It seems like burnout is the new black. Everywhere you turn, people are talking about their experiences with burnout or exhibiting some pretty obvious symptoms.
Writers aren’t impervious to the affliction.
You can definitely deal with burnout in the traditional ways of alcohol and a good venting session with your friends. But there are other ways of dealing with burnout that can actually help you creatively once you get to the other side.
And that’s what this article is about, but first…
A Quick Word on Creative Burnout vs. “Writer’s Block”
I did a bit of research and found that there is actually a difference between the two. Writer’s block is when you just kind of get stuck, so you avoid your work in progress for a while, then you get going again. Or you push through the wall, knowing that crappy words are better than no words, and soon enough you find yourself merrily writing again.
Creative burnout, on the other hand, is a bit more involved. Not only are you stuck and unable to write, but you don’t even want to try. It’s a heavier weight of avoidance than feeling stuck or blocked. Creative burnout isn’t that different from feeling burnt out in general. However, as creative people, one of the ways we connect with life and heal ourselves is through our art. If we can’t make that connection, then we really feel adrift.
So, what do you do when you’re experiencing burnout, creative or otherwise?
1. Get Moving
If you follow my Book Nook column, you may remember that I recently shared about reading a book on burnout. This book is full of scientific explanations of how and why our bodies experience and deal with burnout. The number one tip they give for beating burnout is to get moving. And I have to mention it because tons of other researchers also list this as the best way of dealing with burnout.
There are tons of options. Personally, I’ve been walking a few times a week and I’ve been doing a fantastic Yoga Ritual series on the Yoga with Adriene members site. But she also has some free yoga videos for writers: Yoga for Writers, Yoga for Creativity, and Awaken the Artist Within, to name a few.
This combination has a significance for me that has helped me begin to beat creative burnout. First off, during my walks, I listen to audiobooks, so I have an opportunity to consume art while I am exercising (see below). Or I can simply observe nature and draw inspiration from the sites and sounds around me. Secondly, the yoga series I am doing builds in five minutes of meditation. I’m horrible at just sitting still, but it has helped forge a stronger mind-body connection that is useful for creative endeavors.
Just throwing it out there. Find your own way of moving.
2. Turn on Some Tunes
I’ve seen that the music we listen to in high school holds a special significance for us throughout our lives. Perhaps this is because high school and early adulthood are when we’re really learning who we are as people. We’re developing our own tastes.
If I’m feeling angsty, I’ll turn on GreenDay’s American Idiot or if I’m feeling soulful and contemplative, I’ll turn on Brandi Carlile’s The Story and find myself in a whole other frame of mind that wants to grab a pen and put down some thoughts and feelings. These words might be nothing or they might turn into something.
Further, music leads to dancing, which is one of our earliest ways of creative expression. It’s something we were able to manage before we were able to put pen to paper or crayon to coloring book and explore.
3. Consume Art Visually
Lots of museums have digital exhibits of their collections that are available online for free. Start Googling some of your favorite painters or meet some new ones. Let their visual representation of what they saw in the world speak to you. Listen. See what it says. See what you have to say back.
The purpose of art is to provoke a response. The artist felt something when they turned to their medium and created something with the intent of parlaying that feeling into some consumer of their art. You.
Maybe it changes the way you think of the color blue. Or maybe a painting inspires a story.
Think of art like food. You have to consume good food in order to have energy. You need to consume art in order to expend your creative energy.
If you want some extra credit, get yourself a blank notebook and fill it with images, words, or whatever speaks to you. Look at it often. Maybe even write about what is speaking to you.
4. Do Something Writing Adjacent
This is the number one bit of advice that I give my coaching students when they feel stuck, but I think it would also be helpful for when you are so blocked you can’t even get started. This is a good time to go down that research rabbit hole. If you find something that interests you, read about it! It will quite possibly inspire you to begin writing at some point.
Check out the comp books and movies for the stories you’ve wanted to write in the past. See what happens.
5. Just Take a Break
Sometimes you just need to walk away for a bit. It’ll help clear your mind. It’ll alleviate the pressure to create when you can’t. Beating yourself up for not creating is only going to compound matters.
If it helps, maybe put a date on it. “I’m going on a creative hiatus for three weeks,” then don’t open your work in progress during that time. Tell your creative accountability buddies that you are taking a break for a bit to refocus so that they aren’t trying to be helpful by checking in.
And during that break, do other things to help recenter and refocus yourself.
You won’t get rid of creative burnout overnight. But it’s all about baby steps and soon you’ll be running and flying.
Tell us in the comments: How do you deal with burnout?
Lori Walker is the Operations Maven at DIY MFA. Though she’s fallen off the wagon as a writer, she’s hoping to return to writing essays (perhaps even a novel!) through her involvement with DIY MFA. She is also Launch Manager, Web Editor, and Podcast Producer for DIY MFA and a Book Coach. She resides in Smalltown, Oklahoma, with her husband and their cat, Joan Didion. You can follow her on Instagram at @LoriTheWriter.