The Truth About Creative Burnout: 30 Experts Speak Out
Maybe you’ve felt burnt out for a while. Maybe you accept it as an inevitability.
Maybe you’re pretty sure there should be some way to stay on top of your game – enjoying, and profiting from, your creativity. Except you’ve not quite figured it out yet.
Maybe you keep staring at a blank page or canvas or screen, feeling stuck – again.
We brought together some of our favourite creative minds and asked them:
How do you avoid creative burnout?
We’ve split their answers into seven broad sections:
- Finding New Inspiration: what to do when you feel like you’ve used up every idea you’ll ever have
- Working With Your Ideas: going through the creative process without getting stuck
- Focusing on What You Love: finding and using your passions – and avoiding burnout altogether
- Recharging Your Creative Batteries: getting back in flow when you’re creatively exhausted
- Establishing a Strong Creative Structure: making your time work for you
- Getting Away From Your Work: tips and tricks for taking a break when you need one
- Accepting and Dealing With Burnout: for some creatives, burnout is just part of the process
There’s a ton of great advice to absorb here. We’d recommend bookmarking this post or even printing it out for easy reference.
(Heads-up: If you dig this stuff, you’ll definitely want to check out our brand-new Toolbox: on sale till Friday 10th September.)
Section #1: Finding New Inspiration
#1: Daniel Scocco – DailyBlogTips.com
One tactic I use is to look beyond my own niche/media type, trying to understand what kind of content and ideas they are using, and evaluating whether or not I can adapt and bring these into my own niche/media type. For example, I might take a look at print magazines about motorcycles, photography and music, and then incorporate ideas they are using into my blogs and websites.
#2: Jonathan Mead – The Zero Hour Workweek
Absorb. Eat inspiration for breakfast. Watch TED talks and compelling documentaries. Engage with your audience, ask them what they want. Read, read, and read. Refuel and keep your fire stoked with new ideas coming in and take the time to take care of your physical vessel. Also, avoid the creative tunnel. Diverge and seek inspiration outside of your topic or area of expertise. The best ideas usually come from unexpected sources and provocative intersections.
#3: Glen Allsopp – ViperChill
I think the worst way to deal with it is to force yourself to come up with new ideas. Instead, I just make sure that I write down every single idea I have, wherever I am, as quickly as possible. The ideas for my most popular blog posts come to me in the shower, when I’m reading a book, or just chatting with my friends. I know if I don’t write it down or save it as a note on my phone I’ll forget. So, when creativity does come knocking, don’t send it packing.
#4: Farouk Radwan – 2KnowMyself.com, “the ultimate source for self-understanding”
The connections between brain cells grow and fade depending upon the activities you’re doing. Certain activities allow new brain connections to grow and the lack of certain activities allows some connections to disappear.
If you get used to do the same routine tasks everyday then you will kill your creativity for certain because particular brain connections will disappear. You can avoid creative burnouts by creating what’s called the “creativity time” which is a free time that you specify each week to do things that you haven’t done before, to do things without sticking to any routine and to do the same things you do every day in a different way.
Section #2: Working With Your Ideas
#5: Charlie Gilkey – Productive Flourishing
In the first case, what often happens is that we get on a creative streak and push ourselves too far when we’re in the post-Eureka stage of the creative process. While it’s true that being in the throes of a creative maelstrom is fun and enlivening, it also requires a lot of physical, emotional, and mental energy. Pushing past your natural limits tends to stall the creative process, and the result is burnout.
The second case often happens when we get deep into the implementation phase of the creative process and lose that initial curiosity and adventure that we had when we first stumbled upon the idea or endeavor. It no longer inspires us, and this qualitative feel is the difference between wanting to explore and develop the idea versus just getting through it. The former is something that we want to do, whereas the latter is something we feel we have to or need to do.
Either case can be addressed by the following actions:
- Instead of thinking about creative work in terms of sprinting, think about it as a marathon. The goal is to stay consistently creative through time rather than depending on burst-burnout cycles.
- Learn to quickly evaluate whether the creative project you’re working on is still inspiring and pulling you or whether it’s starting to be just another thing to do. Hint: if you’re actively thinking about this, it’s probably starting to be just another thing to do.
