Burnout

My pastor mentioned this word in a recent message as he reminded us that God doesn’t want us to be under pressure.  We already are all we’re striving to be — in Christ — so why are we striving? 

“You can get burnt out,” Pastor said. “You can put yourself under too much pressure.” God doesn’t want us under pressure, but to rest, relax and enjoy the blessings He’s bestowed on us.

“Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of ou should seem to have come short of it.”

I’ve been getting this message from many different angles for some time now, and keep resisting it. I’ve also been receiving the admonition againt always thinking I’ve done something wrong when things don’t go as I’d like. That it’s my fault. 

So yesterday, as I went through my fractured life, the word burnout kept floating through my thoughts.  Because really it’s getting downright weird. I can’t seem to get myself to work on the book in any consistent way, much as I try, much as I determine that I will, or that I’ll back away and relax, only to flail myself for not trying hard enough… It’s not that I hate the book. It’s not that the writing seems hard — well, it does, but that doesn’t matter; if it’s hard  it’s because in large part I’ve not sat down for a long enough period of time to really get going on it. I keep telling myself that it’s not like I don’t have time. It’s not like the eye drop runs and doctor appointments and other stuff take up all my time. They don’t. I just can’t seem to use the snippets and half hours and even hours when they come.

And it’s not like I don’t know how to work. I’ve written six books, after all. Long ones, and worked very hard. Many long hours. Compelled. Driven. Thinking always of the book, and working on it. Burning to work on it…

But now that’s not happening like before. And it’s not just the book, and the story. I’m not answering reader mail, not because I don’t appreciate it, but because I just can’t seem to muster the words or impetus to do it. And then condemn myself for not being appreciative enough.

Today, for the first time, really, I wondered if I really can’t help it. Yes, I believe I’ve said something like this before, or at least talked of the need not to try to be more disciplined… concepts from all those books about relaxing and such. But in the back of my mind there always lurked  the conviction that it really was my fault, and that if I’d just be more disciplined and focused, just “take my calling seriously,” things would straighten out.

So today, instead of working (in between eye drop runs and taking my hubby to the dentist and picking him up later) I Googled “Writing Burnout.” I found some very interesting articles and thoughts, of which I’ll share some excerpts. 

First is a blog post by Romance writer Barbara Bretton. I’ve not heard of her until today, but what she said about burnout resonated:

“Before I burned out in February 1992, I’d labored under many assumptions about the reality of work and writing and self-discipline. I believed that showing up was half the battle, that inspiration and artistic temperament were both highly overrated, that I could conquer outside forces by the sheer force of my will–and I believed burnout could never happen to me.

I was wrong.”

Sound familiar? Well it does to me. It sounds like me. Her whole post was very interesting. You can read it here.

Next is a succinct description of how and why burnout occurs from MindTools:

“Burnout occurs when passionate, committed people become deeply disillusioned with a job or career from which they have previously derived much of their identity and meaning. It comes as the things that inspire passion and enthusiasm are stripped away, and tedious or unpleasant things crowd in. This tool can help you check yourself for burnout.”

They had a little test you could take to determine if you are close to burn out. I took it and while some of my answers were “Not at All” enough were in the “frequently” column to indicate I was “seriously burnt out.” This is a little grimmer than I feel. I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as “deeply disillusioned,” though it is true that many of the things that formerly inspired passion and enthusiasm have been stripped away. Still, I consider that stripping a good thing. Too often those things were the arrogant, lustful desires of my flesh for approbation, success, recognition and self-glorification. Furthermore, having attained some of those goals that had so motivated me and found them lacking in the satisfaction and pleasure I had imagined they would give me,  just as the Bible says they would not, has also been a good thing in redirecting my focus. Both the stripping and the proving of the emptiness of worldly goals brought me closer to God.

I am not depressed. I am enjoying many things in my life — making scones, walking and playing with Quigley, Bible class, writing in my journal, reading books, making cards and paper crafting, the latter, incidentially, having become the center of my enthusiasm for creative endeavors.  I’m just not writing the novel.

Secular Fantasy writer Kate Elliott had this to say in her post on Burnout  for Deep Genre:

“Burnout is well described by – well – the word itself.

“I have been toasted by the weight of real world responsibilities which I was juggling at the same time as writing.

“I have become simply too mentally or emotionally exhausted to write for periods of time, and sometimes during those periods I had to write anyway.  That was fun!

<snip>

“A long while ago on livejournal, Kristine Smith mentioned periods of transition and change as ones that leave you susceptible to burnout.

“These are the big three for me:

1) real life responsibilities eating up your creative energy

2) changes of direction, including things like life reassessment, major family shifts, moving, relationship difficulties

3) battered confidence, as in “why would anyone want to read this crap anyway?” and all its variations ringing down the changes of doubt and trust.”

I’m actually not having problems in the confidence area, having finally  come to the point of accepting that I have a gift that is sufficient to whatever God intends for it, and surprisingly comfortable with people not caring about it, not liking it, etc. Lots of people didn’t care about Jesus’s words either, and they were perfect.

