After the big release of HUNTED, the fifth and final book of my romantic suspense series, Shattered Sisters, I was mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted. But I did what I always do, took a day or two off, and then started the next book.
It didn’t work. In fact I was on the verge of burnout and didn’t even know it.
The first sign
The very first sign of trouble was months ago, when every spiritual teacher I follow blogged, wrote or talked about burnout. Some specifically discussed how doing so much and expanding so rapidly had got the best of them, and how they had to take a break.
As I read their posts, I thought, not me. I always take breaks. I give myself a day or two between every single book. Sure, I’m still doing all my social media, keeping up with two blogs, making videos, updating my website, running contests, keeping my newsletter going out on a regular basis, writing the serial story that goes into it, running the business, paying the bills, dealing with the taxes….
I have only just realized that those few days between books haven’t been breaks as all. But then, no. I did think it was odd that the same topic kept coming up over and over again, but I didn’t give it any more thought than that.
Some mystic I turned out to be.
When the same message comes to you over and over again, it might be a good idea to give it a listen.
The second sign
I started the next book on my to-do list several times in several ways, and they were all wrong. I was hitting a wall. It felt as if I was trying to pry the story out of my psyche. And eventually, I hit a spot where just looking at the computer felt stressful and as unpleasant as looking at breaded liver. (You know how I feel about breaded liver, right?)
Even reading my morning email and Facebook messages, usually an addiction, was more than I felt I could handle. I found myself irritated with it all.
When the things that are usually fun parts of your job begin to feel like dreaded chores, this is a symptom of burnout, and a sign that you need some serious downtime.
The third sign
- I was turned down for 7 Bookbub Features in a row. Seven!
- I tried to update my maggieshayne.com website only to find it had been hacked!
- Blissblog got hacked too, twice!
- Time-sensitive Facebook ads were disallowed for too much text, even though they didn’t have any.
- My office desktop died. It. Just. Died.
- My email stopped working for a couple of days.
There were a dozen other things, little irritating things and big bad things. There’ve been power outages, internet outages, communications snafus, apps and software glitching on me. Basically my whole work life felt like every Mercury Retrograde ever, combined.
I was striving harder and harder. My results were getting smaller and smaller. Ideally, we want the opposite of this in our businesses.
When nothing you try to do is working out, it’s the Universe telling you LOUDLY to WALK AWAY.
The fourth sign
I kept going. I don’t know why. It’s just what I do, what I’ve always done. I don’t ever take long breaks. Or vacations. Or down time. I don’t.
The Universe was giving me messages, but I wasn’t listening. So as always happens, the messages got bigger.
I got sick. I got sick like an eight-year-old gets sick, double ear infection, sore throat, headache, etc. I tried to work through it, but just plain couldn’t, so I said “Okay, Universe, you win.” And I took some NyQuil, and I went to sleep. I did this three days in a row until I was healthy again.
To me, 3 days off in a row is a HUGE break. Problem solved, right?
When you fail to recognize the more subtle signs, (subtle as a sledge hammer in my case) your Higher Self will afflict you with something that physically prevents you from working.
The fifth sign
The fifth sign was how good it felt to just plain stop.
I had gone right back to work after my bout with the bug, but nothing felt right. I’d had 3 days off! What more did the Universe want? And yet, the words were not flowing, writing felt like a job instead of a passion, I was tired and grouchy and just vaguely dissatisfied.
And then the weather changed. It finally got warm here, and I just wanted to be outside. I hadn’t meditated in weeks, and I did so that day. Afterward, clear-minded, I realized that I had been living my life staring at a computer screen for months. I used to have balance, but the first part of this year has been anything but. It’s been nothing but work.
Now it’s springtime, nearly summer. I have created this paradise-like back yard that’s a lifelong dream come true, and I’ve been too busy to even enjoy it!
But it isn’t too late to begin again. To reclaim my life. Regain my balance. And it all begins with some serious down time.
