Updated: Jan 30
It is a cold Thursday. You sit restive at your desk or bed, lamenting over your newfound (or previously forgotten) task. Illuminated by fluorescent lighting or accompanied by soft background music, you attempt to augment something that sits in front of you. Perhaps it is a passion project that has fizzled out, or a literary itch you can’t scratch, no matter how much you try. You wonder why brushstrokes on paper or the clicks of a keyboard (formerly enjoyable activities), now seem tedious, or even purposeless. All too quickly, the tasks you used to be excited about start to fill you with dread. If any of these symptoms resonate with you, creative burnout has struck!
I’ll be the first to admit that creative burnout can be a sneaky phenomenon. It’ll creep up on you in small ways: when homework assignments and appointments get in the way; when every single article or collage starts to look eerily the same; when opening up your sketchbook or laptop doesn’t fill you with the same giddiness it used to. If none of these symptoms sound familiar to you, that’s more than okay! Burnout impacts each person differently, and no indicator is invalid. No matter where your burnout falls on the scale of severity, being hit with it hurts.
Burnout can be hard on an artist or writer. Its impacts range from a lack of inspiration to a desire to quit your craft altogether. In my opinion, the most damaging impact of creative burnout is insecurity. When I produce one piece that isn’t as effective as it could be, I can lose confidence in my ability to produce high quality work. When my writing starts to feel uninspired, I begin to have thoughts such as, “I could never create anything like that again,” “What happened to me? I used to be so much better,” or, “My work is nowhere near good enough anymore.”
Oftentimes, a person's creations are an extension of themselves– a collage of feelings and ideas that can’t be conveyed otherwise. Since your art and your existence are so intimately intertwined, it can be difficult to maintain a sense of self during periods of innovative stalemate. Despite this, you can face up to your creative burnout with few strategies.
Solutions for creative burnout can look different on each person. In some scenarios, all it takes is a reminder of why you do what you do. The “why” behind every person’s journey is different, but we all do things because of love. Even when buried or broken, your love for your craft never truly dies. Sometimes, all it takes to reinvigorate yourself is revisiting your favorite books that made you grow fond of syntax, or your favorite movie that led to your adoration for graphic design. Go back into the things that initially led you to love your craft– often, they can invigorate your passion again and again.
Instead of using your old pieces as material to lament over, use them as proof that you are more than capable of making something wonderful. Moreover, know that your capability does not get whisked away when burnout comes into town. Despite what your mind may tell you, dwindling motivation does not mean you are any less of a creative person. In many circumstances, it helps to think of a time when creation gave you joy. While good work can use negative emotions as its muse, it is joy that encourages an artist or writer to continue on. This joy does not have to be immediate, or ecstatic, or public. The triumph that comes from finally expressing an idea, or giving voice to your side of the story is an unmatched sensation. Even though the lows of burnout are discouraging, the highs that come with constructing beauty are ultimately worth it.
Creative burnout is the monster under the bed for any writer or artist. It’s the thing that lurks in the dark when the lights of innovation turn off. It can come and go as it pleases, sometimes unannounced, but always unappreciated. Whenever it grabs you and pulls you in, remember that it is temporary. What is permanent is you. Take a break when you need to, but always remember your love for what you do. Let your pride in past accomplishments serve as motivation to keep going. Let your joy for the things you wish to make help you to push through this tough period. Let it permeate through everything you go on to create.