How to Avoid Writer’s Burnout, Part 1

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How to Avoid Writer's Burnout Part 1 Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungNo writer plans to get burned out. Yet so many of us end up there. We wake up one day to find we’ve lost our passion. Our vision. Our hope. We’re weighed down and weary, drowning in a tsunami of life’s demands, not to mention the writerly tasks we can never catch up with. And we’re supposed to be creative on top of that? If you’re in the midst of burnout or want to learn to avoid it altogether, come listen in for hope and help.

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

We don’t live in an easy world. It’s complicated, difficult, and frequently confusing. And most of us writers have busy lives, not just trying to cope with things like a global pandemic and natural disasters, but also trying to keep up with our daily responsibilities: our family, a home—you’ve got to clean and cook and fix stuff that breaks, and then there’s our writing, and then marketing on top of that, and trying to learn new things in our craft, and probably juggling some type of a day job to boot. 

Through all that, we’re under the gun to be endlessly and effortlessly creative. Cheerful. Competent. It’s no wonder we feel drained, exhausted, and teetering on the edge of burnout, if we’re not already there. 

Today we want to talk about an antidote to burnout. We want to give you some tips to avoid burnout and help you stay creatively and spiritually fresh. There are lots of tips, so we’re going to be breaking this up into a series, because you probably don’t have time to listen to a three-hour podcast right now, especially if you have 800 things to do today.

Stop Rushing to “do it all”

Stop spending every day in one giant hurry to do everything. We know, we know. You wanted some genius new strategy to somehow be able to “do it all.” But the very best thing we can tell you is to STOP trying to do it all. Allen Arnold once gave Erin a great piece of advice: Do fewer things and do them well. If you’re able to take this to heart, it will change your life. You have to make a conscious decision about what’s most important to you and then, you have to give some things up. But that’s SO hard.

1. Loss Aversion Makes it Hard to “Give Things Up”

We’re what Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, describes as loss averse. To be loss averse means that in our minds, losses loom larger than gains, so we try to avoid them. And when we do suffer a loss, it feels terrible. Now, being way too busy and burned out also feels terrible, but it’s something we know. We’d rather clutch everything we have in our tight little hands and feel lousy than suffer through something we perceive as a loss. In our minds, we actually weigh losses about twice as much as gains. Which is fascinating. So how do we overcome this loss aversion? 

    • First, it’s helpful to know that we have it, and to understand it. We have to be able to tell ourselves, “Yes, brain, thank you very much for trying to protect me from loss. I know you’re loss averse and that’s why this feels so hard. But, my dear brain, and my dear emotions, in reality, the gain of feeling better because I’m not rushing all the time is WAY better than you’re giving it credit for, and the loss isn’t going to be nearly as bad as you think. 
    • It’s also helpful to think in terms of gains. Turn the question around in your mind: What time can you gain in your day by stopping other activities? What emotional well being will you gain by not having to rush around?
    • Ask yourself what will you gain in terms of outcomes if you have more time, energy, and focus for the fewer things you do? By doing fewer things you CAN do them better, and that’s a very important gain. 

2. We Have Trouble Deciding Which Few Things We Should Focus On

The second reason why it’s hard to do fewer things and do them well is that we don’t know which things we should choose as “the fewer things” that we should do. That can only come through prayerful decision making. Let us suggest that one of the fewer things you might choose to do is to spend more time with God.

The better you know God, and the better you understand who you are in him, the more your identity and self-worth comes not from the things you accomplish but from the worth he gives to you. And from simply enjoying him everyday. God created us to enjoy him and glorify him. That’s really the sum of it. We did a 2 part series on Hearing God in episodes 110-111. I encourage you to go back and listen to those if you struggle with this.

The better you know God, and the better you understand who you are in him, the more your identity and self-worth comes not from the things you accomplish but from the worth he gives to you. #amwriting #christianwriter @karenball1 Click To Tweet

3. We Have Trouble Saying No

The third reason why it’s hard to do fewer things is that we have trouble saying no. Even if we have managed to pare down our list of responsibilities and activities, we’re still going to face constant challenges to that short list. There are appeals for our time and attention coming to us left and right. Multiple times a day. The church nursery puts out a call for volunteers. Or some local cause you believe in needs help. Or you get an invitation to speak somewhere, which means prep time and maybe travel time. These can add up to you not doing fewer things anymore.

    • Sometimes we have trouble saying no because we feel guilty if we say no. Guilt is never from God. Conviction is from God, but not guilt. Guilt is a tool of the enemy, and it’s often tied to our insecurities. Again, this gives you another good reason to make sure one of those fewer things you chose to do is growing your relationship with God. 
    • Sometimes it’s simply, deep down, that we want people to like us and we’re afraid they won’t like us if we say no. When we do that, it amounts to valuing others’ opinions over our own, and more important, over God’s opinions and acceptance of us. We don’t think of it this way, but it is, in essence, idolatry. So ask yourself, am I saying no because I don’t want to deal with this person’s reaction to my no?
    • Or sometimes we don’t want to say no because we have a fear of missing out on something fun or something we’d enjoy. And that’s worth considering, but we have to consider that decision in the light of the other decisions we’ve already made. When you try to make a decision in isolation, for example, do you want to join a friend on a weekend road trip? That kind of sounds like a no brainer: Yes! But if you line up all the other things you’ve prayed about, the things you know are the few things you’ve chosen to do well, and you realize that every time you go on a road trip, you don’t sleep, and it takes several days to recover, then you can ask yourself, can you still do the things that are important to you well? How important is this road trip when compared to those other few things you’ve chosen? What is that recovery from this road trip going to cost you in terms of time and ability? Sometimes it’ll be worth the cost, and sometimes it won’t. But the point is, you can’t make an informed decision in isolation.
    • Sometimes it’s hard to say no because it feels so final. Like that no means never. Sometimes it should mean never, but sometimes it should only mean not right now, or not yet. Consider the season of life you’re in right now as you pray through which of the fewer things you want to do. Some things will make sense to do now, and some will make sense to put in your “When the kids are off in college” category. Or when they’re out of diapers. Or, after the holidays, or whatever. Don’t be afraid to have a “Someday Maybe” category in your mind. Make that into list of things you’ve written down and that you evaluate yearly, or quarterly, or whatever. These few things that you choose to do now aren’t written in stone. Not ever.
    • The bottom line is that we are limited creatures with limited time to walk this earth. We cannot say yes to everything. In fact, we’re going to have to say no a lot more often than we can say yes. Erin heard a great quote: One yes must be defended by a thousand nos. One of the best tips we can give you for avoiding burnout is to get very good at saying no. Saying no takes courage, practice, and prayer. 
Stop Rushing on Your Writing Journey

