We live in a world that has been cursed with thorns and thistles. We get food out of the earth through toil and sweat. Writing is a job just like any other; and that curse applies, which means that writing success will require work. Hard work. Sweat and tears kind of work. And, as with farming, you won’t see results right away. After a day of plowing a field full of dirt, all you have is a field full of dirt.
Being an author means working at writing, editing, publishing, and marketing. But many authors burn out before they achieve success. What causes burnout? Why does it kill so many careers?
How can you avoid or recover from burnout in your writing?
Nika Maples helps authors prevent and recover from burnout. She’s a stroke survivor, a former Texas Teacher of the Year, a writing coach, host of The Keep Writing Podcast, and author of five books that encourage readers to hope against all hope.
What is burnout?
Thomas Umstattd, Jr: Burnout is a common word in our vernacular, yet many people have different ideas about burnout. How would you define burnout?
Nika Maples: Burnout is when a person doesn’t want to do something any longer. That’s the simplest answer. When people have no energy, interest, or motivation to keep going, they’re usually experiencing burnout.
Authors often experience a different post-publishing reality than they had imagined.
They may have thought it would look a certain way; but after the book is published, it’s different than they thought it would be. It looks like the daily work of planting, plowing, and cultivating the field. Many authors aren’t expecting that, so they give up, give out, and stop.
What causes an author to give up on marketing?
Thomas: What causes somebody to give up and say, “I don’t want to do this marketing anymore”?
Nika: People stop marketing because they feel like they’re forced to be someone they’re not. They don’t feel comfortable in book marketing, and no one wants to act like someone they’re not.
Marketing feels miserable because they misunderstand it.
If marketing is miserable, who wants to do it? When you think selling is sleazy, you avoid it. People think marketing is miserable and selling is sleazy because they assume readers think the author is trying to get something from the sale, such as a new reader, a follower, or money from the transaction.
When people are facing burnout, I encourage them to reset their minds.
From miserable to ministry
We must move away from thinking that marketing is miserable and instead consider it ministry.
It’s much easier to engage in book marketing with enthusiasm and energy when you’re trying to deliver a solution to your reader instead of trying to get something from your reader.
Thomas: You must believe in your book. If you believe that selling someone a book is actually them doing a favor for you, then you’ll never be good at marketing. You’ll always feel bad about it because you feel like you’re always calling in favors.
However, if your book is amazing, you’re doing readers a favor by telling them how your book can change their lives. It’s only $20.00, so why wouldn’t you want to buy this book?
If you don’t believe in your book like that, you need to keep working on your book. Keep editing and improving your craft. Perhaps you need to set that book aside and write a different book just to improve your writing.
When you believe in your book, you can’t wait to tell people about it.
Nika: When you believe your book is a solution for people that will help them, then selling is not sleazy. Selling is serving.
If you saw somebody in pain, you would stop at nothing to help them. That’s how you must feel about your book.
Thomas: The quality of the writing matters, especially for fiction.
You must believe your novel is better than anything else people could be reading.
How would you advise a writer who realizes their manuscript won’t be ready when they had hoped?
What would you say to a writer who’s just received a critique on their first manuscript and realized it’s not ready to publish this year, even though they had hoped it would be? How would you advise that person regarding burnout?
Nika: We’ve got to ditch the idea that feedback or constructive criticism from an editor means we did something wrong.
Receiving feedback and corrections means you’re doing something right. You gave your writing to someone who could help ensure your book is professionally presented. But when you get feedback from beta readers saying the message is unclear, be grateful. They’re helping you create the best solution for your readers.
Thomas: Michael Jordan is the best basketball player currently alive. At the peak of his career, he had a coach giving him feedback on what he could do better.
His goal was to keep improving, and there’s no limit to how good you can be.
It can be discouraging, however, if you had planned to have your book available by Christmas so you could give it to all your friends.
If your characters aren’t well-developed, or you have some retroactive continuity problems, you’ll need to rewrite. That can be discouraging; but remember, being an author is a job. It’s real work. Your first novel takes a long time to write.
In nonfiction, there are some shortcuts. If you’re doing a lot of speaking or blogging, you can start publishing sooner because you’ve already practiced the craft.
But the only way to write a great novel is to get good at writing fiction.
Do the work and respect the craft. Don’t assume you’ll be a master right away. You can’t become a master electrician in two years. What makes you think you can become a master writer in two years?
What habits keep authors from burning out over the years?
Thomas: If this is a years-long journey, what habits keep authors from burning out?
Nika: I always ask authors, “What’s the hurry?”
When I wrote my first book, I was in a hurry. I wanted to publish as soon as possible and see results.
Now, I would rather slow down and do things right. I’ve let go of a hurried pace in my writing career.
