Month: December 2020

132 – How to Avoid Writer’s Burnout, Part 3

Spread the love

How to Avoid Writer's burnout Part 3 Write from the DeepWhy 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.

PRIORITIZE SELF-CARE

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.

REGULAR EVALUATION

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.

 Ask:

  • 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?
  • Why?

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 Share on X
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

How often do you evaluate your load? What helps you remember to do that?

THANK YOU!

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!

STAY CONNECTED

Want the latest news from Karen and Erin? Click here to join our newsletter and get an exclusive audio download.

131 – How to Avoid Writer’s Burnout, Part 2

Spread the love

How to Avoid Writer's burnout, Part 2 Write from the Deep PodcastBurnout is a thief. It steals creativity, robs us of joy, and pilfers our ability to write what God has given us to write. So what’s a writer to do when burnout shows up on the horizon? Stop it dead! Come listen in as we discuss simple, effective steps for heading burnout off at the pass.

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

GIVE YOURSELF WHITE SPACE

First, let’s start with something practical that helps you implement a slower, relaxed day and a more sustainable lifestyle. The idea is simple: Plan “white space” in your life. This means when you’re planning any kind of timetable you don’t put events right on top of each other. Create a margin around every event, so that when things run long or go wrong—because stuff happens, you know it does—you don’t end up overbooked.

You want to think about this on a small scale—the things you plan everyday, your errands, or your writing time, daily tasks like cooking, or whatever. You don’t want to cram your daily schedule with one event right on top of another. That grocery trip might take longer because your store is out of toilet paper and you need to go to several places, or whatever. These delays mean everything gets behind and rushed and by the time you get to your writing time, say, later that evening, you’re crabby and exhausted.

You also want to think about white space on a large scale—the things you plan throughout the year like your contract deadlines, book launches, major projects in your day job, home renovation projects, or whatever. All these types of activities need white space around them. Don’t plan one deadline right up against another. Rushing to meet one deadline after another is a recipe for burnout. If it takes you six months to write a book, give yourself seven months in case something goes wrong—like you get sick, or a relative passes away. 

Even consider scheduling a few days after a book deadline for plain old down time. Nurture your body, soul, and spirit. Give yourself time to get excited about the next book project so you’re itching to write it, not forcing yourself to write it.

Now, practically speaking, if you’re going to plan white space, there’s an important prerequisite: You have to have a pretty good idea of how long different tasks are going to take you. The most important thing we can tell you here is don’t be a “time optimist.” Be realistic about how long that task is going to take. If you have to, keep a time log. You might be surprised at the difference between how much time you think you’re spending on something and how much time you actually are. 

There are some apps you can put on your phone and computer to help you track this. You don’t want to just plan white space around work events, though, but also simple life tasks like meal preparation and running errands. Be as realistic as possible, and then add a buffer. Now, doing this, you’ve probably realized that planning white space is another way to force you to do fewer things. See what we’re doing here?

You’d be amazed at how different life feels when you’re not rushing from one task to the next. It’s a stress reducer. Your body doesn’t feel like it’s in flight or fight mode through one hurried day after another. Your whole schedule isn’t going to fall apart if one phone call goes long. 

But there’s another benefit to white space: it gives you time to transition into the next task you have. Your brain gets a break. You can reset and refocus on whatever the next task is, rather than feeling like you’re just flying headlong into it.

BE FULLY PRESENT

Transition time allows you to implement the next tip we have: Be fully present in every task. Give it your full attention. That’s how our minds work best, especially in difficult tasks where we need self-discipline. Our brains aren’t built for multitasking with anything that requires concentrated mental effort. I mentioned a book in part one of this series, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and it talks extensively about this.

Kahneman mentions an experiment where participants are shown a video of two teams playing basketball. Participants are told to count the passes the team in white uniforms make. This task is so absorbing that most participants miss seeing a gorilla visible for nine seconds that walks across the floor, thumps its chest at center court, and then walks off. Multitasking is not realistic.

Doing fewer things well, means giving your best effort, and you can’t do that without being fully present. Think about this too: If you’ve been able to give your full attention, let’s say to your kids, or spouse when you’re spending time with them, you know you’ve given them your best. You’re giving them you. Then when you’re doing your writing time later, be fully present there, without feeling guilty, like you’re a terrible wife or parent for taking time away from others to write. 

Be fully present not just in your work, but in your nurturing times, too. Let yourself relax, which you can do better if you know you’ve planned this time for relaxing. If you’re feeling stressed when you’re supposed to be relaxing or nurturing your creativity, that’s counterproductive. 

STRATEGIC SCHEDULING

Another thing to help you fully engage in each task is to schedule activities for the time of day when your brain and body are most suited to that task. What time of the day are you most creative? Schedule writing or brainstorming for that time.

What activities drain you? Spread them out. Give yourself plenty of time to recharge. Try to avoid scheduling creative tasks right after draining tasks. For Erin, somehow, I always come home from the grocery store in a bad mood. Maybe because they never seem to have everything I need. So I never schedule creative time for after I get home from the grocery store. Strategically pick your times for answering email, doing marketing tasks, or anything else, based on how draining or energizing they are.

