New Year Creative Tips for the Exhausted Artist

It’s a new year, and maybe you’re not starting it with a bang.

(When I first wrote this, we were coming off of 2020, and that was a helluva year, but this post is relevant for any New Year.) I don’t want to make assumptions about you, but if you are a creative person, then you may also be a highly sensitive being that gets overstimulated and exhausted easily. If so, then 2020 might have left you feeling like a rung-out washcloth wadded up in the corner of your shower. With 2021 already being a royal turd, I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel downright depleted as an artist.

I know exhaustion well. I started 2019 with creative burnout. Then I started 2020 with full blown depression. Sometimes they are the exact same thing. On the outside, it looked like I was doing fine, but I was not. Though, I somehow managed to keep moving despite the darkness that was growing inside of me. Those two years taught me a lot about continuing on with my creative ambitions even when I wanted to become one with my crumpled-up comforter and cry (which I also did a lot).

Things won’t suck forever.

I hope you haven’t started the year feeling exhausted or burned out, but if so, I want you to know that nothing lasts. Bad things and good things come and go and there are ways to move forward.

Here are five tips for tackling your creative goals in The New Year when you feel exhausted from the start.

1. Breathe and rest.

Take a deep breath. I want you to feel the muscles between your ribs stretch when you do this. Take a deep breath and then let it out. Then take another. Maybe do that like five to ten more times or until the desire to scream into a pillow subsides. Or do that too. Yeah, do that too. Then breathe deep. Repeat multiple times a day, every day. You live in a human body, and it’s easy to forget that it has basic needs.

Maybe you need to actually take a long rest. When was the last time you allowed yourself downtime? Creativity doesn’t come out of thin air. If you are exhausted, focus on your basic needs for a bit. Eat, sleep, move your body, breathe deeply, and walk in nature.

2. Don’t get distracted by New Year’s Resolution hype.

Roughly 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail. (Read why.) If you have set a goal for yourself this year to start your art business, be more creative, or make any huge change in the realm of creativity–I caution you to take a step back and not bite off more than you can chew. Not because I don’t believe in you (because I fully do), but because it’s overwhelming to tackle huge goals without preparation, especially when you are already exhausted. Also, the things we set out to do might not actually be a true goal of ours.

It’s important to parse what society expects from us and what we actually want for ourselves. Set a realistic goal that you actually want to meet; one that is enjoyable and fulfilling along the way. I can’t tell you how many times I have exhausted myself because the thing I set out to do just took everything from me. The process should fulfill you at least a little. If it doesn’t, then reevaluate your goals.

3. Outline the baby steps to reach your goals.

Got a goal in mind that actually sounds fun? Baby steps will help you enact meaningful progress. Don’t try to go from zero to gallery representation in 60 days, or gain 100k IG followers in 2021 without first breaking down all the little tasks you need to get there. Focus on what is within your reach each day. It’s great to set a goal, but once set, you need to keep small tasks in your mind 90% of the time and put your head down.

Break down your tasks and then look at the amount of time you can invest in your goals each day. Do you have 5 minutes? 30 minutes? Write it down. Put this in a schedule that works for you. For example, every Sunday I will sketch for 30 minutes while I drink coffee.

Outline your small and manageable tasks, make the time, and do the thing. A big goal is just a guide for all the little tasks along the way. It’s the little, mundane, boring work that moves you forward. This is also why I need to emphasize the need for enjoyable goals. If you don’t like drawing and your goal is to have 6 drawings completed by the end of January–like–what are you thinking? Do things that bring you joy or you’ll find yourself even more exhausted than when the year started.

4. Push through the *healthy* discomfort. Start something.

You are not going to feel excited about your creative goals every day. You are not going to feel ready and able to conquer the art world every second you are creating, and you will have moments where you aren’t even close to feeling inspired. You’ll feel lazy or drained. You’ll even let out a groan when you think about turning off Netflix and picking up your paintbrush. Know the difference between your laziness and exhaustion.

Like right now, I did not want to write this post. Do you know what I want to do instead? Drink my coffee and watch random clips on YouTube. Am I exhausted at the moment? Nope, just lazy.

Push through. If you need to break down your tasks even smaller, then do it. If 30 minutes of sketching sounds like too much, then give yourself 60 seconds. (I’m having flashbacks of my ex doing P90X videos while I worked and the main guy yelling “You can do anything for 30 seconds!” He’s not wrong. Also, I hate that guy.)

The hardest part is just getting started. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down in my studio without any ambition and somehow hours went by and I had created a lot because I simply showed up and got started.

5. Get in touch with your passion and the good you can do.

Why do you want to create? What drives you? No matter how dark the world seems, or how depressed I have been, there has always been a light that shines in the distance that reminds me of my creative purpose. Obviously, I create art, write blog posts, do consulting sessions, and put my energy into social media because I want to make a living from art, but my purpose is bigger than that, and I cling to it for dear life when I feel like crap.

I keep showing up because I know that I can make even the smallest positive difference in the world around me. If I can reach one person today and give you a little spark to pursue what brings you joy, then I’ve spent my time well. You can do this in simple ways. Most of the time, it happens unintentionally while you are doing the thing you are passionate about.

Live authentically, be yourself, focus on your passion, show others what is possible, nurture fellow artists, and find joy each day. I know things might look dark, but you can help make brighter days for yourself and those around you.

Buckle up, buttercup. We’re going to make good things happen. Happy New Year!


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