Four Steps for Recovery after Burnout: MARK
M: Measure in the Right Direction
Writers and authors often look forward and can only see how far they have left to go. Instead of looking forward, look backward to see how far you’ve come.
Five years ago, I didn’t have a traditionally published book. Five years is not a long time. Looking back at how far you’ve come is more uplifting than worrying about how far you have to go.
Begin by reflecting on where you were two years ago. Where were you five years ago?
Look for the right evidence. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, and I can look at those two decades and wonder if I’ve made much progress. On the other hand, it probably means I’ve developed faithfulness, perseverance, and tenacity.
A: Ask Better Questions
Most of the time, we become discouraged when we ask ourselves a negative question. Negative questions require a negative answer. For example, if you ask yourself, “What am I doing wrong?” Your brain will offer many criticisms.
On the other hand, if you ask, “How can I communicate in a clear and compelling way?” your brain will offer favorable and pleasant options that are helpful.
You don’t need an answer that tells you what you’re doing wrong. You need an answer that will help you communicate in a clear and compelling way.
Every day I ask myself, “How can I find a beautiful solution for the problem I’m facing?”
Thomas: What you’re asking is important, especially since most of our teachers told us, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.”
But some questions are stupid because they have statements embedded. For example, if I ask you, “When will you stop embezzling taxes from the government?” you cannot answer without accepting the premise that you’ve been cheating on your taxes. So, if you’re innocent, you must reject it as a stupid question.
We often ask ourselves questions embedded with accusations of failure or laziness. But if you ask stupid questions, you get stupid answers.
I love asking, “What’s a beautiful solution?’ Inside that question is a statement that beautiful solutions exist.
Sometimes beautiful solutions don’t exist, but it’s usually because we’ve made bad choices. If we make good decisions, we will likely have better options for choosing a beautiful solution.
We reap what we sow.
R: Rest on Principle
Nika: I encourage my clients to rest on principle.
One way of resting on principle is to rely on and depend upon the principles God has established. For example, there is a law of sowing and reaping. Galatians 6:7-9 says God won’t be mocked. A person reaps what they sow, so don’t become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, you will reap a harvest if you don’t give up.
We often assume that if we haven’t seen the harvest yet, then it’s not coming. But if you rest on the principle of sowing and reaping, you’ll keep plowing, planting, cultivating, and knowing that the harvest will come if you don’t give up.
The other aspect of resting on principle is to actually rest. Authors often experience book-marketing burnout because they’re racing for “more,” and the social media algorithms devour their time and attention.
But you need rest. Take a day off and plan not to post, rather than defaulting to not posting when you don’t feel like it. Build intentional rest into your schedule. In Isaiah 30:15, God says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation.”
We want to be saved from the burden of book marketing, but our salvation is rest.
Thomas: That Galatians passage is scary if you hear it as a threat. If you sow bad seed, you’ll reap a bad harvest. If you sow sparingly, you’ll reap sparingly.
But it’s also a promise. If you sow good things, you will reap good. That passage can give you fear or hope, depending on what you’ve sown.
Speaking of bad seed, get off social media. It’s not helping you. The algorithms are totally broken. Authors building a platform on social media already have a platform built elsewhere.
A statistical analysis of traditionally published memoirs showed that most of the authors were not social-media influencers to begin with. Only a tiny percentage of those traditionally published memoirs were by people who became well known through social media. Most of them became famous through other means.
One of those traditionally published memoirs was by an author with 53 Twitter followers, and that person received a big advance from a big publishing house.
If you are buying into the lie that you must put in the time on social media or have a certain number of followers to get published, you need to know it’s not true.
Don’t buy into that toxic lie. It will cost you your writing. Many authors could write an additional book or two each year with the time they spend on social media. If you wrote books instead of social media captions, you would improve your book-writing craft faster and have more books to sell.
Additionally, you’d be happier because social media does not make you happy.
Ask yourself whether you are happier now than you were ten years ago. Are you spending more time on social media than you were ten years ago? If you’re not happier and you are spending more time on social media, flip those around.
Nika: There is a balance to it, though.
Social media can be great when you can connect with people you don’t know. You can ask people what they need and want as it relates to the topic you’re writing about.
Of course, there is the danger of becoming too focused on social media.
I’ve had wonderful interactions with people who’ve helped me write my next book because they told me what they needed.
I just don’t hyper-focus on the numbers themselves. I got my first traditional two-book contract when I had 200 Instagram followers.
We don’t want to put all our eggs in one social-media basket; but at the same time, we can view social media as a place to interact with people the way we would after a speaking engagement.
Thomas: It’s definitely a better place to listen than it is to talk.
One-to-one interaction is better than one-to-many interaction. But you’ll get a better return on your time invested in your one-to-many interactions if you host live office hours or a webinar, rather than commenting on social posts for an hour each day.
