Monday, April 6, 2015

Striving for Balance

by Barbara Early

I was never all that good at balancing. Take the balance beam, for instance.  I could walk it OK, especially if it was only inches off the floor. But raise it up a little, even with those stupid gym mats around it, and my heart rate would go up and my feet refused to find their footing. IF I made it across, I was sweating and all my muscles tense and achy. It takes a lot of effort, sometimes, to achieve balance.

I’m afraid that didn’t get easier as I got older. In fact, real life offers even more chances to step out of balance. So many things clamor for our attention, and even more things lure us in. Our time is divided among family, work, church, community, and self. We have to attend to adult chores, exercise, and nutrition. And there are numerous other activities that weave themselves into our days: technology, entertainment, leisure. It’s a lot harder than a balance beam, which only has two sides. Life affords each of us multiple opportunities to step out of balance.

For example, it’s easy to become so focused on work that you forget your family: workaholic. Or so caught up in ministry that you do the same. Eating healthy is good, but obsessively eating healthy and excessive exercise can lead to anorexia. (Not that I have that problem!) It’s tempting to judge others when their priorities don’t mirror our own. And for the perfectionists among us, we lament that we cannot keep up with everything simultaneously. Which leads to guilt.

We simply cannot do everything. But reaching the half century mark recently has got me thinking about how I should allocate those hours of the day, for those days I have left. (Not to be morbid.) Most of the time, those decisions are not really made. We usually just throw time at the things we have to do or want to do--or those things that promise to bring us the rewards we seek.

Balance can be even harder for the writer to achieve. Writing is a craft and being published is a dream, and it can take years of dogged attention to be able to craft something worthy of being published. I’d be hard-pressed to add up all the hours I spent learning how to write and honing my craft before that first contract came. In addition to the time spent writing, rewriting and editing, there was more time spent in workshops, reading craft-related books and blog posts, and networking with other writers. I will be honest and say that I was probably out of balance a good portion of the time I was pursuing that goal.

But it “worked.” A year ago this month, I was celebrating the release of my first full novel (and promoting it), while editing my second novel and writing the third. Meanwhile, preparations were well underway for my daughter’s wedding. By the time the third book was turned in, I wasn’t sure I wanted to write again. Ever.

See, another danger of being unbalanced is burnout. Especially if things don’t turn out the way we had hoped. What if you dive into the ministry, but are then kicked in the teeth by those people you serve? Throw your life into your career, but are suddenly downsized? Or throw all your energy into your kids, and they have the unmitigated gall to grow up and leave the nest. Or, as is often the case for writers, you achieve that long-awaited dream. Your book is out there! But then the reviews start coming. And  that first royalty check. Ugh.

The Mayo Clinic defines “burnout” as “a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.”  And it comes with a scary list of possible physical effects.

So, how do you overcome writer burnout? (Or any burnout?) Wait. You expected answers? From me?

Well, I’m very much a work in progress, and I suspect I will revisit and expand on this topic, but if I can leave you with one thing that has made the most difference, it will be this:

Balance.


To be continued…

10 comments:

  1. As we discussed last week, I'm feeling the burnout too. You're balance beam analogy was a good one. I was okay at the balance beam, but I also got my worst gymnastics injuries from that tricky piece of equipment.

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    1. Any gymnastics related activity and me didn't get along. Balance beam was OK, so when we had gym class and had to do stations, I would tend to linger at the balance beam, over anything that required vaulting toward a stationary piece of equipment. I think I have PTSD over my experience with the pommel horse.

      Hoping you find the answer to your burnout soon!

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  2. This is such a great hot topic, Barbara.

    You guys know me, I've got six kids, 13 grandkids (and a new one announced just yesterday!!!) and I work full time... so I've had to self-discipline myself into balance.

    I get up early to get that 1K in. If nothing else happens that day, I've gotten my 1K in and no one can take that away from me! SWEET! After that, it's day job and then evening is edits/last look at things/blogs. I'm not good at writing at night, so I save the less intensive stuff for then. What do I give up? TV (I DVR NCIS and CASTLE and MAJOR CRIMES) I'm studying some historical settings, so I'm recording TURN (Revolutionary War series)... I pop into facebook when I'm taking a writing break, but I don't lurk... same with twitter. I'm a big believer that social media allows us interaction with readers and I love that, but social media doesn't sell books...

    Writing more books sells books!

    Barbara, congrats to you on all your success and (bumps knuckles...) Keep on keepin' on!

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    1. Thanks, Ruth! You're a busy lady, and you gave us some great suggestions there.

      I love my DVR, too. Right now it's completely full, but I've also just caught a cold, so I think I'm finally going to get to a few things! That and soup. Have to score some soup.

      I do adore social media, but it's more a way for me to feel less like a hermit when I'm home all alone, and I love interacting with readers and other writers, and all my other friends and acquaintances. But it can be a major time sink, I know.

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    2. Ruthy, you have always been one of my role models for a successful and balanced writing life. Although I rarely comment, I follow/value Seekerville and the Yankee Belle Cafe. I love your Facebook updates and you write great books to boot! Thanks for popping in and sharing.

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    3. Ruth, that's just what my husband told me I need to do... get my hiney out of bed early and do my writing in the morning, before my regular job, and before I'm too tired to see straight!

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  3. Great post! (And I love Ruth's suggestions! I need to start my morning with 1K, rather than "other stuff".)

    I am really, really unbalanced right now. I've got to get it under control. It helps knowing I'm not the only one who struggles. Thanks for the post, Barb!

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    1. I just got my copy edits, so now this attempt at balance really gets put to the test!

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  4. Great, timely post, Barb. I suffered burnout combined with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) this Jan-Mar where I basically hid from social media and cut myself off emails. My writing goal wasn't only shot, it never got off the ground. I believe part of this stemmed from the media promotion push for my Christmas Cup of Cheer release which went right into the family Christmas season. Poor balancing for sure.

    Like Dina said, the balance beam analogy is great, except I could never walk the balance beam when it was on the floor, never mind a few inches above. I tell you, I will have major problems if I ever have to walk in a straight line for a sobriety test without ever touching a drink.

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    1. Hugs, Anita! I know what SAD feels like, too, although mine wasn't as bad this year. I credit a lot of that to a trip to California in November. Wishing you lots of sunshine soon to help pull you back on your feet.

      And if you're ever pulled over, insist on a breathalizer or blood test instead of the straight line walk!

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