No I was struck more in reading Kate’s three big ones by the fact that  real world responsibilities are definitely big in my life right now, and her comment that they can indeed eat up your creative energy does reflect what I’m experiencing.

But what about “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”?  If I’m operating in the power of the Spirit, shouldn’t that take up the slack for the energy drain worked by real world responsibilities?

Maybe. But what if right now it’s really not God’s will for me to BE working? Then surely the Spirit will not empower me to do what the Father’s plan does not call for…

Finally we come to the question of  “How to Recover.”  An article on Errant Dreams suggested that one who is “burned out” should…

Take a Vacation

“There’s one thing that, above all, you should try to do for yourself when you start to burn out. If you can at all afford to, take a vacation. If you’re still finishing off a contract then take a vacation as soon as it’s over. Be lazy. Sit around the house and read thrillers, mysteries, or something equally pointless and fun. Watch movies. Take lots of walks in the sunshine. Relax…”

Kate Elliott also advised this, particularly for times when “the well runs dry”

” – this is a classic line I think every writer I have ever met understands, even if he or she hasn’t experienced it for herimself. You, the writer, have just sucked it all up after a run of umpteen stories or books or scripts, and the well (of inspiration and/or creative energy) needs time to re-fill either via the internal and inexplicable spring of creativity, which flows at its own rate… [Emphasis mine]

“… or through external heavy-lifting bucket-hauling such as travel, reading, conversation, lounging on the beach and staring at the sky, long walks, long baths, listening to music, theater and shows, and innumerable other ways of absorbing strength from other sources of creative energy.

“Sometimes there is no way out but through.

“Sometimes you simply have to give yourself permission to be patient and forgiving and, you know, realistic.”

Give yourself permission… these descriptions of vacationing are incredibly alluring. And it seems that I’ve been receiving this message for the last few months over and over and over, in messages from the pulpit, private reflection and various books I’ve been reading… Nah… It can’t be that. Can it?

Tonight in the next lesson of the Job series I am listening to, a message delivered in the mid-nineties, Pastor was talking of the man in Lamentations 3:27, 28, one of the many Jews enslaved by the Babylonians.

“Why were the Children of God in slavery?”  Pastor asked. Because they’d just experienced 490 years of prosperity during which God had instructed them  to take every seventh year off from work “to let the land rest.” The Sabbatical year.

During that time they were to cease working and enjoy the blessings and prosperity the Lord had provided and also to realize that even when they were not “working and hustling” God still provides. “We tend to think we earned it. But then God puts us in a position where we can’t earn anything and yet we still receive something.”

 They were to give themselves and the land rest. But they ignored that command and kept on working and hustling and trying to accumulate wealth.  So Nebuchadnezzar came and took them away. And the land rested… for exactly the 70 years they had not given over to the Sabbatical.

I don’t think this is “coincidence.” Especially since I am currently working on my seventh book.  And after all I’ve read today about burnout, and how some of the symptoms I’m experiencing are similar, I think that it might not be something that is strictly my fault. That the Lord just may be shutting me down for a time.

I’ll have to sleep on that and try it out. See what tomorrow brings…

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3 Responses to “Burnout”


  1. 1 CMarieK August 11, 2010 at 8:39 am

    I think you are really on to something here. I can relate to Burnout in other areas of my life besides writing (still too new at that), and what you said about God’s people being enslaved for the same number of years that they should have originally rested in the Lord- that is really profound and I agree, is no coincidence. Not that I think you are about to enter into a period of enslavement in any way; I just see how important it is for us to take the time to rest and let God provide for us.

    I think this is likely a necessary battle that will make you into an even better writer, and infinitely more than that, will bring you even closer to the Lord. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

    -Caryn

    • 2 karenhancock August 11, 2010 at 10:11 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Caryn. I appreciate the encouragement. I think resting is really a rather big challenge for a lot of people these days. There’s so much we think we have to do… well, there’s just so much TO do (and probably most of it is discretionary even if it might not alwas seem like it).

  2. 3 Amy August 12, 2010 at 6:08 am

    I am so glad that you are finding the Lord in the midst of what you feel may be burnout, Karen. I love that you are sensitive enough to the Spirit at work within you that you don’t try to force open doors that are closed for the moment. Because of this, your books, though fictional, carry life and heavy spiritual weight. I believe that God is working something in you… in your personal life.. in your personal walk that He needs to complete in order for the essence of that revelation or truth to be imparted into this next book.

    You can call it burnout, or you can call it God’s timing. I believe that what you are sensing is a lack of grace on the “writing” at the moment. That doesn’t mean that the Lord is not with you, of course… but he is not giving you the supernatural energy and passion that you are used to when writing, and that is why you are feeling so differently this time!!

    So, you are doing the right thing! You are resting in him and finding the doors that his grace IS upon in this season for you.

    I love that you are so raw and honest with us. And I pray that the God of peace will give you joy and rest in this season while you prepare for the next mountain, which very well may be a little higher than the last one you climbed.

    Blessings!


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