The Author Burnout Coach
Episode 06: How to Trust Yourself
Hello writers and welcome to The Author Burnout Coach. Together, we will dismantle the burnout culture in book publishing and reclaim our love of stories. I am your host, Isabel Sterling, and this is episode 6.
Hi friends! After last week’s episode about the minimum enoughness measure, I received some questions that boiled down to some variation of:
How am I supposed to trust myself to finish a book if my MEM is so low?
If I let myself rest whenever I want, I don’t know if I’ll ever write again.
And I hear you. I had these same exact concerns when I first started this work. For basically our entire lives, we’ve been conditioned to believe that the only way to get a lot done is to shame and pressure ourselves. Turns out, it’s actually the opposite. I’ve gotten so much more done on my book (and a higher quality of story, too) since I set my MEM, and I feel more rested and inspired, too.
It’s all about self-trust.
At some point during our child or teen years, we start receiving messages that equate play and rest with laziness. We’re expected to feel shame for being unproductive, as if the inherent worth we had as babies has suddenly become conditional on our ability to complete a certain number of tasks or to create a certain amount of success.
Except . . . no one can really agree about what the “right amount” of achievement is. We end up in this cycle of thinking that we’re never doing enough. We pile on more shame to try to achieve more and more and more until we’re so burnt out that we can’t do anything.
Shame isn’t actually the feeling that’s motivating us, though. We’re actually working so we can escape the shame and finally get some relief. This shame-relief-shame-relief cycle fucks with our nervous system. Your body sends up signals, asking you to slow down and stop generating so much stress, but you ignore that, because you’re so desperate for relief from the shame.
But the body does NOT like to be ignored. Every time you ignore messages from your body–including when you shove down uncomfortable emotions–your body sends louder and louder signals until you don’t have a choice but to listen.
So you shame yourself, work to get relief, feel exhausted, shame yourself for being lazy, work to get relief, and end up so worn out that you can’t do anything.
This is not a recipe for an emotionally sustainable writing practice, friends.
Please don’t berate yourself if you recognize this pattern. This is part of the patriarchal software that gets installed in our brains before we’re aware enough to opt out. This shame-relief cycle was learned, which means we can unlearn it and reconnect with what actually opens up our creativity and motivates us to write our stories: Self-trust.
There are two components to creating self-trust–mind and body.
We’ll start with the body, because this is the part we most often ignore (at least it was for me).
I was coaching someone recently at the Query w/ Confidence workshop, and the writer wanted help getting past the intense freeze response that was making it almost impossible to finish up a writing sample and send it to an industry professional.
Part of my coaching was to STOP trying to get rid of the fear. When our nervous system senses a threat and offers up a flight, fight, or freeze response, one of the worst things we can do is shove that feeling down without acknowledging it.
And it’s important to note that jumping straight to trying to talk yourself out of it counts as shoving it down. When we counter our emotions with rationalizations like “getting a rejection isn’t going to kill me” without taking a moment to acknowledge the warning our body gave us, it doesn’t get resolved. It’s like shoving a balloon under water. Eventually, it bursts back to the surface. When that happens, the emotional is so jacked up that it feels completely overwhelming. Done repeatedly, this leads to burnout.
I told that writer that if they could acknowledge the fear–if they could name it and describe where it was showing up in the body–it would run its course and dissipate, allowing room to make a thought shift that would help get them into action.
During our conversation, at one point they said, “So, is it really just as simple as feeling my emotions?” There was a little doubt in their tone, which is totally understandable.
And that’s because the answer is yes, BUT we are so fucking bad at doing this.
It sounds simple, so we convince ourselves it’s not important. And if it’s not important, we don’t have time for it, so it doesn’t happen.
And even if we DO let ourselves feel the fear, we so often slap some extra shame on the end for being ‘too emotional’ or for ‘getting upset over something so small when there are people with much bigger problems.’
Friends, invalidating your feelings does not help you. Ever.
So, the next time you’re sending out a query letter or sending your editor a new draft of your book, and your nervous system says “danger danger danger” give yourself a minute or two to feel that feeling.
