A writer's balancing act is a complicated one we can all relate to, no matter what our personal circumstances may be. All it takes is a few too many commitments in any area of our life and everything spirals out of whack.
Two years ago, before my novel Sweet Confections came out, I made the mistake of thinking I could "do it all". Not only did I indie publish my first novel, but I also put my house up for sale (months of painting and prep, it sold in an hour), went on a mad dash to find a house the next day and moved two months later. But I didn't stop there. Nope, I volunteered to be a co-chair over registration for the Utah Storymakers conference and the Conference Queen for the Midwest Storymakers conference. Plus I had all my normal mommy/wife/church responsibilities. From beginning to end, it was nine months of crazy stress. By the end, I was so burned out, just the thought of writing made me want to curl up in a ball and cry. I spent almost a year caught up in a Netflix binge cycle that was incredibly difficult to break out of.
Perspective teaches us a lot - and man, I learned a lot when I looked back and analyzed that time frame. Today I wanted to share six things I learned to help you avoid becoming burned out.
- Carve Out Time: In other words, create a schedule for the things that are most important in your life. For me, that's my family, church, and writing. Some of you may have full or part time jobs as well. My schedule is simple. Mornings are focused on prepping my family to conquer their day at school or work, then whatever I need to do for my own home or church responsibilities. I have an early lunch between 11-11:30, then the rest of my afternoon is spent on writing goals until school pick ups at 3 pm. After school comes a flurry of carpools and homework. If I feel crunched on deadlines for writing, I'll pick it back up again after the kids are in bed. This is what my schedule currently looks like, but there was a time when I only wrote on Saturday afternoons because that's when my hubby could help with the munchkins. No matter what your personal schedule looks like, guard the parts that are high on your priority list and don't allow other responsibilities to intrude on them.
- Find Your Team: I'm a happier and more consistent writer when I work with my writing team - Heather Justesen, Lisa Swinton, and John Waverly. We brainstorm plots and characters together, join in on Gmail IM for writing sprints on weekdays, and support each other through the publishing process. It doesn't matter if your team is local or on the other side of the country, or even if you write in the same genre or not. Finding your team is like finding your bosom buddies. It's a lifesaver.
- A Healthier You: An active writer's brain/body is imperative for both your creativity as well as to avoid burning out. Take the next few days to track how much time you spend sitting vs. walking/stretching, how much water your drink and what type of snacks you keep on hand while working. I try to take a short break every 30 minutes (stretch, fold some laundry, whatever - for just five minutes). At the minimum, you need to get up at least least ten minutes each hour. I work mine in around sprints with my team or I set a timer on my phone if I'm working alone. For more ideas and information about being a healthy writer, check out these two articles: Combatting the Dreaded Writer's Butt and Other Curses and The Stretching Survival Guide for Writers.
- Love Your Work Space: Our environment effects our productivity. Are you someone who likes a consistent location, like an office or certain chair to sit on? Or do you like to mix things up? I've done both during different seasons of life. When my kids were younger, I had a desk set up in my breakfast nook. It was the perfect spot to tune out the happy noises as I worked, but also to hear when things turned grumbly so I could intervene. Now that the kids are at school all day, I find my house is way too quiet. I like to move around to different spots around house--the recliner in my bedroom, the dining room table or in the basement on a comfy couch. A few times a week, I leave the house and have lunch at a spot where I can stay and write until it's time for school pick ups. Often it's Panera Bread, Applebee's or a picnic at the park. This summer, I'm hoping to purchase a comfy chair for on my back deck so I can enjoy writing outside more often. No matter where you work, be sure it's a space you enjoy. My laptop has a sticker with a NaNoWriMo quote on it: "Whatever you think you are, you are more than that." It's my inspirational quote to keep moving ahead even when I think my writing sucks. What do you have in your writing space that inspires you?
- Delegate & Set Boundaries: Let's be honest, being a writer is so much more than simply putting words together--and there are a million things that distract us from even doing that. Talk with your family, delegate responsibilities, create goals & rewards together, and also set boundaries so they know when (or how) to get your attention if you're in deep work mode. Don't be afraid to say no. My kids often want to go to the store/park/ride bikes, and in typical kid fashion, their requests always seem to come when I'm in the middle of a deadline. I explain what's happening (then ignore the groans because they know they aren't going to get their way), then set a day and time to do what they asked for. I do the same when I'm asked to help with school or church stuff. Don't automatically say yes. Take the time to consider your schedule, say yes if you really can, but don't feel bad if you need to pass. There will be lots of other opportunities to help.
- Love Yourself: The most important thing you can do is to pay attention to yourself. Consistently evaluate how you're feeling and what your to-do list is looking like. If you're feeling over-stressed, is it because you're spending too much time on one project? Is there anything you can delegate? Do you need to shorten that list and send some no RSVP's? Or perhaps you need a break? A date night with the hubs, a girls night out, or maybe some time to soak in your tub to decompress. When I'm stressed, I often talk down to myself and tell myself I suck at whatever I'm not accomplishing. My hubby and writing team have kicked my butt many times and are always reminding me to be kind to myself. So that's my advice--be kind to yourself.
I would love to hear your tips about what helps you to avoid burn out? Or if you've experienced burn out, how do you recover and get back on track? I love it when writers brainstorm to help each other. So bring on your tips and suggestions!
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