Creative burnout is a topic that’s been on my mind quite a bit lately, because I’m currently struggling knee-deep through it. You know that feeling when you go to write, and the words just aren’t there? Or you have too many unfinished things on your to-do list, but no mental energy to do them? The cause of burnout is different for everyone, but I know that my anxiety and depression contribute heavily to mine. Creative and mental burnout is a nasty feeling— you know that you should be doing something, anything, productive, but all you really want to do is burrow under a pile of blankets and hide.
When I’m dealing with burnout, which for me is usually centered around writing, I have ideas and flashes of inspiration, but can’t find the words to make them work. And the more days that go by without publishing a blog post, the more guilt and stress I feel. In the past, I’ve shut down blogs because I had spectacular episodes of burnout and months of guilt and anxiety built up because I just didn’t know what to say.
Having occasional bouts of burnout is normal, especially if you’re a passionate creative who eats, breathes, and sleeps your craft— you can’t put 1000% effort and energy into a project and expect it to be sustainable; eventually you’re going to crash. This has been my modus operandi as a blogger for years: go hard for a few months, crash and burn, maybe survive the wreckage (or maybe not). When a friend of mine offered a piece of conventional wisdom that I’d never considered before, it blew my mind:
Creative and mental burnout doesn’t have to murder your productivity, and it can even be useful, if you let it. Think of it as a warning bell that you’re getting overloaded and maybe need to step back and recharge, or even just change direction for a while. If you’re feeling paralyzed by burnout, here are a few things you can do to find momentum again:
5 Ways to Get Over Creative Burnout
1. Take small steps every day.
You don’t need to write an entire novel, or finish a whole project in one day. Give yourself time and space to be creative, and pace yourself. If you break things up into manageable pieces, you’ll have a better chance of making progress than when you try to do everything at once. If you’re struggling, give yourself permission to take really small steps— for me, if I even just write fifty words, that’s fifty words I didn’t have written yesterday.
2. Declutter, organize, and rearrange your space.
You’ll be amazed at what a bright, clean, organized work space can do for you mentally. Whenever my head is a mess, my living space usually follows, so taking a few minutes to clean up and organize is essential to getting back to my best creative headspace. Also, sometimes you just need a change; has your desk been in the same corner for the last three years? Has that lamp always been in that same spot? Change things up, move things around. Sometimes having a fresh feeling space makes all the difference.
3. Do something productive but unrelated.
If your brain is feeling stuck on one particular project and you just can’t seem to make progress, go tackle something else on your to do list. Go grocery shopping, do laundry, go out for a walk; give your brain a chance to breathe and regroup for a bit. Or take a few hours to read a book or watch a movie, get out of your own head for a while. I speak from experience when I say that trying to force the ideas onto the page usually doesn’t work out (and just results in a headache.)
4. Make a plan, write an outline, brainstorm.
Mind-mapping is great for those times when you have ideas but have no idea what to do with them. Put everything down on paper, don’t worry about getting things in the right order or even getting complete thoughts out— that jumble of random words might spark the exact brainwave you need later. I know that it always makes me feel better to have a plan (even if I’m 100% aware that I probably won’t end up following it), so take a few minutes and plan your next steps. What do you want to accomplish? How can you get there? Even if your plan just involves making a to do list for the next few days, that’s a perfect start.
5. Talk things out with your friends or community.
Whenever I’m feeling stuck creatively, I usually call my best friend. He’s a fellow writer, and without a doubt the person I trust most to bounce my half-formed ideas off of. We’ll usually spend a couple of hours on the phone or over Skype, and he’ll help to pick my ideas apart— not coming from a critical place, but in a way that helps me to shape and focus and expand them. I always leave our conversations feeling like I could sit down and write a 500 page novel right this instant. If you don’t already have people like this in your life, find them. If you do, utilize them (and thank them.) When our ideas are only in our own heads, we can get stuck in the same feedback loop over and over again; sharing ideas with someone else and asking for their input gives us an entirely new perspective (which can make all the difference.)
Creative burnout, or any kind of burnout, sucks— there’s no way around that. But it doesn’t have to be the ledge where your goals and ideas go to die. If you’re dealing with burnout as a result of depression or anxiety, you’re not alone. Reach out to other people who have had similar struggles, and find your community.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Are you dealing with burnout lately, or have you struggled with it recently? Tell your story below in the comments, or chat with me on Twitter (@hugsandhexes).