Good mental and spiritual health plays a vital role in surviving, and thriving, as an author. Writing, editing, and marketing books each come with their own headaches, and if those headaches turn into burnout-inducing migraines, it can really turn you off from continuing to release books or cause you to struggle spiritually.
In a conversation late last year with my fellow author, and friend, M. Liz Boyle, she told me how periodically fasting can help us take a step back from marketing, sales, and writing and help us refocus on God and our other responsibilities. I was intrigued by the concept; I’ve taken mental health hiatuses before, but usually decided to take them when I was in the thick of burnout. Liz’s practice of periodically fasting reminded me that we as authors can take the initiative to pre-plan mental health/spiritual breaks, so we can continuously make sure we’re putting God first, and maintaining good headspace.
To add more to our conversation today, YA Christian fiction author, M. Liz Boyle, is here to speak on how intermittent fasting has helped throughout her time as an author.
Hey Arrowheads! Huge thank you to Allyson Kennedy for the opportunity to greet you – I mean, y’all 🙂
Allyson’s writing speaks to me so well, and I’ve gleaned much from her books and blog posts. Several months ago, one of her blog posts stuck out to me because she said that the stress of writing, publishing, and marketing had been high enough to spur her to take a mental health break. As a fan, I was disappointed (not in her, but in knowing that I wouldn’t be able to look forward to her works for a while!). As a fellow author, I was empathetic.
I remember emailing her right away to say that she wasn’t alone in the struggle to keep priorities in their rightful place while indie-publishing. Allyson has been in the writing market much longer than I have, but I have quickly learned how indie-publishing can take over my thoughts, goals, time, and energy. In the year and half that I’ve been a published author, I have found myself snapping at my husband and kids, putting off responsibilities to sneak in more writing time, and pushing time with God to the backburner – all in the name of writing to bring glory to God.
Not long ago, I had to stop and ask myself if it was worth it. I asked myself, “If I die tomorrow, will my family know that they held a higher place in my life than my books?” That stopped me in my typing tracks. I opened the door so they could come say hi while I edited. But another question took it a step further – a big step further. “Is God number one in my life right now, or are my writing projects taking His place?” Whoa. I closed my laptop and realized that I needed to totally revamp my priorities. Not on paper, but in practice. Sure I was “writing for God,” but if I only managed to squeak out a scrap of a prayer and skim over a few Bible verses every day, was it really for God? Or was writing my god?
When I began my first book, I set out with the well-intentioned goal of not letting it come before God or family. It sounds easy until you realize that that leaves minimal time for writing – and even that isn’t too big of a deal until it comes time to edit, format, publish, market, market, and market (while starting the sequel, of course. And repeat the process).
I want to be present for my family, and as a homeschooling mom, I try to invest in my kids (which means time and energy). Meanwhile, I’m an advocate for getting enough sleep ever since a college professor had my class watch a documentary on the importance of sleep and the effects of sleep deprivation. So that leaves like 35 minutes everyday to write….yeah, that’s not much time. But when a God-glorifying idea was taking over my thoughts, I felt the need to write, too. God time, family time, and sleep time each took a cut. And when I was yawning and couldn’t focus on Bible study or prayer, it was easy to tell myself that I’d do better the next day if I could just eke out another few pages. Then I had a bigger problem.
How do we balance this God-given talent to write with life? You may not be a wife or a mom, but I know your life is busy, too. And if you’re like many authors today, writing isn’t your 9-5 job, so we have to find balance. Most importantly, how do we keep God in His rightful number one place?
One solution that has helped me and may help you is fasting. I know, I know. It’s tough, it’s not fun, and maybe I just lost your attention. But seriously, going without food and water reminds me in a hurry that I’d be nothing without God. I’d be like a dead wisp of grass in short order. Big whoop – of course we need God; how does fasting help you write? Glad you asked. Fasting reminds me that God’s plan is a whole lot bigger than my three-act story plan and that while I’m begging God for an increase in sales, people in Texas are dying from power outages, for cryin’ out loud (by the time you see this, hopefully this is very old news, but I’m sure you get my point with that illustration). Fasting shows me how quickly I turn to food for physical strength and writing for my emotional health. (Obviously we need to keep our emotional health strong, and that’s why we have hobbies like writing. But my writing projects had completely taken over to an obsessive degree.)
When I fast, I take a break from all things writing. It’s very eye-opening on those days to see how often I check my email or ad stats, because I have to keep stopping myself from obsessing over my to-do list. Then I make a point to pray or read my Bible when I would otherwise be hovering over my writing agenda during every break in the homeschooling day.
You probably know this already, but the point of fasting isn’t to be so holy that now I can ask God for whatever I want and voila, I’ve tricked God into getting my way. It’s really about humbling myself and drawing closer to God. When I first started fasting to realign my priorities, I would sometimes think, “Well maybe if I fast and God sees how much I want more sales, or a successful ad campaign, or [fill in the blank], He’ll be so pleased with my fast that all my author dreams will come true.” But after about 15-20 hours of fasting, the whole reliance on God factor has new meaning and I’m reminded that authoring shouldn’t be my god.
I also want to note that I don’t always do a full 24 hour fast. When I find myself becoming too obsessive over writing, I usually do a partial fast. This is partly because fasting or not, I still have kids in my charge and they require lots of energy from me. The other reason is that usually by 20 or so hours I am spiritually refreshed enough that I’m ready to take on our routine with God first, family second, and writing after that. (And I’m very ready for some physical sustenance by then!)
About a year ago I read “Loving My Actual Life” by Alexandra Kuykendall, and she had many valuable messages in the book. One quote from it that I liked enough to scrawl on a piece of paper and stick near my computer is, “Rather than asking God to bless the plan I’ve made – because I always have some kind of agenda ready to hand over to the Maker of the universe – I was seeing God’s plan and how I can contribute in my small way.” The realization that Kuykendall came to is a vivid reminder for me that God’s plan isn’t about me. Yes, I have a role to play and I can and should do it to the best of my ability, but God needs to be my top priority. For me to contribute to His plan, He has to be my number one.
So, how does fasting help me as a writer? When I prioritize God and Christ, I do better at everything, including writing. By reminding myself that I’m totally dependent on God and that my life is so small compared to His plan for the whole world, my relationship with Him gets stronger. Therefore, with God as my God, I improve at everything I pursue. Writing rocks, but it’s not God.
-M. Liz Boyle, author of the Off the Itinerary series
For more from M. Liz Boyle, be sure to give her a follow!
And don’t miss her recently completed Off the Itinerary trilogy!
Thanks so much for joining us today, Liz!
When I asked Liz if she’d like to collaborate on this post, I knew we’d be in for a treat! Her advice in this post has helped me tremendously since I first read it, and I immediately scrawled down the Alexandra Kuykendall quote and stuck it on my computer monitor for a daily reminder of Who I’m writing for.
If you’re a Christian author, it’s vital that we seek to put God first before our writing endeavors. To maintain good spiritual health, we need to keep in contact with God by praying and reading the Bible, and doing so wholeheartedly, not just in passing. Branching off of what Liz said, though there is no set “perfect amount” of time we need to dedicate to God each day, we need to prioritize Him first, always. And it’s tricky. There will be seasons where looming deadlines will tempt us to stray from Him and put writing, editing, and marketing first, but be warned: this is where burnout can thrive. However, if we make an effort to spend time with God, allowing Him first access to our thoughts and feelings through fasting and strict intention, the bad days won’t be so bad.
Talk to Me, Arrowheads!
Have you ever tried fasting to get closer to God through a difficult season of life? Feel free to share about your fasting practices in the comments!
Aim high, stay strong, and always hit your mark.