Name it. Is it nervousness, anxiety, fear, shame, or something else? Where do you feel it in your body? Is it more centralized or located in your limbs. Is it hot or cold. Is it tense or tingly or heavy? If you feel like you’re going to cry, let yourself cry.
Once you’ve acquainted yourself with the feeling, ask yourself “what do we need right now?”
I’m not entirely sure why I always use ‘we’ when I talk to myself. It just sorta happened naturally, but I do like it. It’s like there’s this loving, maternal part of me that’s taking care of a scared part of me.
If you don’t judge what comes up, if you show the scared part of you that the helper you will listen, you’ll begin to develop self-trust. You might need to wrap yourself in soft blankets for a few minutes and get cozy in bed. You might need to get out for some fresh air and a short walk. Maybe you need a shower to reset, or to nourish your body with food. You might need solitude or a hug from a loved one. Trust you body and provide what it’s asking for.
Doing this on PURPOSE helps instill self-trust. It may seem like you’re getting less done over the short term–since a nap or a walk isn’t putting words down–but over the long-term, caring for yourself and creating a burnout-proof writing habit will help you create so much more sustainably over the course of your lifetime.
The second piece of this, once you’re no longer in the midst of that fight/flight/freeze response, is tapping into your brain and digging around for the beliefs that trigged that response in the first place.
If sending a revised draft to your editor triggered a freeze response, ask yourself why? What do you think might happen? What are you making that mean about YOU?
Let’s say your initial thought is: My editor might hate it.
Ask yourself: Why is that a problem?
And maybe you’ll think: Well, I’ll feel embarrassed.
Because it’ll be proof that I’m not good enough, that I’m not worthy, that I’m a fraud. And my whole career will be over and everyone will judge me.
Ah. There it is. In coaching terms, this is what we call a Thought Error. A Thought Error is simply believing something that isn’t true, kind, or useful.
This is where we intentionally shift our inner dialogue. This is tricky as fuck though, which is why I have a coach for my brain and why I became a coach for writers. We’re a creative bunch but we so often use that amazing creativity against ourselves instead of FOR ourselves.
Anyway, this is where we can start the process of believing new things so our nervous systems stops seeing editor feedback as dangerous. We’re not going to jump from “my editor will hate it” to “this is perfect and will go straight to print.” We want to find something that is true, kind, and useful that we can ACTUALLY believe.
That might look like “it’s my editors job to find ways to make this better” or “We all have the book’s best interest in mind” or “There is no universal ‘good enough’ standard. I can be proud of this draft AND be willing to make it better.”
I want to be REALLY clear that this isn’t a once and done process. Repetition is what actually makes these changes a part of who we are. Even after about 6+ months of really intentionally work on this, my brain still LOVES to tell me I’m not doing enough. It loves to make resting a problem. I’m teaching myself to trust my own natural energetic cycles. Practice not perfect here, loves.
Over time, as you work in partnership with your body instead of trying to shame it into an external standard of productivity, your body will stop screaming and threatening to send you into burnout.
If you are currently near or in a stage of burnout, this process might require a lot more rest than you’re comfortable taking just to get back to equilibrium. If you can trust the process and take that time on purpose and without shame, you’ll get back to a more sustainable rest/work/play cycle that can sustain you throughout your career without running into burnout with each new project or deadline.
Ok, that was a lot, so let’s summarize. We build self-trust by
1 - Acknowledging the negative or uncomfortable feelings that come up
2 - Experiencing the feeling, observing where it lives in the body
3 - Asking ourselves “what do we need right now” and then providing that comfort
4 - When you feel back to neutral, checking in to see where you’re believing something untrue, unkind, or unhelpful. What thought is leading to the shame that has been driving your actions before?
5 - Find a new, BELIEVABLE thought that allows you to create from joy and want instead of shame and need.
If you need help with any of these five steps, I can absolutely help. Go to IsabelSterlingCoach.com and check out the different coaching packages available for your career stage. Whether you need help finishing your first novel or dealing with chronic burnout, I’ve got you covered.
Until next time, happy writing!