- Balance your create, connect, and consume cycles so that you continue to get the inspiration and resources from consumption, the feedback, motivation, and mindsharing from connection, and the output from creating that keeps you too cognitively full.
- Leave yourself breadcrumbs so you can get back to the emotional space you started the project from. Was it a friend that got you fired up about the idea? If so, remember who that person was so you can ask her about the topic again. Was it a book you read? If so, bookmark the passage that gets you back to that mindspace.
- Remember that some ideas don’t have to be shared at all or right now. If you find yourself completely removed from the endeavor, shelf it and make yourself a reminder to return to it. If you return to it later and it’s still dead to you, let it go.
Lastly, remember that creative burnout isn’t an indication of your ability to make a go of your creative thing. It’s easy to hit a wall and mistakenly assume that you aren’t cut out for what you’re doing. Before you assume that you need to quit, take the time to fully reset first.
#6: Johnny B Truant – JohnnyBTruant.com
I used to experience writer’s block fairly often. It was back after I’d completed my novel (the one that’s currently in my closet) and no longer had any urgency to “get that book out of me,” if that makes sense. I was also writing a humor newsletter — those eventually evolved into what became the “Humor Archive” on my current blog — and would routinely stall out on that and be totally unable to think of something funny to say. I wasn’t falling over drunk and ready for the rubber room, but I’d count that as creative burnout.
Nowadays it’s not even close to a problem, and I think it’s because I’ve gotten myself into a position where I can write about pretty much anything. When I tried to write fiction, I had to have a story, and it had to make sense, and the characters had to be believable. When I wrote humor, I had to be funny — and humor is HARD. Today I can be sometimes funny and sometimes tell a story, but it doesn’t have to be. I write about all aspects of business for Copyblogger, Problogger, and IttyBiz, and I can write about personal development or whatever for Tim Brownson’s blog at ADaringAdventure.com if he’s up for it, and I can write pretty much whatever on my own site — I have posts already up there on moving to Charlotte, North Carolina and getting tattoos, and in my current queue are posts on the best way to back up your site and why you’ll never get to the point where there’s nobody better than you. It’s wide open.
I let the ideas come to me, and they sort of simmer in my head before I write them. I don’t require myself to write several times a week if I’m not feeling it (I’m a bit under once a week now, with the occasional multimedia post taking up a slot here and there), and I just kind of generally don’t push it.
Section #3: Focusing on What You Love
#7: Chris Guillebeau – The Art of Non-Conformity
The best way to avoid creative burnout is by doing things you love. Burnout doesn’t usually come from what we truly enjoy doing—it comes from all of the side tasks and headaches that creep up along the way. Stick to the main thing and avoid the headaches!
Once in a while you can suck it up and do something you don’t enjoy, but in the long-term it’s very difficult to survive while regularly doing work that leads to headaches and burnout. Besides, most people who have fundamentally changed the world have done it by staying true to their core passions. Stick with those things and you have nothing to fear.
(Photo credit: Gwen Bell)
#8: Alex Blackwell – The BridgeMaker
The way to avoid creative burnout is to write about topics I’m absolutely passionate about. Many times I will have an idea for a post, but then feel frustrated when the words are not just coming. When this happens, I stop and ask myself if this is the post I should be writing right now.
I have ideas for several posts at the same time. When one is stalling on me, I stop, close my laptop and go do something else. By this doing so, I don’t become discouraged with something that has no chance of turning out well.
Soon the post that wants to be written gives me a soft nudge. When I respond, the words come easier and my creativity is restored.
#9: Willie Hewes – Creates custom illustrations at Itch Illustration
When I feel burnt out and uninspired, along with taking a break (even a tiny one if time does not allow more) I ask myself: “What do I love about this?” “What is fun about this?” I try to get into the mind of someone in the audience, my biggest fan, if you will, who thinks what I’m working on is the best thing ever, exactly what she needed, etc. Even if I’m not feeling it, I can keep going to give that (imaginary) person something really great.
I use a lot of imaginary people when sorting my head out. They’re very useful.
#10: Vlad Dolezal – making personal development fun
In my experience, creative burnout comes when you keep forcing yourself into working on something you no longer feel passionate about. Acknowledge that, and either move on to something else, or find a new angle that will get you excited again!
