Saturday, September 25, 2021

From Burnout to Breakout

My name is Abigayle Claire and I'm the queen of burnout. It doesn't make for a great intro, does it? Burnout is a miserable place to be stuck, and as someone who's been through it multiple times now, I have a few tips for how to get from burnout to breakout (or possibly avoid burnout altogether). 

The Vicious Cycles

My younger self both glorified working as hard as possible and yet also simultaneously thought I wouldn't get burned out... if I worked hard enough. You see the problem there?

Burnout is when you try so hard to progress you can no longer progress at all. Good work ethic is irreplaceable and worth more than any hourly rate imaginable, so don't read this and hear me say "don't ever try." Progress begins with diligence and burnout begins with roadblocks.

This means burnout begins with inefficiency. I hit some sort of roadblock that slows me down. Maybe it's project details; maybe it's mental or physical. I've had them all! It's like one of those awful traps where the more you struggle, the more stuck you get. As a result, repeated procrastination is a sign of impending burnout for me.

Now when it comes to a hobby here and a scribble there, I think it's normal to set things aside when they get to be too much without a lot of conscious thought. When it's a bigger project I'm committed to (usually with a deadline), pausing begins to feel like quitting and quitting feels like failure. Yet another vicious cycle that drives toward burnout. So here's what I've learned.

Breaking Free

First, you have to identify your "tell" for when you're overwhelmed. It used to be shutting out the world and barreling through for me and now it's doing anything under the sun except try again. Once you learn to watch for whatever your repeated behavior is, you have options on how to respond.

You can take a total, complete, 100% break. I promise you can. I know deadlines are real and some of them won't budge. It's not fun to watch one creep closer while your progress sits dormant. You know what else isn't fun? Spinning your wheels day after day and still getting nowhere. That is the GPS to burnout's home address.

The best way to avoid burnout is to build in breaks. That's it--the golden advice you came to find. It's so simple but so, so many people (including me at times) don't do this! I know many successful authors who juggle life and writing deadlines, and they have planned times where they intentionally set aside their projects. The top two I recommend and see other recommend are after completing the first draft (celebrate and take a breather!) and after reading through an editorial letter (think it over and brainstorm before facing it again).

You can also change course. This depends on the project, of course, but sometimes there are times where you set something entirely aside in order to focus on something else. There's nothing shameful in that as long as you're making that decision for the right reasons.

Otherwise, you can embrace burnout. I so do not recommend this. I've burned myself out to the point of having pain in my left hand for the better part of a year. I've pushed through for months that left me so exhausted I needed a break that I should have just taken sooner in a better state of mind. I've wasted time and energy stressing over not getting to a "priority project" I didn't have the time to prioritize. I've overcommitted my way into half-baked work and anxiety. None of those burnouts I've experienced (and there are more!) have been conducive to productivity, good mental health, or staying focused on my initial vision. And those last two are way more important than mere productivity.

So make the most of the season you're in. Do remember that there's more to life than progress. My burnouts were my own "fault," technically speaking, but God taught me valuable lessons that became essential parts of my writing projects. At the end of the day, learning to value the journey is the real key to breakout.


What is your burnout tell? Do you plan breaks in your writing process?

Saturday, June 26, 2021

For the Love of Libraries

On my last roadtrip, I got stranded at a library. That's the short story. The long story is that it got me thinking on how much I really do love libraries and why they still matter in today's society.

Roadtrip Story

I've never made it a goal to visit libraries on a roadtrip, with the exception of two presidential libraries. While on a 12-hour roadtrip from Texas to Iowa with my boyfriend and brother, my car failed to start at the Love's in Tonkawa, OK--a town that takes up less than five square miles. Flash forward to several hours later, and we'd ruled out the battery being an issue and gotten a tow by a nice man who was also the local gravedigger.

Since the body shop had no waiting room, it was scorching hot, and we had a few hours to wait before hopefully getting the repair taken care of, the locals gave us two suggestions: cross the street to the library to wait and walk down to the stop sign and take a right to find the cafe. 

So that's what me, my boyfriend, and brother did.

Not until we were inside dealing cards at a table in the YA section did I realize that I hadn't stepped foot in a library since they'd all closed during 2020 (except to vote in the presidential election, but that wasns't a bookish experience). I recognized more titles than I thought I would since I've been a bit of an unplugged bookworm lately, and never a huge YA reader. Admiring covers and flipping through pages will always be a calming and magical experience for me.

