Burnout and cappuccino cookies - when trying too hard is not the thing to do
Since 2014 I have penned down two and a half books in Portuguese - a work in progress, one day I'll return to it - seven novels and one novella in English. In four years. Of these, I have self published five novels and the novella, which means I had to revise, edit, rewrite, revise again, re-edit and do-over each one of those works. And then upload them to Amazon, with all it entangles and requires. There's a lot of work attached, what with researching, studying, reading, compiling, the actual writing, and all that comes after. Because once a book is published, that's not the end, it tends to be the start. Of the promo and advertising rounds, the marketing, the self selling, the pitching, the trying to find your audience and getting your work noticed, read, reviewed, talked about. This you have to do yourself, if you're a self published author. Which means I did. On top of the ten books I have managed to write in four years, I did the teasers, the ads, the visual exciters, the moodboards, and still kept a food blog with regular posts and recipes. A food blog is a lot of work. First you need to cook, of course. But you then need to style the food, work with the light, capture the best angle, the best composition, take the photos, edit the photos, write the recipe, write the blogpost and promote the blogpost. A bit like what you do when you're a self published author. It's like having two jobs, actually. There's like a gazillion food bloggers out there, who all do this. And have daytime jobs too, unlike me who sit around all day and do nothing really worth while. There must be hundreds of self published authors out there who also have daytime jobs and work so much harder than I do. I'm no better than any other, I'm not here trying to say I have accomplished so much more and worked so much harder, no; we all have to do this, if we're self published. It's hard work, it's tiring, depleting. It leads to exhaustion and burnout, if we're not careful. I never thought I might be at risk of it, until it happened to me. I'm still trying to navigate through it, but I am aware I'm on my way to being depleted in a vary bad way. Have I overtaxed myself more than others? Probably not. But we all have our capacities, and mine are smaller, I am weaker and more prone to dark meanderings of the soul, which tend to deplete as much as overworking.
I only started thinking in terms of burnout after reading this post. The symptoms were all there. I thought I was just going through a minor bout of depression, but now I'm not so sure. See, I believe I have really pushed myself too hard ever since the year started. Actually, I believe I have been pushing myself far too hard for quite some time now, and that comes out of guilt. I always feel that the lack of accomplishments means I'm not working hard enough, doing enough. I always feel like I am sat here doing nothing worthy of mount. So I work hard. Actually, I have been pushing myself too hard since January 2017 when I published my first paperback. But January and February 2018 have been crazy months. I had published the last instalment on my The Preternaturals Series in December, was working hard on marketing and promoting those books, writing an Arthurian saga, of which the first volume was already on first draft done level, researching for it, reading works by other indie authors so I could post reviews on Goodreads, doing my house chores, being a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a human being, sometimes even a woman who is vain and loves to do herself up a bit - which I have since given up, and that should have given it all away. I was always on the go. And then decided I wanted to write and publish a novella by early March. Which I did, the story practically wrote itself off. And also decided it would be a good idea to fish out from the bottom of a trunk an old set of short stories I had written twenty years ago, polish them up a bit, revise, rework, edit, so I could have them set for publishing soon. But I had just added to my stress and work levels a whole new load. Now I needed to do more ads, more teasers, spice up interest on this new book, bring in the numbers and my laptop decided to throw a fit when I most needed to use it to full capacity. Another load on the pile.
I came down with a cold in the first days of March. I had a hard time shaking it off, it lingered for two whole weeks. I was listless and tired, more tired than my usual. Having trouble sleeping. Losing appetite, not taking care of myself, see, I had no time for that. Who's got time to don a facemask, or tend to her hair, or do her nails, when there's a trilogy to finish, a book to read and review, six or seven teasers to make, ads to create, social media rounds, foodstyling and photographing for the blog, then editing those photos, writing blog posts, revising the work, do some research, cook dinner, lunch, do the school runs, clean up house, do the shopping, laundry to sort, to wash, to iron, a husband and a child that require attention... what do you think gets neglected first? Myself. It's always easier that way. And it's not like I wanted to do my nails, or fix my hair, or put on make up, dress pretty. No. I couldn't care less - this usually happens to me in March, so I thought nothing of it, but I should. It all escalated into a feeling of extreme exhaustion, where I was struggling to get one single paragraph written. I just felt like I had no words inside me, anymore. I wanted to write, had the whole story in my head, all the scenes, but I couldn't put the words down. All I wanted to do was hide. But I had books to read so I could review and help fellow authors, I had posts for instagram sharing my fellow authors' work to try and give back a little of what they have given me, I had my own work to promote and market, and photo challenges to enter, and blogposts to create, and more novels to write. How could I hide, where would I hide?
