S2/E28: Dear Writer, Are You in Burnout? by Becca Syme
Updated: Aug 1
This is the second book I’ve reviewed by author Becca Syme for this series. Syme is the woman behind The Better Faster Academy, which offers classes and individual coaching for writers. In addition, she produces a writing productivity podcast and YouTube series of her own called The QuitCast. For the past few years, she’s also been co-hosting a book marketing show. She’s earned a couple of Master’s Degrees in coaching-related fields and has worked with thousands of authors, many of them pulling in six- and seven-figure annual incomes.
She does not in any way promise that you will reach this income, by the way.
Becca would be the first to tell you that her communication style isn’t of the “blow sunshine up your wazoo” variety, but she delivers the kind of advice you probably need to hear in a clear and often humorous way. She is not without empathy for your situation, she just isn’t interested in letting you shine yourself on either. She wants to give you the kinds of tools to start coaching yourself to the levels of productivity that are right for you.
She emphatically states that this isn’t a book of tips and tricks. This is a book designed to get you to ask yourself deep questions. Like she says in the blurb for the book: “If you are overwhelmed, tired, frustrated with your career or your sales…if you’re stuck or stalled … come and join me inside these pages, and we’ll talk about why. Why is key. We’ve got this. It’s tackle-able. Let’s get you out of this pit.”
This is a short book (only 166 pages), but a meaty one. Give yourself time to digest the different points that she’s making in each section. I’m not going to be able to cover them all here, but here are my…
1. Recognizing Bad Cycles Is the First Step to Freeing Yourself From Them. As the saying goes, knowing the source of a problem is “half the battle.” Many of us set ourselves up with unrealistic expectations, which serve as the foundation for what Syme refers to as “essential pain.” When we can’t bend reality to these expectations we feel discomfort and are naturally moved to soothe it in some way. Oftentimes, the approach we take to soothing can lead to more essential pain in the end. Syme says in her example, “I have no energy, but I want to write. (Ouch.) I’d better get up an hour earlier and not get the sleep I need. (Attempt to soothe, which might only cause more essential pain, and again, may not lead to writing.)…It’s a vicious cycle.”
2. Limitless Is Just a Bradley Cooper Movie, NOT a Way of Life. Knowing is only half the battle, however. It’s not the whole thing. Next you need to get smart about your resources. She urges you to think of this in terms of finite units of energy or what she refers to as “Energy Pennies.” (This reminds me of the Spoons approach.) Every time you make a decision, create something, etc. you’re using up these Energy Pennies. It’s possible to run through your natural daily supply (which will be hugely impacted by how you’re eating, sleeping, recreating, etc.). Should you need to access more “Energy Pennies” to complete activities that are beyond your natural energy reserves, you basically have three choices:
Use Energy Pennies from any you’ve banked from yesterday.
Use up tomorrow’s Energy Pennies today.
Do some sort of “energy-production activity that makes more pennies.”
She uses this simple and concrete metaphor to explain a more intangible concept. Bottom line is that if you’re heading toward burnout (or worse — in burnout), you’ve been mismanaging your energy supplies. Be mindful to not outspend your energy budget or you’re going to struggle to keep up with your life. Take time to refill your stash with activities that recharge you. Sometimes the way to get the most work done is to take a short break from work altogether!
3. All Plates Are Not Created Equal. Now that we have pennies straight in our minds, let’s move to plates. Most of us love this metaphor (i.e. “I’ve just got so much on my plate!”). Syme asks us to get realistic about the fact that plates come in all kinds of sizes. Different people have different plate sizes. And most people’s plate size changes depending on what else is happening in their lives. Some factors of your plate size are hardwired into who you are (think: personality, strengths/weaknesses, etc.) or the realities of your life or “systems” of which your creative life is just one part (think: relationships, health, resources etc.). She advises us: “Don’t make your plate smaller by wishing it was bigger.”
Hack: Penny Pinch
Going back to the “Energy Penny” metaphor, choose the things you want to spend your energy resources on carefully! We can burn through a surprisingly high percentage of our energy reserves doing activities and making decisions about things that don’t really matter that much to us. For example, every time you exert willpower resisting something, that’s a drain on your energy. Can you remove the situation or item that forces you to exert your willpower again and again? In a similar vein, can you make some conscious choices about cutting some activities that don’t benefit you or bring you real joy (e.g. scrolling mindlessly through Social Media, news, or Netflix)? Can you make a decision about some routines or habits that will apply to a host of decisions? For instance, can you choose to wear only a certain type of clothes or color on a given day? Can you choose what sorts of breakfast or lunch you’re going to have every day? How can streamlining preserve some Energy Pennies for more creative uses?
“For many writers, reading fills the vault. Especially if you have a personality that tends toward consumption of resources as food for your creativity. If you are a person who needs to learn/research in order to produce, then learn. If you are a person who needs to read fiction in order to feel immersed in new worlds, then read. If you are a person who needs to play video games in order to allow the back of your brain to be creatively inactive, then do that. The things we often call ‘procrastination’ are, for most of us, the energy producing activities that we actually need in order to maintain our pace.” Becca Syme
I hope this was helpful! I find Syme’s work so insightful. This is a book I’ll be turning to from time to time when I feel myself sliding toward burnout.
In the next episode (August 13th, 2020), I’ll be reviewing Your Book, Your Brand by Dana Kaye.
Until then. . .
Happy writing, people!
If you found this useful, check out:
Becca Syme’s YouTube Channel, which features playlists that correspond to each of her books.
In other Dair-related news:
Fellow author Robin Knabel and I recently posted a new episode of our podcast, Unsettling Reads. Come check out our spoiler-free review of The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. Visit www.UnsettlingReads.com to browse our other reviews of books from the crime, fantasy, horror, literary, mystery, sci-fi, suspense, and thriller genres. And look for Robin’s short story appearing in the summer issue of The Raven Review! Huge congrats, Robin!!
To find out what I’ve been working on, fiction-wise, visit www.HDairBrown.com. Sign up for the email list, and I’ll send you a free story every month. Just one email a month. I promise not to inundate you. I hate a pesky emailer!
Finally, to help you keep track of both your writing goals and your time, visit TheRookieWriter.net and sign up for the email list to get a free undated quarterly version of The Rookie Writer Playbook (a planner/organizer just for writers) to try out. And, of course, The Rookie Writer Etsy shop has full annual, dated Writing Planners available, along with a few other tools and fun swag for writers. Now on sale for 50% off!