I’m just not convinced social media is the best of the options.
K: Keep Service at the Center
Nika: Book marketers get burned out when they constantly look at themselves. When you’re hyper-focused about where you are in the process, you’ll burn out.
You’ll see much more of what’s available to you when you look into windows, not mirrors.
When you keep service at the center of what you’re doing, you are serving a reader. You’re providing an escape from reality, entertainment, or education.
Ask yourself what solution you can offer your reader. When you do, you’ve kept service at the center instead of keeping your own progress at the center of your marketing. When that shifts, it changes everything you do. You start looking for ways to make those connections and focus on what they need instead of what you need.
That’s an uplifting motivation.
When you hear testimonials about your book, you’ll realize that your book made a difference in someone’s life.
I have new clients come to me asking for help writing their books. Nearly all of them say, “I want to write a book. If only one person reads it, it will be worth it.” But after the book is published, they’re disappointed if only one person reads it. Authors don’t really want only one person to read. They want many people to experience the book they’ve poured their life into.
Writing a book takes a long time, and your time is valuable. You want your book to have the widest possible impact so that you can help as many people as possible.
Thomas: The great thing about nonfiction is that you can minister to people right now. You don’t have to wait for your book to be published to start your ministry.
In fact, it doesn’t even work that way.
Your book is the culmination of an active ministry experience. The book doesn’t start the ministry. You must be faithful with the little things before you’re given more. Jesus said, “Until you’re faithful with that which is another man’s, who will give you that which is your own.”
Ask yourself, “Whose things have I been faithful with?” and “How have I carried the bags for somebody else?”
Even Elisha was faithful as Elijah’s servant before God called him to be Elijah’s successor.
Many authors struggle because they’re trying to skip steps. They’re trying to skip being faithful with the little things. But you can’t start writing a novel when you haven’t written a short story. You can’t jump straight to writing a nonfiction book when you’ve never written a blog post or newspaper article.
If you can’t work with an editor on a 1,000-word article, how will you work with an editor on 1,000 pages?
If you have two fish and five loaves, that’s all God needs to make a big miracle. Bring what you have, and be faithful to do what he’s called you to do.
Don’t wait to minister to people just because an agent hasn’t said “yes.” If God has called you to minister to people, you better not let an agent’s lack of approval stop you from obeying God.
Don’t elevate an agent or publisher above God.
Nika: That’s such a good point.
Obedience is our territory, and the outcome is God’s territory.
We get that mixed up a lot. Often, we want God to obey our requests, and we want to control the outcome. We want to know that certain behaviors and actions will lead to a predictable outcome.
But that’s the harvest, and He’s the Lord of the harvest.
We do the planting and stay in the territory of obedience where we belong. Then, we leave the outcome to God.
Sometimes people outsource that obedience and wait to see what an agent says before they obey. But that is transferring your allegiance to someone else’s voice and believing what they say instead of what God has said.
Thomas: I do know authors whom God has called to write a book, but God doesn’t always tell them to publish a book.
God may be calling you to write because he wants to work in you through the act of writing the book. People who are working through trauma are often helped by writing the book. It doesn’t need to be published to accomplish the work that God meant for it to do.
Be careful not to put words into God’s mouth.
Maybe he called you to write that book and put it aside so you can write another book that he does want you to publish.
Consider your calling with fear and trembling and in submission to your church community.
Right now, an author in my church is launching a book. He gave a special announcement last Sunday about his book. When I looked on Amazon, I saw only one copy in stock. The church is doing a launch party for him, and God is blessing him.
By the same token, if your pastor can’t get on board with your book and doesn’t agree with the doctrine in it, you need to listen to that. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s right and you’re wrong, but it should be considered seriously.
Successful authors tend to adhere closely to orthodox theology.
If you’re espousing a doctrine no one has heard of, your book will be very difficult to sell.
What’s the next step for a writer already feeling burned out?
Thomas: They’re burned out on marketing, hearing more things they need to do, and wondering if they’re doomed. What’s their next step?
Nika: I hope they’re hearing a new way of thinking about the things they’re already doing. That’s the shift that needs to happen. You don’t have to do more things. You need to think more abundantly.
To re-energize your book marketing, just relax. Realize that it’s not about the things you do. It’s about the way you think about the things you do. Think of your marketing as serving a reader. You can’t wait to give them information that will change everything for them.
Thomas: In some ways, the results relate to your actions. You won’t see results if you’re doing foolish and exhausting things. But if you’re doing effective strategic things, you’ll see good results.
Winning is encouraging. It gets you fired up to do more. You reap what you sow. Positive thinking only matters if it affects the doing. Otherwise, it’s all in our heads and doesn’t affect results in the real world.