While there I also realized that libraries for me represent all the small-town things I love. Being able to walk to places and explore. Young boys stopping in to cool down after an unsupervised bike ride around town. The tow-truck-gravedigger-cemetery-keeper man who helped us. Strangers who ask where you come from and where you're going. Cafes with booths, real menus, hometown cooking, and only two young waitresses. And a library at the heart of it all with a book for everyone.

If you're going to get stranded next-to-nowhere for six hours, I highly recommend killing time in the library. (And yes, we got safely back on the road that day.)

Why Libraries Still Matter

Here are my actual thoughts on why I think libraries are still relevant and meaningful in this modern society: 

The books are free--that's the obvious answer. Books aren't cheap, so whether you need one for a school project or can't afford to purchase your TBR list, libraries are a great resource for everyone. I hardly go anymore and still save money. Lots of libraries have movies, music, audiobooks, and free digital library programs as well. I'm also more likely to pick up a random book and start reading it if it's free, and I'm more likely to finish a book (or not) if it's only mine for two weeks.

The deeper reason is that a world without access to books is dooming itself. Yes, there are other ways to get books than a library, but it offers a variety for free to anyone who walks through the doors to browse. It's the most conducive to both access and discovery, so I think it should always be an option. The more walls that are put up between people and books, the fewer people they will influence. And since most libraries are not opposed to carrying even "controversial" books like To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Sawyer, and Gone with the Wind, they present the option of critical thinking and freedom of thought. That's something that's getting harder to find in today's world. So go find it in a library.

Libraries also happen to make me really happy and get my creativity jumpstarted unlike anything else. Maybe now I will begin planning stops at libraries for future roadtrips.


Do you have a favorite library or library experience? Why do you think libraries still matter?

Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Fine Art of Focus

I've had a lot on my plate lately, not just on the writing front, but in all areas of life. When that happens, one thing becomes very important for me: focus.

I don't know about you, but focus sounds like a super simple concept ... until it's vital for me to stay on top of all my deadlines and projects and life happenings. That's when I realize just how bad at it I can be. So now I refer to it as a fine art--one that has to be rehearsed and practiced and tinkered with to find the balance of what works.

Here's what has been working for me.


I used to have much more time to spare to spend on writing, and now that simply isn't the case. Writing has become my "spare time" job, but I do still try to treat it as a job instead of a hobby. That helps me remember that it deserves some prioritizing, even if that means giving up a work shift every now and then.

For me, prioritizing looks like two things: create deadlines and plan accordingly. It's truly that simple (and that difficult). If you're publishing a book traditionally, the deadlines are handed to you and pretty strict. If you're indie like me, you create your own. This means I have to 1) be realistic about what's feasible but also 2) try really hard to not push deadlines back just because I can. Planning accordingly for me means 3) looking at how much time I have until my deadline and 4) calculating what open spaces I have between now and then to work on my project. Serious progress is a result of serious dedication.

The importance of sleep is a bit of a no-brainer, but more overlooked is the importance of rest. While sometimes we need to be dedicating more time to our projects, sometimes we need to be taking intentional breaks. Keyword: intentional. Set it aside on purpose. This can be for a few hours during a busy day ... or for a few days, weeks, or even months. Respect your deadlines, of course, but never underestimate the rejuvenating power of a break. Pushing through is necessary, but stepping back to focus on something else can do wonders. It takes experimenting to find the balance between roadblocks and burnout.


The Most Dangerous Writing App - I've mentioned this before and I will mention it again. I didn't think I wrote well under pressure until I gave this a try several years back. Now I can't get through a first draft without this to force me to write words. Otherwise I'm inclined to open up yet another Google tab for a research bunny trail, or you know ... just stare at the blinking cursor as I overanalyze that previous sentence. 

Instrumental Playlists - Duh, I know. Whether you like white noise, people noise, music, or silence, ambiance makes a big difference. While silence can be great for me a lot of the time, some epic soundtracks can be the key to making me type faster. Yes, really. I think it's the crescendos and emotions and memories associated with a lot of soundtracks that fuel my engagement (focus!) and energy when writing. It's not foolproof, but it's definitely worth a try. If you're on Spotify, "epic // instrumentals" and "best of desplat" are my go-to playlists. For top albums, I recommend Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (only half instrumental), The Imitation Game, The Village, and The Unveiling (by John Washington).


Can you tell I'm in the middle of drafting my June release and editing my September release? Just a tad overwhelmed over here, but focus is within reach! What are you focusing on right now?