One thing that helps Erin fully engage in my daily tasks is a timer. I can set it and then focus fully on my task without worrying that I’ll forget some important appointment or forget to do the next important thing on my list. When I was in graduate school and my kids were in a Montessori preschool for a couple hours, I’d always set my alarm so I’d be able to lose myself in whatever composition I was working on without fearing I’d forget to pick up the kids. 

We’ve talked about fully engaging on a smaller scale, by paying attention to what times of the day work best for your various tasks, but it also applies on a large scale. You have to take into consideration the seasons of your life. If your day job is, say, preparing taxes, don’t give yourself a book deadline or even a book launch in April, because it’ll be challenging to fully engage. Or what happens in your life during holiday seasons? Do you need to back off on other obligations during that time? Give yourself time to savor the joy of the season and savor your connection to others.

And think about the different kinds of energy required for various aspects of book writing. Planning or outlining is different than the actual writing of the book. Editing is different than revising. Starting energy is different from finishing energy. And all of that is different than promoting a new book launch. Look at what’s going to be happening in your life as a whole when you’re scheduling the starting and finishing points of your books. Respect your rhythms.

REDUCE WORRY

Let’s move on to the next tip we have for avoiding burnout. It’s related to being fully present: Reduce worry in every way possible. What we mean by that is: stop worrying altogether, because that’s what God calls us to as believers. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything.” It doesn’t say, “Do not be anxious about most things” or “Don’t be very anxious.” But erasing worry from our lives is a process we need to continually practice. 

The problem with worry is that it’s not innocuous. Worry is stressful, and it saps our mental, emotional, and physical energy. It sucks it up, and then we can’t devote our full and best energy and attention to whatever our task at hand is. 

What’s worse is that, all (or nearly all) of the terrible things we worry about never happen, so it’s like spending all our energy on something fake or imaginary. It’s wasted creative energy. As writers, we’re far better off focusing on what terrible things can happen to the characters in our novels, and how they can recover and learn from those things.

Worry is a sign that we’re not trusting God. That we’re holding something too tightly and we’re afraid we’re going to lose it. Or that we want something so much, and we’re afraid we won’t get it. The bottom line is that we don’t want to face that pain of loss or disappointment. As fallen people in a fallen world, we want to live lives free of heartache and trial, and we want to have everything we think will make us happy. We don’t want negative experiences, we don’t want struggles.

But that is not the world we live in. God’s plan is for us to bring our prayers, petitions, and problems to him and trust him for answers and give him the glory as he takes care of us. 

We did a whole episode on worry (Episode 24, Worry is Not Your Friend) that you can refer to if you want to dive deeper into its causes and solutions, especially solutions. But the point we want to make here is that by stealing our energy, our thoughts, and our focus, worry makes us less effective in everything we do. Which means we have to work harder for the same results, if it’s even possible to get the same results, and that, combined with the added burden of the stress that worry creates, is another recipe for burnout. 

CULTIVATE WONDER

Our next tip for avoiding burnout is something that also helps us overcome worry: cultivate wonder.

Merriam Webster defines wonder as:

– a cause of astonishment or admiration

– rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience

Why would this help avoid burnout? Wonder is pleasant and refreshing. It feeds our minds and hearts with new insight, and that sparks ideas and creative flow. 

God knows we need wonder in our lives. Psalm 114:2-4 says, “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them. Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.”

We have a God who we can marvel and wonder at all the time. And we have his amazing creation all around us. We just forget to take the time to look, to absorb, to wonder. Make an effort to marvel. To give time and space in our lives for it. 

This is why, again, we encouraged you in part one to make one of those fewer things you do well be to keep your spiritual life healthy and vibrant. Set aside time specifically to just look at God in all his infiniteness. Read Scripture, or meditate on just a few words at a time. 

For example, Nahum 1:7 starts out, “The Lord is good…” Just camp there for a while. What does it mean to be good? To be wholly good? There is no bad, no evil, no fallenness in God. No lack of care or concern. How does that change our view of him when we’re tempted to worry? Or when we think he’s not seeing us? 

Psalm 33:6 says, “The Lord merely spoke and the heavens were created.” Camp there for a while. What kind of a God can speak things into existence? What kind of power does he have that a word can bring the universe, trillions and trillions of stars, planets, people, animals, trees, water, all of it, into being? Aside from meditating on that, get out in God’s creation and delight in it.

Also take time to specifically remember God’s past works in your life. Psalm 77:11-15 says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds. Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed your people…”

God is the author of creativity. He’s the source of every bit of imagination we have. We don’t just manufacture creativity on our own. It’s a gift from him, because we’re made in his image. Stay connected to the source. It’s his creativity that keeps ours from burning out. Savor him and his presence and enter into creativity with his guidance and his presence.

Stop burnout from stealing your creativity and the joy of writing! #amwriting #christianwriter @karenball1 Share on X
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

What’s your best tip for avoiding writer’s burnout?

THANK YOU!

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!

STAY CONNECTED

Want the latest news from Karen and Erin? Click here to join our newsletter and get an exclusive audio download.