Friday, May 4, 2012

Avoiding Creative Burnout

Creative burnout can bring your productivity to a halt. You’re most prone to it when you isolate yourself from others, get poor or no feedback, and work long hours with little to show for it.

Creative burnout isn’t writer’s block. In the former, you can’t get ideas. Your brain is stymied. In the latter, you simply can’t write. The words just won’t come. When you’re burned out, you lose your energy and spontaneity and become depressed and detached. Let’s face it, when you run out of ideas, you’ve run out of what drives you as a writer.

You’re not a machine that can be fixed by replacing some worn-out parts—although with transplants these days, that’s even possible. In order to restore your brain, you have to restore your body and your psyche. In this case it pays to adhere to that old proverb, “Know thyself.” Try to remember when this problem hit you last and how you solved it. If it’s any consolation, just about every writer experiences a dry spell every once in a while.

Creative burnout can have multiple causes. The Number One cause is not letting yourself go—forcing yourself to work to fit a preconceived notion of a writer’s life. No two writers work the same way, even though all end up at the same place. Some seem like they’re not working at all while others seem to be always working.

Second only to that is tuning out everyone around you. Listening to others will inspire you to come up with your own ideas—bounce them off of family and friends.

Yes, writing is a skill, but that doesn’t mean to you have be a slave to technique. That has its place in writing, but not at the idea stage. Focusing on technique too early often leads to burnout.

Do you set your expectations too high? Lofty goals are fine but are usually hard to accomplish. Setting unattainable goals leads to failure, and constant failure leads to depression which leads to creative burnout.

Don’t evaluate your work until you’re finished. Too many writers start out with a negative attitude and never give their work a chance. Don’t judge yourself too harshly.

The old saying “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” certainly applies here. Taking too little time for other diversions will create blocks to creativity, as will a prolonged illness or that of a loved one.

Lastly, you may have a hard time coming up with ideas if the ones you’ve already developed are constantly rejected by editors. That can wear any writer down.

Remember, creativity means taking a fresh look and seeing things that aren't obvious. Go back and take a look at some of your old ideas. Reread pieces you did that were successful. Try to remember how you came up with those ideas. As you grow as a writer, your ideas grow. Old ideas which didn’t seem worth developing may just turn out to be your next bestseller.

One of the first things that may get you out of the doldrums is to change your routine. Do things you don’t normally do—take walks, read new books—especially types you’re not used to reading—go to the movies. Expose yourself to other creative endeavors. Plan a new garden. Create some new recipes. Above all, relax your mind. Have fun and don’t worry about deadlines. Put life and work on hold for a short while.

Another way out of the creative abyss is to write. Yes, that’s right—write. But not what you normally do. Some recommend writing about yourself, but you’re already depressed and who needs to get further depressed? Try another type of writing. If you write non-fiction, try writing fiction. Short stories are a good place to start. Take a stab at science fiction or mystery or romance writing. Write a play—start out with a one-act. If you write fiction, why no write an article about writing, for example, how you started out.

By preparing for creative burnout, you've won half the battle. Like everyone else, you’re sure to go through some periods of drought when ideas just aren’t coming. Don’t despair. It happens to the best of us.

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