We talked about the need to stop rushing and to do fewer things in order to help avoid burnout. But, another aspect of the idea of not rushing, is to stop rushing in your writing career. We all want to finish that book, or get that series finished, or get that agent, or get that contract, or learn that new technique, or get those sales, or that bestseller title, or whatever, and we want to do it now. Or, if not right now, then as soon as possible.

This mentality is tempting for every writer. But the problem is, being in a hurry to get somewhere else makes us discontent with where we are right now. That makes it impossible to enjoy the journey. 

Being in a hurry to get somewhere else on our writing journey makes us discontent with where we are right now, which makes it impossible to ever enjoy the journey. #amwriting @karenball1 Click To Tweet

We did a whole podcast about the dangers of discontent, episode 94, so we encourage you to check that out. 

Erin heard a quote somewhere that went something like: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery.” All you really know you have is right now, and if you can’t enjoy it, how can you ever be happy? 

If we’re only happy when we hit some specific milestone, the trouble is, that happiness is short lived, because there’s always another milestone, and that thing we want always comes with its own challenges and difficulties. 

So how do we do this? How do we stop rushing in our writing career?

1. Take Pleasure In Where We Are Now

Take pleasure in the simple fact that we are on the path God has for us, and our job is to glorify him and delight in him on the path right now, not somewhere down the road.

What can you thank God for right now? What can you glorify him for right now? What lessons does he have for you right now, that you can only learn by being fully present right now? Maybe you’re in a great place, or maybe you’re in a lousy place, but it’s the place God has you. There’s a reason why patience and self control are fruits of the Spirit. Focus on how you can cultivate a Christ-mindedness and a Christ-likeness here in this particular place on your journey.

2. Take Your Time Learning and Incorporating New Ideas

As you think about improving your writing craft, and marketing, and everything else that goes along with it, remember that you don’t have to rush to learn everything right now. Take your time. Chew on it. Absorb it. Implement new ideas over time rather than feeling pressured to do everything in a giant bulk dump. 

3. Delight In Being Faithful In Each Task

Living our lives at top speed is stressful, and we don’t see any of the scenery. Instead of racking up milestones, value faithfulness, value diligence. Value sowing well so you can reap in the proper time. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever look forward to a harvest, but it means that you don’t put so much focus on rewards down the road that you fail to reward your own hard work right now. 

Work is God-given. Even when all was perfect in the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve the job of caretaking, of working. Work is good. Yes, we live in a fallen world, filled with futility, but our work with God, our creating with him, our imitating him, our delighting in him each day as we’re faithful to little tasks is still meant to be fulfilling now, while we’re here on earth.

You don’t need to rush. You don’t need to stress to write 5,000 words a day when 500 words a day, or 50, will still get the book written. Pray about how much time you should be writing, pray about how much time you should be doing other writing related tasks, and be satisfied with the speed limit God gives you. It’s fine. We promise. Because it’s your speed. Not your neighbor’s speed, not your critique partner’s, not that latest new best-selling author’s speed, and not that person’s speed who took 30 years to write her book. Go your own, perfect, God-given speed.

The Bottom Line

Love yourself enough to do for yourself what you would do for your spouse, or your child, or a good friend. Love your neighbor as yourself. Give yourself a break. God didn’t give you this task to leave you burned out and exhausted. He gave you this task not because he needs you to do it, but to bless you. To draw you into his creativity. To draw you to his side so that you can savor time with him as he creates through you. 

Know that you’re in the center of God’s will. And when you’re in that place, you’re not ahead. You’re not behind. You’re exactly where you need to be, with no reason to rush anywhere.

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Have you suffered writer’s burnout? What helped you recover?

THANK YOU!

Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Thank you so much to our November sponsor of the month, Tammy Partlow. She’s a writer and speaker at women’s retreats. Her book, Blood Beneath the Pines is a tale of prevailing justice, set mostly in the Deep South. Learn more about Tammy at her website: tammypartlow.com

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast Production Services for their fabulous sound editing!

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3 comments

  1. Bless you, Karen! This arrived in my inbox in God’s perfect timing. Though I’m on a book deadline, I’ve been too focused on countless other things that I feel need to be done – now. Some do in fact need to be done, but not all. And this frenzy is not only stealing the precious little time I have to write, but along with it, my joy. And wouldn’t the enemy be delighted if I just threw my hands up in the air in defeat? He’s not going to win the battle. Not today. I appreciated everything you shared here and am taking it to heart. I desire my writing to be Spirit-led, not flesh-driven. Bless you for this encouraging word today. (Ps. Since I almost never celebrate the milestones I reach, I’m going to treat myself to a massage … 🙂

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