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How to Overcome Creative Burnout

FEATURED IMAGE New York Book Editors 6 8 2020 How to Overcome Creative Burnout

It happens to all of us creative types eventually.

I’m talking about the dreaded creative burnout.

Writer’s burnout is not the same as writer’s block.

Writer’s block is when you can’t write. The words won’t come. The ideas won’t reveal themselves. You have the desire to write but you simply can’t. If you do squeeze something out, the prose is pedestrian at best.

Writer’s burnout is when you can write but you don’t want to. You have too many ideas in your head. You’ve written for so long without a break, and now you’re tired of writing. You’re tired of thinking. You’re stressed. And when you do sit down to write, you don’t feel joy or creative motivation.

Writer’s burnout is much worse than writer’s block. It lasts longer, too.

Writer’s burnout is much worse than writer’s block. It lasts longer, too.

To remedy writer’s block, you must find the root cause of your block (which is often fear or perfectionism). Once that’s sorted, you can do certain writing exercises to jumpstart your creativity. (Learn more about writer’s block and how to overcome it here.)

You won’t beat burnout by taking a 10-minute walk. Overcoming writer’s burnout requires a different toolset and a greater investment of your time. In this post, we’ll discuss how to conquer writer’s fatigue and reignite your creative passion. Let’s get started.

The Symptoms of Creative Burnout

How do you diagnose writer’s burnout? If you have most of these common symptoms, you may be on the verge of burnout:

  • You wake up exhausted
  • You don’t feel motivated to get out of bed
  • You snack more during your writing sessions
  • You think about your writing “to do” list while attempting to relax
  • You can't relax
  • You don’t sleep well
  • You don't enjoy writing anymore
  • Everything you write sounds the same
  • Everything (including writing) seems pointless
  • You procrastinate
  • You’re isolated and don’t socialize as much as you once did
  • Your work isn't as good as it once was
  • You have trouble locating your creative self
  • You fantasize about running away from it all
  • You're moody and negative
  • You're depressed
  • You're lethargic
  • You're forgetful
  • You're constantly fending off a cold (burnout stress often leads to physical stress)

Sound familiar?

I’ve suffered from writer’s burnout many times over the years. It’s one of the hazards of writing professionally. If you write a lot, you’re susceptible to creative burnout, but you can incorporate the following tips to overcome it.

Take Time Off

Overcome Writer’s Burnout

You cannot replenish your creative self without taking a break. Taking time off allows you to hit the metaphorical reset button. Your love of writing is still there. It’s just buried under the stress of daily life, which includes deadlines, headlines, and social obligations. When you get away from your daily duties, you get a chance to reconnect with who you are at your core. How long will it take for you to reconnect? The answer will vary, depending on how long it’s been since you last unplugged from writing.

For some, a weekend trip to the mountains can restore their creativity. For others, it may take weeks or longer to truly regain focus.

Your “time away” doesn’t necessarily mean that you leave on a soul-searching trek through the Andes. It simply means that you stop writing for an extended period. Forcing yourself not to write will rekindle that passion to write when the time comes. Don’t worry. Writing is like riding a bike. You will pick it up again very easily.

Schedule Your Writing

Working too much always leads to burnout. Always.

If you’re like most, you moonlight as a writer while working a full-time job to pay the bills. Because you’re constantly on the grind, you’re suffering from burnout. But what should you do? Should you wait until retirement before you write the next great American novel?

No way. You can write now without fear of burnout but you must impose limits. Create a writing schedule and “clock out” when your session is done. A two-hour writing session is feasible for most part-time writers.

Choose a time to write. Start on time. Don’t go over that time. Remember that magic happens with consistency.

Sleep More

“Sleep is the best meditation.” This quote comes from the Dalai Lama, an expert on meditation and mindfulness. Sleep is something that we all do, but some of us don’t sleep long enough. I’m guilty of this one. In an effort to cram more into my day, I often stay up past midnight. I may be a smidge more productive for that day, but I end up fatigued and less productive the next day. When this cycle happens too many times, burnout is inevitable.

Instead of staying awake to fit more in, be selective over what you say “yes” to during the day. When it’s time to go to bed, don’t delay.

Figure out how many hours a day it takes for you to be rested. Not everyone needs to stay asleep for exactly eight hours. Some are ok at seven hours, and others need nine hours. To calculate your ideal sleep period, head to bed at least 10 hours before you need to wake up the next morning. Continue this habit for a week. By the end of the week (the first few days don’t count), you’ll know how many hours you need to sleep in order to restore yourself. Once you know that number, go to sleep on time consistently.

Pick Up a New Hobby

Overcome Writer’s Burnout

Put down the pencil and pick up an easel. You're a writer to your core, but that doesn't mean that you can't take up another hobby like painting, pottery, or powerlifting.

Having a hobby outside of writing can reduce stress, stretch your creativity, and give you a fun distraction. For example, physical activities like hiking or swimming can improve your ability to prioritize. Playing chess develops strategic thinking. Reading improves your vocabulary. Coloring enhances focus. Gardening reduces stress and anxiety.

Any activity, when done for enjoyment, will counteract the harmful effects of burnout.

You can still be creative without writing. Try doing something completely new. Engaging in a new hobby will force you to access a different part of your brain. Unlocking a new part of yourself will revive your joie de vivre instantly. You can’t experience burnout and joie de vivre at the same time.

Observe the Creativity of Others

To know that you’re suffering from burnout, you must look inwardly. It’s time to stop looking at yourself and look at what others are doing. Read a good book, watch a well-reviewed documentary, or listen to music that soothes your soul. However, don’t do these things for enjoyment. Do them for inspiration. You can recharge and overcome writer’s fatigue by witnessing the creative genius of others in action.

Your mission isn’t to find new writing ideas. Rather, your goal is to reignite your desire to write. When you see others do beautiful things, it compels you to do beautiful things, too. Greatness always unlocks greatness.

Tidy Up

While you’re taking time off from writing, organize your home. You should tidy up your home in general but target your writing space specifically. There is a direct correlation between clutter and burnout. Visual clutter in your home contributes to low-level stress and will eventually lead to creative fatigue. By simplifying your living and working spaces, you'll create a peaceful and productive atmosphere.

Final Thoughts

For many of us, writing is our remedy to stress, but sometimes writing can become the source of stress. When that happens, it means you’re dealing with creative burnout. Fortunately, incorporating the above tips will help you to overcome your writer’s fatigue.

Before you go, check out these related resources to restore your creativity:

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