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Burnout 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.
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.
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.
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 Click To Tweet
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
What’s your best tip for avoiding writer’s burnout?
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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