Section #4: Recharging Your Creative Batteries
I don’t put too much pressure on myself to create. When I’m not feeling creative, I spend time doing things such as exercising, reading and just having fun. I find these activities recharge my batteries and, after not long, I’m ready to return to whatever creative projects I have on the go with new ideas and fresh energy.
#12: Hunter Nuttall – Personal Development for Polymaths
Bill Murray gave the answer to this problem in Groundhog Day: “Anything different is good.” When you start feeling burned out, shake up your routine to break familiar patterns. At work, try working on different types of projects, during different hours, in a different location, with different people, in a different way. After work, visit new places, meet new people, do new things. Force your subconscious to wonder, “What the hell are they doing?” The creative juices will soon begin flowing.
#13: Cath Duncan – Agile Career Coach
I’ve always found that dividing my work into “creative” and “procedural” work works well for me. Then, when I feel creatively tired or burned out, I switch to doing my procedural work and I find that this re-charges me and I’m ready to go back to creative work after a day or two. Running and sleeping also re-charges my creative juices.
I recently read Tony Schwartz’s awesome book, “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working” and this confirmed what I’d intuitively been practicing. Tony explains how we re-charge our energy (and increase our overall energy capacity) when we work in waves, switching from short periods of intense work to short periods of rest/ play and back again. We also re-charge our energy when we switch the energy channels that we’re using, as we do when we take a break from writing and go for a run. It’s still active energy expenditure when we run, but because it’s a different channel, running restores our creative/ writing energy.
#14: Marissa Bracke
Ironically, creative burnout for me occurs when I’ve not been creating enough. Reading other peoples’ articles and info products stokes my creative fires, but too much of it–or consumption to the complete exclusion of creative effort–swallows up my own creative flame entirely. I feel creatively burned out when I consume too much content.
Avoiding burnout means striking the right balance between consuming others’ content and creating my own. When I’ve gone too far in the direction of consumption and need to get my creative spark burning again, I have to focus on giving myself time and space for my own creative pursuits. I have to re-attune to my own creative voice and nurture it, rather than burying it in other peoples’ content. It’s all about balance. (Isn’t it always?)
#15: Tara Sophia Mohr – Wise Living
- Resisting your creative genius’ lead, being afraid to follow it toward the unknown. Courage and trust are the remedies.
- Not dealing with something important in your emotional life and numbing out. Stay creative by staying in touch with your heart.
- Withering due to poor conditions. Your creative self is like a plant: it needs the right conditions to flourish. Give it the sights, sounds, and daily rituals that inspire it. That includes noticing when your creativity speaks and listening then – not just when it’s convenient for you. Pull over the car, get out of the tub, and pay attention to your creative voice.
Section #5: Establishing a Strong Creative Structure
I limit myself to doing one to-do list item per day. Nothing more. Luckily my business partner and administrative staff handle emails, customer support issues, website development projects, etc. so I can focus solely on creative endeavors. Sometimes I’ll work a 16 hour day and be really tired, but I can’t remember the last time I felt really burned out. Another large reason that I rarely experience burnout is that I let myself sleep in as late as I want to. For me that’s been key.
#17: Kat Eden – who offers health and lifestyle coaching at Body Incredible
You’ve heard this before, but set boundaries and STICK TO THEM. I know, I know, there’s so much you’d love to finish (or even start), that you just can’t help switch the computer on for at least an hour or two every days, but I GUARANTEE you will work more effectively – and enjoy it more – if you have computer and creativity-free days. It took me 6 months to stick to ‘no technology Sundays’, but these days I swear by my downtime and I really do look forward to jumping back into creative work come Monday morning. Step two is ‘no technology weekends!’ – yikes!
#18: Jonathan Fields – JonathanFields.com
Create in intense bursts. Could be anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Then, step completely away from your creative bouts and set aside recovery time, where you deliberately flush your mind of the topic around which you are creating. And, while you’re in that disconnected recovery-phase, be sure to carry some kind of spontaneous note-taking device (voice recorder, iphone app, moleskine), so you can quickly save any creative ideas that come to you spontaneously and return to your recovery phase, knowing you’ve got the seed for your next creative burst safely on-deck.
For me, the key is variety. I tend to have a number of projects on the go at any one time, of different sizes and complexity, and in different media. Then try to focus on just one at any one time, whether that’s for 15 minutes or a few weeks, so I can make significant progress.
