Preventing creative burn-out

Burn-out.

Such an ugly phrase. I prefer to use other, nicer words like tired or stressed or encountering writers’ block, but the result is the same.

I end up discouraged and depressed, banging my head on a mental wall and desperately squeezing every last drop of creativity from my soul to meet real (or self-imposed) deadlines and expectations.

The quality of my work suffers, which brings my creative energy spiraling downwards and starts the whole cycle over again. It’s that point in time why I wonder why I chose writing instead of something easier–like dragon hunting or wrangling 30 kindergartners.

I want off the not-so-merry-go-round, but life is whirling so fast I can’t  see to jump without risking serious damage.

What’s a creative workaholic perfectionist to do?

Set realistic goals. I know. I hate it when reality intrudes upon my idealistic dreams. Don’t get me wrong–using your imagination is great. The creative’s tendency to think in a different galaxy than the box is what fuels amazing discoveries and achievements.

But, every creative must learn to evaluate their capacity with clear vision. Your kids come down with the flu. Your husband loses his job. You end up moving across the country (or world) a month before a major project is do (been there, done that). Life happens.

If your goals don’t reflect this reality, you’ll constantly be frustrated and discouraged by sub-par work and missed deadlines that could have been prevented by more realistic goals.

Make creative space. When you’re already feeling stretched to the limit and pressured for greater productivity, scheduling margin into your agenda seems counter-intuitive. But making space for times to refuel creatively and be inspired actually enable you to operate at a much higher capacity the rest of the time, both in quality and productivity.

Even if it’s just 10 minutes between projects to make a cup of tea or play with your cat, intentionally making space to feed your soul is a life-saver, both for yourself and your creative muse.

Mind the basics. I’m convinced the starving artist stereotype comes less from said artist being too poor to buy food and more from the artist simply forgetting to eat.

It’s true, isn’t it? Creatives have a tendency to become so absorbed in their work that they neglect basic healthy habits like a good diet, plenty of sleep, and a regular exercise.

Yet studies have shown that those who are healthy physically are also more healthy mentally and can work at a higher capacity. Focus on long-term goals of sustainable growth rather than what seems urgent at the moment.

Learn to say no. Especially in the early stages, it’s easy to get swept away by enthusiasm and the potential of each new idea. Yet the reality is that saying “Yes” to one thing is saying “No” to something else, even if it isn’t immediately obvious.

Focusing on who you really are and what you want to do, as well as realistically evaluating your capacity, will help you prioritize and know when to say “Yes” and when “No” is the wiser answer.

Stay connected. The creative zone can swallow us whole, rendering us oblivious to the fact we haven’t had a meaningful conversation with another human being in weeks (months, forever). Making time for the important people in your life not only makes sure you have a support team when discouragement hits, it also provides fresh inspiration and new ideas.

Burn-out will suck all the joy out of your creative work if you let it, and creatives are particularly vulnerable to its effects. Don’t let over-commitment and unhealthy work habits keep you from reaching your full potential. Prioritize, take care of yourself, and live in community with God and others. Then you – and your creativity – will flourish.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. artsbysofie says:

    The way you described the creative burnout was very accurate. And the last tips was definitely something I should mind more! Thank you for the lovely read!

    1. Karis Waters says:

      Thank you! It’s something I struggle with on a continual basis, juggling my responsibilities as a freelance editor, a co-founder/editor at indie publishing house Crosshair Press (www.crosshairpress.com) and, now, a soon-to-be Mrs.! But stopping to take care of myself is the only way to exit the crazy carousel, so I have to make it happen. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it and found it helpful! Please take a moment and share it with friends who might find it interesting and helpful as well. Thanks for stopping by!

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