5 Ways to Combat Creative Burnout

Creative Burnout is real. Your passion can exhaust you.

I started the new year by making goals for myself as an artist for 2019. Having accomplished way more than I thought I would in 2018, still meant was time to sit down and get ready to hustle for another 365 days. I woke up on January 1st with a plan. I had goals to reach for and tasks outlined to get me there. With a dream for success and a brand new box of paints and canvases from Blick–everything is perfect, puppy dogs and rainbows.

Carpe Diem, right?

Well not so much. In the spirit of being a fully transparent artist on the internet, I have this to say: F*ck seizing the day. I hate art right now.

Welcome to Creative Burnout

Every artist will experience creative burnout in some capacity. This isn’t my first time and it will not be my last. I’m being dramatic, of course, I don’t actually hate art, but I just don’t want to see it, think about it, touch it, or push myself to create.

I’ve been ignoring everything on my to-do list except for the high-priority items. My brain wants to run from anything and everything art-related.

When you create professionally, there is a tightrope-like balance between optimizing your creativity for a business and preserving your love for what you do. A lot of artists don’t want to put a burden on their creativity to make it produce an income. This was why I avoided the thought of being an artist when I was in high school (that and the fact that I graduated during the 2008 recession). Pursuing a creative career will always introduce a pressure to create that is mostly absent in the hobbyist’s experience.

Sometimes that pressure can be beneficial. Sometimes that pressure can be paralyzing. It depends on who you are, and how diligent you are with recharging your creative battery. For me at the moment, that pressure apparently manifested into a desire to do anything else besides art. Anything.

Burnout is not procrastination or laziness.

Of course, there is a difference between procrastination/laziness and creative burnout. This isn’t the same as trying to go to the gym when you just don’t feel like moving from the couch. This is like trying to go to the gym, but the thought of even stepping on a treadmill makes you want to scream while you cut up all of your sports bras and then cry in a corner.

When you’re lazy or procrastinating, you need to push harder to access the energy you already have to give.

Burnout is much different.

Don’t make me create. I will snap that paintbrush and light it on fire.

Creative burnout is when you do not have the energy to give to your craft no matter how much you push or try to focus. Everything you touch sucks. Your inner critic is set to “ruthless”. Your creative tank is empty. You have nothing left to give.

It’s a really unpleasant feeling. It would be nice if we could be productive and creative all the time, but it just doesn’t work that way.  Though, since I still have an obsessive need to be productive, I’ve come up with some tips and advice for treating and preventing creative burnout.

Hopefully, you won’t need this list…

1. Don’t force it.

Walk away from your creative tasks and do something else.

Want to know what I did yesterday? I willingly and enthusiastically chose to shave my dog’s matted butt hair, trim his crazy long toe tufts, and then take a trip to the nearest self-serve dog washing station to give him a thorough scrubbing with blueberry-scented shampoo. I woke up and thought I can work on the three paintings I started in the studio OR I can get covered from head to toe in dog hair and soapy water.

I’d rather be covered in dog hair right now.

When you try to force the creative process, it can make burnout even worse. Walk away and do something menial. Spend time with friends. Call your Mom. Shave your dog’s butt dreads off. Organize your underwear drawer. Clean the whole house. Fold and roll all of the towels in the bathroom like sushi rolls.

Menial tasks help to shift your attention to recharge.

2. Feed your brain a variety of information.

In order to create, you need to take in stimuli from the outside world. You need input for output. If you spend too much time creating, and not enough time feeding your brain, you’re going to run out of steam.

When you have exhausted your creativity, focus your attention on a different area. Consume outside information. Read a new book. Watch YouTube videos. Cook a new recipe. Go to a museum. Learn a new hobby. Take a community education class.

Your brain needs more fuel in order to create a creative product. Feed it. Why do you think I write blog posts and nerd out on spreadsheets to track my social media growth? It’s a different way to stimulate my brain.

3. Stay aligned with your passion and purpose.

I made a mistake by starting my year thinking about the income I could make., but I should have instead started my year thinking about the art I want to make. I immediately put more pressure on my work by telling myself it needed to be financially productive.

Yes, I need to make money from this, but if I just wanted money I would be working for someone else. That’s a whole lot easier than being a professional artist. If you are a creative person, passion should come first.  Creativity is often fragile. The more you force it, the further away it gets.

Creativity + pressure to make money + real-world burdens + bills to pay = “Why am I doing this? My work sucks. I’m going to fail. Oh sh*t.” 

If you want to make art, then think about making art. Priority number one. Make art to make art. Don’t make art to make money.

4. Say no.

If you are experiencing burnout, prune your to-do list and learn how to say ‘no’ to new things until you have the energy to give again. Focus on your high-priority tasks and let the rest get put on the back burner for a bit.

You have a choice in everything in your life. I don’t have to write a new blog post or post on Instagram or create a new painting. I want to. These are all choices that I make. This means I can take a break and focus on my mental regeneration when I need to.

Giving yourself the power to say ‘no’ and to prioritize what really matters in life will help you overcome and avoid creative burnout.

5. Carve out creative downtime in your schedule.

You can’t be productive all the time. You just can’t. All creative people go through cycles that involve doing nothing, consuming outside information, idea incubation, and actually creating. You have to see it as a process and work this into your life.

If you try to force yourself to be productive and create all the time, this will almost always lead to burnout. (Hello, my name is Kelly and I’m apparently terrible at taking my own advice.)

Build your life around your creative cycles. Expect and plan for the downtime you need to keep from burning out. Whether that means planning a few large projects a year, or only scheduling creative tasks a month in advance. Do what works for you.

Your creative self will thank you.

Instead of starting my New Year with a bang,

The year has come in with a fizzle and a whole bunch of Netflix. But, you know what? That’s okay. I’ve planned for moments like this. Even though I ignored my own advice at first and found myself in this burnt out state, I can feel my energy begin to return. Maybe, just maybe you’ll find me in the studio today.

How about you? Have you experienced creative burnout? What did you do to get over it?

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P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.

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2 Replies to “5 Ways to Combat Creative Burnout”

  1. I’ve been at this place so many times it almost feels as cozy as an old sweatshirt. I know from reading other creatives’ articles that we all experience this. (And we all eventually come out of it.)

    Great advice Kelly!

    I’ve learned to let myself breathe. Your #4 above is so important. Carving out time by saying no to things that can truly wait is so key to feeling less overwhelmed.

    I also give myself permission to create really sucky work when I’m in this funk. That makes it easier to keep moving forward until one day I realize “hey, I’m out of this funk!” In fact, I’ve even tried to intentionally create something really really awful…which has the added benefit of getting youself to laugh.

    And your #3 – I just dealt with late in 2018. And once I talked to a couple artist friends about what I was struggling with, it came down to staying aligned with my purpose for 2019 and suddenly most of the burnout I was feeling lifted.

    1. Letting yourself create sucky art is another great tip! It’s really easy to make the funk worse when you expect yourself to only make good work. Thanks for adding that. It’s unfortunate that we all encounter this feeling, but it’s always nice to know others have been there and they always come out of it after self-care.

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