Posts Tagged 'Burnout'

Slowly Returning

single rose small

 

I think.

At least that’s the plan.

I’ve been “on staycation” for about two months now, with posting here pretty sporadic.

A lot of stuff has happened. Most recently the shingles came back to my eye, and for the last three weeks I’ve been dealing with that, complicated by the fact that I seem to be reacting adversely to the antiviral the doctor wants me to take.

We had a wedding here of one of “our own,”,that is one of the members of our local congregation, a young lady who happened to be one of the students in my Sunday School class, and went on to become one of my dear friends.

Friends and family came in for the event, and such things always cram a lot of things into a very short time, where you spend days after recovering, not only from the simple exhaustion of late nights, longish drives and lots of talking, but having your head and heart full of wonderful moments that surface in a disjointed parade of memories afterward. (See my Introvert post, Static and the Need to Recharge, about needing to “process” the sudden high-volume of “deposits” that have been made into your soul)

At the same time as this was happening, my hubby was away elk hunting, and I had full charge of walking Quigley. (I don’t usually walk him every day — we take turns.) Hubby returned successful, so then we had, well, A LOT of meat to deal with. YAY! (We were completely out of wild game and I detest store-bought hamburger, and am not much fonder of ground turkey…) He did most of the work, but the kitchen and refrigerator were commandeered for about a week, I think, which was… distracting at a minimum.

Then there was the matter of my car failing its emissions test, twice, and various  trips to the repair shop, until finally it was decided that we could get a waiver on the whole thing. And all of this pretty much happening concurrently.

So it’s not really been the most “restful” staycation, and it’s not like I’ve had nothing to do but play… though I have managed a bit of that.  In fact, I actually went on 2 Artist’s dates!  And  yes, a month ago or so, I picked up the next Artist’s Way book, Vein of Gold, and started working through it…  only to stop not far in as the Lord took me off in another direction… but that, I think, is for another post.

In fact, I’ve already written a good deal more than I had thought I would. I just wanted to take a tiny step back toward regular blogging, and here I’ve got a full-sized post already. 🙂

Staycation

Resting: my sketch of our former Redbone, Bear,  asleep

Resting: my sketch of our former Redbone, Bear, asleep

My last post was titled in part,  “Take a Day Off…”

When I wrote it I didn’t realize I was actually going to continue to do it, but that’s what’s happened. Even though I mentioned that I thought the Lord was giving me a vacation — seeing as I’d turned the whole matter of me trying to write and failing, failing, failing, over to Him, and it seemed He was doing nothing, thus it must be a vacation — I guess I didn’t think it would continue to go on. After all, the usual times for a vacation are a week, maybe two. Not a month…

Surely, I thought even as I wrote that last post, I’d been “vacating” long enough  and it was time to get back to work.

Apparently not.  Because I still haven’t been able to get myself to work. I’ve continued to avoid the office and have spent a lot of time reading news and comment stuff on the internet, watching videos on making cards, actually making cards… and just doing the general things around the house and yard that are always there, and could easily take up all my time if I let them.

Internally, however, I continued to fight the whole vacation concept. Or at least to feel guilty about it, as I repeatedly questioned whether I was correctly applying what I’d been learning in Bible class. Maybe I was actually just deluding myself, thinking I could just throw everything out the window like this and and let God do it all. Wasn’t that a bit flakey? After all, as every “Professional writer” knows, if you want to write you must go into the office and force yourself to write. It takes self-discipline, and you must train yourself to do that.  It’s absurd to just “trust the Lord.”

I now think that is the voice of my flesh, which I’ve recently become more and more able to identify. More on this later, but for now though, the fact is, I had already done the “just use self-discipline” thing and it led nowhere.  The only thing left was that I trust the Lord to return the motivation to write, as well as the ideas and the direction the story is to take. Even though He’s taking MUCH longer than I think He should be taking.

Which, of course, means I have to trust Him even more to move me and, as I outlined above, it is very difficult for me to do that. I don’t want to rely on Him. I want to take control and get it done myself.  I have a plan, a timetable that I think is reasonable, and He’s not following it!