I wasn't sleeping very well, anymore, having a hard time nodding off and waking up several times through the night, but it's something that happens from time to time, I have insomnia so there are sleepless nights. One night, though, I wasn't really sleeping at all, my head overworking why I wasn't succeeding, why my books flopped, my blog flopped, my instagram posts flopped, everything about me flopped. I had been confronted with some brutally honest opinions on my work, and no, this wasn't humbling at all, it was eye opening. In the sense that, contrary to what I usually consider, I am not all that. My work is not acceptable, nor good enough. These opinions forced me to look at all I do in a whole new way, and that night, I couldn't sleep from analysing it all. I wasn't good enough, yet, despite all the studying, the researching, the hard work, the trying and trying and trying to improve myself, my work, my results. I still wasn't good enough, probably because this is all I've got. So why do I insist, and work, and study and try to learn, to get out there, to share my work? At that moment I wanted to delete all my presence from the online world. I wanted to delete my instagram, facebook, this blog, unpublish all my books, disappear, never try again, as I was failing myself and everyone else around. I decided to wait, and do nothing rash. But my mind kept urging me to move, work harder, do better, write more, accomplish more, be more productive, be better, do better. Shouting out all the time that I need to do more and worker much harder, because what I am doing is clearly just NOT ENOUGH.
Next morning there I was, sat on my desk, still unable to write, now feeling sick with a cold again, one I am having a very hard time shaking off. And my brain is numb. And I should be resting. And perhaps I should give up this blog, or take time off from writing, or simply lay off social media for a few months. Maybe I should disappear, because working hard is really not working out for me. See, when one works really hard, one wants to see results, expects to see results, hopes at least to get them. And when they simply don't come, what's the point to all the hard work? And if there's no results coming, then it must be because you're not working harder enough, so you start looking for ways to do better. Trying to figure out how to improve, how to become good enough, do well enough. And you just want to stop and cry, but your brain keeps telling you you need to work harder, do more. I was so ready to call it all quits, and am still on the fence about it. But then I read about burnout, realised I might be suffering from it, maybe I do need to slow down quite a lot. Thing is, March is far from being over and I do have so much still hanging on the back of it. There's a few promos I want to do this week and next for my novels, starting today with The Preternaturals Series - I'm having them at reduced price for three whole days - and going on until the last day of this month, with the other novels getting their chance as well. There's ads to be spruced up for these promos, there's teasers to prep, and these take time, and are hard work. You have to search for royalty free images that fit the novel in question, then go through your own book searching for a quote that fits the image you got, then you need to design the layout, work the lettering, the colours, make sure it's juicy and gets people to notice and want to read your books. It's a lottery, but needs to be done. And through all this, there's still the Arthurian saga missing one volume, there's still the compilation of short stories that needs to be dealt with. But I know I need to stop, at some point, and rest. Get my head straight.
Perhaps what I really need is to sit down with a jar of cookies and indulge myself. If you thought these cookies were something to rave about, I'm sure you're in for a treat right now, right here. How about a batch of cappuccino cookies? Huh? What do you say? Because that's just what we got here. Sounds good? So get baking, here's the how to:
- 350 gr flour
- 250 gr cold butter
- 175 gr dark muscovado sugar
- 3 tbsp instant coffee powder
- 3 tbsp powdered milk
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp baking powder
Mix the baking powder and flour together. Pour over a clean, cold surface and prise a hole in the middle. Add the sugar, butter, and egg. Combine all ingredients into a dough. Knead it very softly, until you have a silky dough. Now sprinkle the powdered milk and the coffee, kneading a little bit more. You don't want to overdo it, what you want is to make sure you combine these new ingredients to the rest of the dough and get that marbled effect on it. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate it for half an hour at least. Then bring the dough out and roll it quickly over a floured surface, cutting it into the shapes you want. Transfer cookies to a baking tray lined with baking parchement and bake in the oven for about 12 minutes at 170º. Serve with a tea, coffee, or a piping hot cappuccino!