Creative Burnout: The Circle of Life

October 8, 2019

Part of being a creative, any kind of creative, is making things. This is the most fundamental and most important part of what we do. Unfortunately, it can also be the hardest. In today’s workplace, whether you’re a student, an intern, or have a full-fledged career, around-the-clock communication can be draining—especially for creatives who utilize large amounts of mental and physical energy to produce their best work. And these days, that kind of mindset and communication can’t be avoided, putting many creatives into creative burnout.

A Blank, A Block, A Burnout

Like writer’s block, creative burnout will find you staring at the blank slate, wondering where all of your good ideas went. Unlike writer’s block, which many authors describe as an incomprehensible wall between the idea in their mind and the idea on paper, creative burnout also zaps your desire to put an idea on paper, or to even come up with an idea in the first place. Creative burnout is unavoidable, and it can stop creators in their paths for weeks, months, and sometimes years at a time. You may not be sleeping well, show signs of physical stress, be moody, or embrace your perfectionist tendencies, but the heart of the matter is that you simply don’t enjoy creating anymore. Not because a client is being particularly sticky or because you don’t have faith in the project, but because the simple, most fundamental act of making things no longer energizes or inspires you. Additionally, that unhappiness and dissatisfaction isn’t just swirling around your work life; its consuming small pieces of you elsewhere.

It’s a dangerous place to be. I know because I was there six months ago, and I’m still working on pulling myself out of it.

The good news is that creative burnout is cyclical. Creativity is not a gift, it is a muscle that you have to warm up, and practice, and stretch, and take care of. When you run it too hard or too ragged or it just takes too much wear and tear over time, you’ll injure it just like any other part of your body. You’ll find yourself burnt out. You’ll also find yourself ready to start the cycle over again. Creative burnout may be unavoidable, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s a chance to grow your talents in more ways than one.

Good Input Means Good Output

The first step you’ll want to take is to examine your input. Your output, or lack thereof, is dismal and most likely a direct result of your input. I, like many creatives, thought I had found my specific niche of work and dove into it fully intent on immersing myself in everything there was to know and subsequently becoming a professional in the field. I engrossed myself in that niche, and eventually bogged myself down. Creativity is more than creating output; it’s about making connections that may not have been obvious, combining things to create something new, and, above all, keeping yourself loose and limber to recognize a good thing when you see it. Oversaturating yourself closes your mind and limits your feed, and, suddenly, you’ve not got a whole lot to work with.

Once you’ve examined your input, turn back to your output. As students and interns, we are especially susceptible to hone in on the designs that “matter;” we focus on the deadlines, the client demands, our portfolios, the things that are “useful,” and no more. When these are the only things you are making, creativity becomes stifled and weighed down by guidelines and rules. You are no longer free to fail or start over, and the pressure continues to rise. This saps your energy and compounds your burnout. However, as they say, once you hit rock bottom the only way to go is up. At this point, it becomes quantity over quality. Start producing all the time, everywhere, and without inhibition. As you circle through the process and start exercising your creativity again, you’ll find yourself not only analyzing more material, but making more material and getting back in the game bit by bit.

To Be Continued

Be conscious, and collect all you can. Eventually, the circle will close, and you’ll wake up one morning brimming with ideas and the itch to create. Everything you do, every part of your life, feeds into the creative process. Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in the experience of another circle of life.