Nika: One of my favorite quotes is from a salesperson named Grant Cardone, who says, “You don’t work because you don’t think it will work.”
I see that in myself every day. I don’t act when I don’t believe the action will make a difference. Thinking from a place of positivity produces the action to begin with.
Is burnout a new concept?
Thomas: Burnout is a relatively new word that was invented in the 1970s. The ancients described burnout as discouragement or hopelessness. If someone feels hopeless or discouraged, they won’t act.
Hope is a powerful motivation. Hope in the midst of darkness changes everything.
The Lord of the Rings is a story of hope. The characters are constantly in dark places, but they do the right thing anyway, even when all hope is lost. If there’s a glimmer of a chance, the Rohirrim will ride out. And even a glimmer of a chance will make Sam take up the ring. Hope makes these stories powerful and encouraging.
We have an eternal hope, but that may not help you when chapter three is broken. We also need hope that chapter three can be fixed or that the book can survive without chapter three.
Sometimes, you can’t fix it. Burnout can be an indication that what you’re doing is not working. And, instead of continuing to do broken things, you need to do something different.
Know the Why Behind Your Writing
Knowing the why behind your writing also helps with burnout.
Think of the people you’re benefiting and the money you’ll earn.
I was listening to a history vignette on The World and Everything in It, which is a daily Christian news podcast. This week, they interviewed a man who worked in the Birmingham, Alabama, iron foundry.
Birmingham, Alabama, is hot on a normal day; but at the iron foundry, a blast furnace had run for 80 years without ever being turned off. The building was so hot that you couldn’t touch the handrails along the stairs without burning your hand.
It was a terrible job. But one of the men they interviewed said he didn’t call it hard work because he had a child to care for.
That was his “why.”
Priorities Change Your Perspective on Burnout
Becoming a father has changed my relationship with burnout. I’ve got three babies I must feed and a beautiful wife that needs to be provided for. I have to earn a living.
At one point, I realized I was doing too many things and was not around my family enough. I was tired all the time and still wasn’t making enough money. I knew I had to make changes.
That led to my season of pruning. But I couldn’t give up altogether because I couldn’t afford to.
In the book Wheel of Time, the Borderlands say, “Death is lighter than a feather, and duty is heavier than a mountain.”
As a provider, that sense of duty can overcome your sense of burnout. You must continue to provide for your family.
Nika: We are responsible for bringing good books to people who need them.
God wouldn’t have asked us to do it if he hadn’t known there was a reason. It improves our lives. Even if those books are never published, the process can be healing. If your life is the one life that is changed by the book, then it’s worth writing it.
Thomas: It’s important to implement your desire to do good. Writing may be the place where you do good. But you may also do good somewhere else.
If your goal is just to change one life, consider joining the children’s ministry at your church. They need workers. It doesn’t come with much glory, but it will change one life. It may change quite a few lives. Many people can remember their Sunday school teacher who made a big impact.
Sometimes authors are called to write a book to learn how to write a book and help other authors write. Some people are like Frodo, who carried the ring, and some people are like Sam, who carried Frodo, who was carrying the ring.
People have different roles.
Not all writers are called to publish. It may be that you’ll serve your kingdom purposes somewhere else in the industry. That’s what happened to me.
I’m not writing and publishing lots of books. I’m here serving the authors who are doing it. We all have a place in the body.
Where can authors find encouragement to avoid burnout?
Nika: One of the ways I help writers push past burnout is to text regular encouragement. I have a program called Truth Texts for Writers. I send weekly texts with a Bible-based blessing that you can read over yourself in your writing life to remember who you are and what’s possible in Christ.
My Keep Writing Podcast is for Christian coaches, speakers, and influencers who are ready to write their first books.
People come to me, and they’ve been faithfully teaching a Bible class in their church for years. But they want to package their content so that somebody could take it home and read it, even if they go to a different church.
I help Christian coaches, speakers, and influencers write their nonfiction books in 90 days.
Any final words of encouragement or advice?
Nika: Galatians 6:9 encourages us not to become weary of doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up.
That verse is a biblically based blessing that I speak out loud over myself regularly because anyone in this career can face discouragement.
But I also want us to remember that we aren’t in charge of the timing. God is the one who knows the proper time, and he knows the outcome. We stay in the territory of obedience, and he’s faithful to bring the outcome at the right time.
Find out more about Nika Maples at NikaMaples.com.
Four homeschooling moms are dying of loneliness, fear of Christian women, the competitiveness of homeschoolers, and sin. Yes, SIN! In a desperate and risky move, they agree to meet once a week to pray on their knees. Starting out as strangers, these women build deep and lasting friendships that see them through the good, bad, and ugly of parenting.