Like so many other people, I was certain burnout would never happen to me. I loved writing. It was my calling and purpose to write these books, and burnout wouldn’t happen to someone who was doing God’s will.
Or else writing and independently publishing that series of biblical fictionalizations wasn’t God’s will for my life.
Because in the final weeks of editing the second book of the series, panic set in. You can read more about my request for extensions and my decision to forgo writing the fourth book in these other posts.
I persevered because I had to but the joy was gone.
And thanks to an insightful book by fellow author and writing coach Becca Syme, I might get off the slide before ending up in the pit.
As someone who’s been in the pit of depression, I tend to get claustrophobic even thinking about such a place of despair.
What is burnout?
There’s probably a definition for this somewhere. To me, it boils down to this:
Being emptied of the passion that once fueled creative endeavors
It probably looks different to a lawyer or businessperson who gets burned out. And I know it happens to pastors and doctors, not just people in the publishing industry.
Maybe it’s happening to you right now.
According to Becca Syme’s book, it happens when you use up all your energy stores.
Energy isn’t inexhaustible. We create a certain amount of energy to fuel our body every day. In fact, you eat food because your cells need energy, and conversely your brain activities and emotional functions feed on energy too.
If you consistently burn more energy than you have on hand, you’ll dip into your energy reserves. This is energy you stored on your last vacation, or when you took a nap every Saturday while the sun was shining.
Keep using more than you produce for weeks on end? If you aren’t taking time to replenish the stores, you’ll use them up. And when you do?
Who gets burned out?
Anyone can get burned out. This isn’t something only professionals or artists are susceptible to.
She’s a CliftonStrengths coach, and she says a person’s strengths determine their plate size. Sizes range from one to ten, with most people having plates in the three to eight range.
You know that person who can do ninety different things with a smile on their face without ever seeming to get tired? They probably have a size nine plate.
Syme warns that once you suffer burnout, your plate size will be diminished for a while. It might even be permanently reduced.
That’s something a Type A person like myself doesn’t want to hear!
What? You mean I might have to slow down? Not do everything? But, no, that’s not possible. I must do all the things.
Except when I use up my energy stores. And emotional tolls make more impact on your energy stores than doing all the things.
Yes, I was on the slide and headed for burnout.
How to combat it
Have you ever tried to get off a slide once you started down it?
I haven’t. I mean, I might have considered it, but momentum took over and the next thing I knew, boom! I was at the bottom.
The slide into burnout is the same. Once you hit the point of no return. That moment when illness strikes or something big hits and zaps the remainder of your energy reserves.
Fortunately, I pulled back and started seeking information before that happened. Syme gives five areas to consider and reconfigure about the way we expend energy in order to “slow” the slope into the pit of burnout.
I’m hoping I might avoid the pit entirely. That’s why rather than working on rewrites and sending out my romance manuscript for beta input, I’m reading her book. And I’m brainstorming about:
- What is my Why?
- How do I define success?
- How can I measure success according to that definition?
- What do I need to quit?
And a multitude of other questions recommended in her book Dear Writer, Are You in Burn Out? If you think you might be on the slide, grab the book. Quick!
Syme is quick to recommend therapy, counseling and coaching for writers who pick up her book. I’m one of those people who tends to exhaust all avenues before seeking professional help.
Is that good or bad? I don’t know, but I do know that I’m seeing a glimmer of sunlight behind the thundercloud that’s been shrouding my creative spirit for several months.
Thanks, Becca. Your insight saved me from the pit.
What’s your plate size? Are you pushing past your energy limits on a consistent basis? Be careful, friend. Burnout CAN happen to you.