When I get close to burnout or feeling anxious and overwhelmed with a larger project – like writing a book say – I switch to something very small and do-able. For example, taking a few photos out in the woods, or writing a haiku, or making an Artist Trading Card (ATC) or two, or baking chocolate brownies. Something I can start, finish, and enjoy creating in between, without pressure or expectation.
Just walking is an amazing meditation I find too, the rhythm of it helps my thoughts settle and my energy regather for the larger task so I can return refreshed. Works wonders for me.
I think to avoid creative burnout we need to just take projects at the pace they evolve, and if we need a break or a change of scene for a while, to just take that without beating ourselves up or feeling guilty.
#20: James Chartrand – offering company website design from Men with Pens
I don’t believe I suffer from creative burnout – I’m not lacking for ideas or creativity! But I have had times when I’ve felt tapped out and like I’ve lost my spark. The solution involved combining a few strategies:
I determined my optimal creative hours and write only during that time. The minute I start to feel even a little tired, I stop – that’s it for the day. I go play with my kids, I read some fiction, I get out for a walk or some chilling in the sun. Balance is important.
I never force myself to write. I feel doing so is an exercise in self-punishment and create additional pressure to perform. I simply accept that some days it’s just not working and that tomorrow’s another day. It relieves the pressure, lets me acknowledge I’ve done my best for the moment and allows me move on. Why force yourself to do anything?
I target back into my internal validation. My top creativity comes when I KNOW my work is good and when I don’t need anyone to tell me when I’ve done well. The second I start to listen to other people’s opinions and externalize approval, I start to do crappy work. Knowing you’re awesome comes from within – not from what other people think of you.
#21: Deb NG - Kommein
It’s been my experience that I feel burnt when I take on projects that I either don’t enjoy or don’t enjoy anymore. I also burnout when I take on too much work and forget to take time for myself. So my tips for avoiding burnout are:
Don’t take projects you know you won’t enjoy. I know we sometimes sell our souls for a paycheck, but it’s not always worth it. When I take on projects I’m not feeling I end up procrastinating and then burning the midnight oil. It’s important to know when to say no, even if it means we have to pass up a paying opportunity.
Also, balance is important. I have learned that no matter how busy I get, my family and I come first. I take a long walk every morning for exercise and I make sure to have my family time. We enjoy dinner together, and have game or movie nights. If I have work to complete at the end of the day, I do it after family time. I also go out to lunch every now and then with friends, and enjoy being part of a local book club and dine out with “the girls” once per month as well. Having these little distractions create balance in my day and keep me from burning out. In other words, all work and no play leads to burnout.
#22: Pace Smith – Freak Revolution
I separate my creative tasks from my non-creative tasks. Each day, I start by planning what I’m going to do that day. I schedule the creative tasks first and the non-creative tasks at the end. When my creative energy runs out, I move on to the non-creative tasks. Since I already planned them out, I don’t have to think about what to do, I just have to follow the plan. I switch from Master mode to Slave mode. (:
Section #6: Getting Away From Your Work
#23: Lorna Cowie
- Go for a walk. Get out of the house and just walk. Be it a mundane trip to the shops or just around the block, it clears the head and helps you not think!
- I bake. Preferably cakes. By the time I have finished I have stopped thinking about what I need to do thus I have a clear head to start again and I have cake!
- Work on something else. If you have been poking at a project for three hours, just file it away and work on something else, be it fun or another project.
- Oddly, but this is me, clean! A clean bathroom is a clean mind! The more bleach the better. Clean your desk or work area, take time to organise those piles of paper you have been meaning to do for weeks.
- Reading also helps. A nice cup of tea and an hour’s reading on the sofa is a wonderful thing.
- Pets! If you have any, play with them. Not only will it relax you, they will adore the extra attention you give them. The same goes for your other half! Though don’t tell them I lumped them with pets.
#24: Sid Savara – Check out Sid’s free personal development course
I love getting out into the mountains, where it’s quiet and I can recharge my batteries while getting some exercise. Living in Hawaii, I can look out at spectacular ocean views from the summit and really get some perspective.
The best part? Many evenings I’ll come home after a hike, fully energized and ready to go – and my writing just flows out of me effortlessly.