I have not yet booked my editor’s time for the next book. I haven’t put up a pre-order. I’ve just finished months of nonstop work. There is nothing pressing, no reason I must put my nose to the grindstone this month.
Grist for the Mill
I already knew, through decades studying law of attraction, that when I’m striving, I’m blocking whatever it is I’m striving for. When life is no fun, I’m blocking. When I’m forcing myself to do things I don’t want to do, I’m resisting my own success. These are vital lessons! But even knowing them by heart, I still slid back into old habits.
What I know is that it’s better to Allow success than to strive for it.
It’s better to Align with my goals than try to force them.
It’s better to spend my days in Joy and Bliss than working until my eyes glaze over.
This doesn’t mean I never work. It doesn’t mean I never write another book. It means I take time to bask in the life I’ve created, in the success I already have, doing exactly what I want to do, until what I want to do is write the next book.
Taking down time, creating a stay-cation right here in my little piece of paradise, will feed my soul and add tons of grist to my mill. I’ve been churning and churning an empty mill. There’s just nothing there to grind.
A storyteller can’t be empty. She has to be so full she’s overflowing. That overflow becomes words on the page. Fill your well!
And so I got up one morning last week and decided not to even open the laptop. I went outside and spent the entire day on yard and garden projects. Weeding and planting and trimming and decorating. Humming and singing back to the birds, with my hands in the dirt and the sun on my skin. I was present in what I was doing, fully focused on the moment and nothing else, and it felt delicious. So I did it again and again, every day this past week.
Balancing it out
I’ve decided to spend some more time not writing. Two or three weeks. Maybe a month.
I’ve been popping onto Facebook every morning, replying to emails and Tweets, and I’ve been keeping up with my blog posts. These are things I’ve felt compelled to do, so I go with the flow of that. I have 3 contests currently running, and I’m already ahead of schedule with The Fiona Files, so you won’t miss any of that.
But I’m not writing a book right now. I’m not writing anything right now and I’m not falling over myself running various promotions day in and day out. I don’t have any deadline right now.
I have given myself permission to really bask in the beautiful springtime turning into summertime for a few weeks. I’m going to keep spending the majority of my time outdoors, gardening and landscaping ’til my heart’s content. I feel an absolute healing happening, a replenishment of my soul.
My well is filling. My grist mill is gathering grist. Soon I’ll be ready to start converting it into the nourishing bread of story once again.
I'm reading, too!
I picked up a book to read just for pleasure, something I almost never have time to do these days. I chose A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood because the Hulu series is so compelling and everyone I know has already read it. It’s a stunning piece of work. I’ve been spending time reading every day.
Reading a great novel makes me want to write a great novel like nothing else can do.
I’m going to wait until I feel absolutely compelled to write again. When the story is knocking on my brain trying to get out, that’s when it will be time. I’ve had twinges already.
And I know too, that when I do begin again, the words will flow faster and better than they would have otherwise.
I need storytelling to feel fun again. I need it to be something I burn to do, yearn to do, am driven to do, and relish doing, not something I force myself to do to earn a living. That’s how it felt at the beginning, and how it feels when I’m in balance. I’ve let that slip away from me. This break will help me to reclaim that passion.
I don’t anticipate this changing my planned release schedule much, if at all.
I woke up this morning eager to get out of bed and start my day. I woke up smiling with delight in anticipation of what I would do today. I used to wake up that way every day. And I realized as I felt it again, that feeling has been gone for a long time.
I landed a Bookbub ad. June 6th. So already, not striving is bringing in results that striving did not.
I stopped counting Weight Watchers points during this break, too. I’ve had a donut every day this week to treat myself! And I lost almost 2 pounds. Probably all that gardening. Again, not striving, allowing.
I am expecting even more delicious results, and I’ll report in later about every good thing that happens
The major takeaways:
When it becomes work, it’s time to walk away.
Take a break from striving and just allow.
A real break is far more than a couple of days.
Fill your well, or you have nothing to offer the thirsty.
After all, we came to the planet to experience life,
Not to work through life as it speeds by outside our windows.