Well, yesterday I was doing a search on the Internet for “effects of too many things to do.”  (a subject some friends and I were discussing on Sunday). I didn’t find much on that, but in the course of the search, I did stumble upon an article called, “Recovering from Writer’s Burnout: Steps to Happier Writing.”

Here’s the first paragraph:

Many writers (and other creative people) hit that point eventually: they burn out. They feel tired. They can’t feel any interest in their work, and doing that work becomes harder and harder. “

That was and still is me. Feeling very tired. No interest in the work. I’ve mentioned it before. I kind of like what I’ve done so far, but I can’t think of the right place to go from here, and for some time now it’s all seemed dead. I don’t want to think about it.  When I try, I just confuse myself. Should it be this or that? I can’t decide. If I force the decision I can’t write… Or flip back to the alternative the next day when everything after the bit I’ve written goes blank.

I thought I’d already gone through the whole burnout thing. I thought I’d given myself a break. After all, it’s been six years since I finished The Enclave. Of course, that led right into the caregiving for my mother. And then dealing with her estate and all kinds of family changes — my son leaving home, settling in another state, and getting married, the arrival of our granddaughter… in addition to my own health issues …

All of those things, even the happy events, still intruded into the flow of my writing, sometimes for weeks at a time.  Does that sort of thing contribute to burnout as well? I”m not sure, but I can say from experience that after a while it gets frustrating… I couldn’t remember what I’d decided the last time I’d worked with the material, stuff that had seemed good before the interruption no longer seemed so good… I lost a sense of where I was going exactly…

The article continued in a second paragraph:

“I started to hit the burnout point last year with my freelance writing. Unfortunately, I missed some of the signs and so I continued taking contracts. Eventually I became almost completely burned out — unable to take interest in all but the lightest, most relaxing writing. That’s a terrible place to go if writing is what you’ve wanted to do all of your life.”

Not just wanted to do, but what you’ve actually done. I’ve been writing fiction for over forty years and the drive was always there. Now suddenly, it wasn’t. And since throughout most of that time I believed it was the Lord who was supplying the drive, the desire, the ideas, the guidance… then it must be that for some reason He was withholding it now, and not just something about me. In other words, I don’t think it’s actual “burn out” so much as me stressing out because God hasn’t come through in my time, and so I keep trying to get back in the game when it’s pretty clear He’s been telling me I need to wait.

The biggest reason I can think of for Him to remove the drive, desire and ideas, is to remind me that it really is Him doing it, and not me. Secondary reasons include forcing me to trust Him for all of it and teaching me to put aside the internal shrieking of my control freak sin nature in the process. He’s also making me take a deeper look at ways I’ve always looked at life and self and my work and finding they are not really in line with His ways… Plus, there’s been a huge upheaval and change of direction in how I’m coming to understand the spiritual life overall. And how can one write Christian allegory/analogies if one’s whole perspective on the Christian life is changing?

One of my friends reminded me of the blessedness of winter concept, when the trees are stripped of their leaves and stand bare and gray, seemingly dead. But inside God is doing a work and before long the new life of spring appears…  That He does the same with us.

I know she’s right, and  I think that is what’s happening to me. And part of that includes the fact that God really does want me to have a longer vacation than I think is appropriate.

Because in the above mentioned article, the very first suggestion of what to do for the “burned out” state is “Take a Vacation.”  🙂

Here’s what she has to say:

“There’s one thing that, above all, you should try to do for yourself when you start to burn out. If you can 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. You need to be able to approach the rest of all this [ie, her other suggestions] feeling rested if at all possible.”