#25: Diggy – Upgrade Reality
After blogging for 2 years I can honestly say that there is no way to avoid creative burnout. As a writer, you will get tired of writing at some point and for some it is sooner and more often than for others.
The only way I know to deal with it and to get my inspiration back is to take a break from writing when I feel burnt out. I stop writing completely for 4-8 weeks and just enjoy or focus on other things. After that re-energizing period I am full of ideas and ready to start writing like a machine again.
A good idea is to always have enough content for those 4-8 weeks, so if you do take a break, you can just continue to publish your usual schedule and your readers will never know.
#26: Nathalie Lussier, who blogs about Going Raw on Raw Foods Witch
Here are a few ways that I have used to avoid creative burnout over my years of blogging and running a content based business. The first is to find time to totally disconnect from the work – that’s when I get my best ideas: at the beach, in the shower, or before I fall asleep for a nap. The second is to re-engage with things that spur my creativity like books, artwork, music, other blogs, etc. Another trick that’s been really helpful in keeping the content creation machine going is to plan some of my content ahead of time, which means shorter bursts of creativity required at one time. That way when it’s time to write or produce video, it’s just a matter of fleshing out an existing idea.
#27: Andy Hayes, founder of the site, Dream Travel Jobs
I suppose it’s a cliché for “the travel guy” to tell you to go and take a break, but hear me out. You don’t need to travel around the world to get a break from your routine. Why not go see some artwork at a local museum that is popular with the tourists but you’ve never been? Take a daytrip somewhere fun and interesting – maybe even doing something a little out of your comfort zone. Leave those familiar ruts and grooves behind and look at something new. You’ll be surprised what you find, and in particular what you’ll find waiting for you when you get back. Working hard pays off, but working too hard will break you, guaranteed.
Section #7: Accepting and Dealing With Burnout
#28: Naomi Dunford – an expert on how to become rich and famous on the internet
How do I avoid creative burnout? I don’t. I have finally come to accept that creative burnout is a basically unavoidable part of the process. Instead of avoiding it, I try to put my energies into making sure my burnout doesn’t impact other people, and into planning for recovery.
As far as recovery advice goes, I recommend Vegas, Paris, and trashy novels. Your mileage may vary.
#29: Sunny Bharel – email@example.com
Who hasn’t come across a creative burnout every once in a while? Yet, sometimes you cannot afford to wait it out. Below are a few tips which in my experience, help alleviate the situation and get your creative juices flowing:
- Listen to classical music
- Take a walk down the market and observe people at a busy traffic crossing.
- Play with your pet dog/cat.
- Call and tell your loved ones how you miss them.
- Cuddle up & make love – it releases endorphins and helps you relax.
- Indulge in your favorite food craving.
Hope these help you as much as they do help me. I would be glad to know what worked and what didn’t at firstname.lastname@example.org
#30: Jade Craven – JadeCraven.com
How do you avoid creative burnout? You can’t. Well, I can’t. I may have just taken a month off because I was that burnt out. And it was during that month where I got offer a brilliant JV opportunity and just get off my arse to get some creative awesomeness done.
.What you can do is :
- Learn to understand the signs of creative burn out and figure out what you can cut back. I’ve always identified my core tasks as being my blog and newsletter but I pushed too hard for too long and have been unable to keep up with those.
- Hire a coach. In the past two weeks I’ve talked to Charlie Gilkey and Catherine Caine and they’ve helped me push past the mental limitations my creative exhaustion had placed on me.
- Have work related stuff to do in case you burn out. I’ve spent most of my time reading business books and writing silly notes in the margins. They’ve helped spark my creativity and get back in the zone.
- Have a group of friends at the same level as you to talk to. I’m very fortunate in that I am friends with people who are at my level or who are way above me. They have helped me navigate my way through the burnout.
Most of all? Be kind. Beating yourself up won’t accomplish anything other than making yourself feel bad.
Found this post helpful? For tons of practical, focused advice on getting your creative juices flowing and your creative business running smoothly, check out The Creativity Toolbox – on sale until midnight on Friday 10th (then it’s off the shelves for a couple of weeks – and coming back pricier!)
Previous post: The Creativity Toolbox: What You Need to Be Productive and Creative
Next post: Last Chance to Get The Creativity Toolbox at $27