’s God who gives us the creativity, the passion, the joy, and the strength. And God’s supply is inexhaustible. When we’re creating hand in hand with God, we’re connected to the source of life and creativity that never runs out. But he’s also the source of true rest and true peace.
Ultimate peace doesn’t come in completed tasks. It comes from being with God throughout our tasks. Yes, there’s a certain satisfaction we feel in completing tasks, and that’s fine, but that’s not the source of our worth. Because there will always be more tasks and more projects. If completing them were the source of our worth, we’d feel lousy for never getting there. And some of us do feel lousy, but that’s false guilt.
We need to remember that the abundant life God created us for comes from being focused on him, from being obedient to him. It comes from remembering there’s only one whom we serve, a mighty one who loves us beyond anything we can imagine and who is calling us to partake in creativity with him not because he needs us but because of how very much he loves us!Writers, you’re made in God’s image. Live like it! #amwriting #Christianwriter @karenball1 Click To Tweet
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
How often do you evaluate your load? What helps you remember to do that?
Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!
Thanks so much to our December sponsor of the month, Priscilla Sharrow! She’s working on her memoir called Bonked! Life, Love, and Laughter with Traumatic Brain Injury, which should come out soon from Redemption Press. Learn more about Priscilla at her website priscillasharrow.com and follow her blog for the TBI/PTSD community.
Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast Production Services for their fabulous sound editing!
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