Five Simple Tips for Conquering Creative Burnout
About the Author: Jess Costello
Jess Costello is graduating from Stonehill College with a bachelor’s in psychology and a minor in creative writing. Her writing has appeared at I Believe in Love and Psi-Chi-Ology Lab. Through writing, she hopes to inspire authentic connections between people and to find grace in even the messiest realities.
You can follow Jess’s writing journey on Twitter and Instagram @jcostellowrites or through her website, The Crafted Passion.
You’re excited about your novel idea. You want to write it, and you know you should work on it, but life keeps getting in the way. When you do have time to write, you find yourself too physically and mentally exhausted. Burnt out to a crisp.
No matter where you are in life, you likely balance so many commitments that coming home to stare at a computer screen after a long day of school or work can seem like just another chore. Taking a break feels counterintuitive. Doesn’t that make the problem worse? How can taking a break from your passion prove refreshing?
My critique partner and I regularly talk about this facet of the writing life. Personally, I’m still a student. Because creative writing is so solitary and often draws from the same energy required for academic writing or work at a typical day job, it’s easy to feel like my mind is always working, even when I’m technically writing for fun.
I used to see my friends, whose leisure time looked like binging the latest Netflix original or going to the movies or shopping, and wonder why I never felt so relaxed. My writing had become an extra item to check off my to-do list, and with the pressures of college life mounting, I was caving.
Self-care is crucial to anyone’s mental health, but especially for creatives. Because of the nature of our work, most of us don’t write professionally and relegate writing to the realm of a hobby rather than a significant (or steady) source of income.
We’re told to do what we love, but what happens when the line between work and fun blurs? When you stare at your writing and can’t seem to make any progress? When even the thought of writing makes you want to crawl back into bed? Today, I’d love to share with you five simple methods that have helped me return to writing even when I don’t feel inspired.
Method #1: Allow yourself the freedom to relax.
Watch that movie. Binge that show. Play that album on repeat. It may not feel like you’re doing anything productive because our culture encourages non-stop work. But when you take in other media, you actually absorb their structures, boosting your creativity.
Taking a break isn’t counterintuitive. It isn’t procrastination, nor will it compound your writing problem further down the road. Our brains need breaks, and psychological studies show that stepping away from material for a time recharges your brain for later work, after you’ve refreshed yourself.
When creatives have no more creative energy, we have to draw it in from somewhere else. When I feel drained in my creative writing classes, hearing my classmates’ poems and prose lights a new fire in me to challenge myself. Not to copy them, but to bring out in my work what resonates with me in theirs.
When I’m feeling burned out, I’ll also listen to music I love or watch a new show to see how its characters are developing and how the story is structured. You grow as a creative and get to watch your favorite show.
Method #2: Get creative in a new way.
Try something different. Whether it’s knitting, painting, making music, drawing comics, or any other form of art, new activities get your creativity flowing in different ways. I’ve tried basic bookbinding, and doing so brought me back to the days of elementary school art projects, making me want to write more because I now had a physical container for my work which needed to be filled.
You can also try writing in a different genre or style. If you’re like me and predominantly write fiction, experiment with poetry or non-fiction pieces. You might discover a passion you didn’t know you had.
Method #3: Listen to your body.
Physical and mental health are so intertwined. I used to push myself to stay up late to write, but now I know I function much better after a good night’s sleep. No amount of work is so important that it’s worth sacrificing something as crucial to your body as rest.
Regular exercise and healthy eating habits help as well. Once you have a strong physical framework in place, you can more easily carve out time and energy in your daily life to conquer the writing goals you set.
Method #4: Keep a journal.
Recently, I tried writing down the observations I made every day for two weeks, and it was one of the best writing exercises I’ve tried. You may not think you see or hear anything interesting along your commute or in passing conversations, but once I was consciously looking for things to write down, even the blades of grass and ducks in the water became supremely fascinating.
Maybe some real dialogue you overhear will provide a launching point for your next story. Or that person who intrigues you could become a character. Or that random memory from ten years ago that just popped back into your head could provide a setting.
In my experience, this kind of observation lowered the stakes enough for my creativity to unlock itself. Not much of what I wrote down found a natural way into my work-in-progress, but the practice of noting what I saw and heard got me into a rhythm of taking note. This pattern of looking, listening, and wondering will surely feed my creative life for years to come, no matter what I’m working on at the moment.
Method #5: Talk to someone who gets it.
As well-intentioned as they might be, if your family members and friends aren’t creatives, they may not understand the struggle of losing the drive to work on something you’re supposed to love. This is why intentional community for writers is crucial.
In engaging with fellow writers, you may find someone to bounce ideas off of, to swap feedback with, or to vent the struggles you share. You can talk about where you’re at with being a writer in a world that so often discourages such small rebellions as putting words on paper.
Writers, I hope you’ll try one of these ideas the next time you feel exhausted and creatively burnt out. Your writing deserves to be written by the best you.