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:
To be continued…