So, that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing, even if by default. I haven’t, however, yet allowed myself to read novels, thinking that would be too great a “time consumer”. But having read this, I decided that maybe I really should treat my vacation as a real vacation, so yesterday, I picked up one of the recent Brad Thor novels sitting on my shelf, Full Black, and am now halfway through it! 😀

Update:  I wrote this post in the afternoon, and barely got it done before time for live Bible Class from Lighthouse Bible Church in Florida where Pastor John got up and started talking this very thing!  That we keep thinking there’s something good about us that’s going to get the job done (be more loving, be more self-disciplined) when that’s part of the old self that was crucified on the Cross!  The words and phrases he used were almost direct answers to things I’d thought and wondered about in the course of not just writing the above post, but over many days. It was one of those times when I knew that God was talking directly to me, and reinforcing my conclusion.

Yes, the writing is to come from Him. No, I do not need to try to be “more self-disciplined.” Yes, it is right to wait for Him to lead, and I do know what that feels like. This very post, for example, I believe was the result of His leading and guiding and moving,  because until I started writing it, I wasn’t planning on writing anything at all. I don’t even really know why I accessed my blog in the first place, and initially all I did was check out some of the other blogs I follow. Then suddenly I found myself opening the new post window and the words were flowing.

Here’s a link to the message in case you’re interested. I thought it was pretty phenomenal even aside from the immediate personal connections:

The Activity of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Church Age believers, part 51

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

…try, try again.

So, once again I will make an attempt to take up blogging again. I don’t know why I haven’t been, exactly.

Maybe because it’s been hot and humid, and I/we have to walk Quigley at night during the times I used to write my blogs. By the time we get back, it’s too late, I’m too tired, and it’s time to go to bed.

Or maybe because I’ve been doing the Flylady stuff more assiduously than before. I’ve been working on the morning and bedtime routines and sticking to them fairly well. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been doing it on a lesser scale than previously, or the fact that given the state I’m in, having a list of regular tasks to pursue is just what I need. They’re things that need to be done, and I don’t have to think too much.

Plus I tend to get sidetracked in the midst of them by unexpected developments, and they end up taking longer than I expected.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve just been feeling weird lately. Grieving? It doesn’t really feel like grief, though as I understand it, grief can take very strange forms.

Burnout? Possibly. Maybe even probably. I’m not sure I like the term “burnout”. Exhaustion — physical and mental — may be more accurate. Certainly once my mother’s house sold and all the immediate, deadline-type things were completed I spent a week or two doing a lot of sitting around staring out windows.  I even took a few naps.

I didn’t fuss at myself for doing it, either, because I knew that I was exhausted. And I have recovered a bit. I am doing things, after all. And don’t feel like everything is just way too hard to tackle, as I did there at the beginning.

Except for creative things. My novel under contract. My blog. Even card-making has been difficult. I made a birthday card for my sister last week and could only do tiny bits of work on it before everything went blank and it all seemed too hard. When she told me later that she’s felt the same way (she works in a rubber stamp store) I began to think it might be something other than… laziness or failure to be disciplined. Especially since I’m experiencing exactly the same thing relating to The Other Side of the Sky. I can only think about it for a teensy bit of time and then no more.

Regarding Sky, I have determined, in the small amounts of time I’ve been able to make myself get back to it, that the reason the first chapter (which is actually the second chapter, since I’m starting with a Prologue) has been so terribly hard to read, so… boring… is because it is. One of my writing books talks about how the writer often needs to use a bunch of words to tell herself the story and I suppose that is what I was doing. In any case, analysis has shown me the fact that it actually has structural problems. One of the parameters for scene construction is that you must start out with your character having a goal, which is then obstructed by some kind of problem and then conflict as the character attempts to overcome the problem and achieve her goal. Chapter One has lots of conflict and bustle and problems, but not really anything related to the viewpoint character. She has no goal. Stuff just happens and she has to deal with it. Which is why I find it boring. So I have to come up with some kind of goal for her.

And so far, I haven’t.

I have however, done a lot of decluttering around the house. In fact, I’ve been almost obsessive about it. But maybe I should save that subject for tomorrow’s post…  (Yeah, I know, I’ve said that before. Hopefully I WILL be back for tomorrow’s post. In fact… maybe I’ll go write it now…)

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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