Perhaps the worst thing that any creative might experience is having a burnout. Writers, artists, musicians, and others face the same fate of having to choose where to exert their creative energies: sheer creative expression, or survival.
Many creatives start off with identifying steps on how to monetize their creative talents: ghostwriting and commission writing for writers, commission projects for artists, musical score samples, and many others. Today’s modern and unsung artist may be brimming with undeniable talent but they face the brutal reality of what that talent entails. We live in a world wherein talent needs to overcome scarcity. Creatives, of course, are not exempted from the need to pay bills and bring food on their plates.
Take Karl Marx, for example. Marx was a writer and eventually became well-known for his sharp critiques against the ills of capitalist society. However, he was also poor, and had a family to feed. In most cases, he had to go straight to his clients asking payment for his works that had already been published yet remained unpaid.
Imagine the shame one has to bear while knowing that they have every merit that renders their talent in their craft undeniable. For most creatives, especially those who have to deal with cheapskate clients, their prices can be brought down to mediocre rates that render their craft doubtful to be even called an “intellectual piece.”
This frustration over scarcity is one thing that blunders the creative industry, having to settle with unstable freelance projects and listing down every project they make not to develop their own savings, but to align their prices to the bills that are in dire need of paying. Most creatives often rely on loaning apps or agencies in order to get an advance as they wait for their clients to pay, and this very endeavor in itself is incredibly taxing.
Worst-case scenario, the energies for both eventually run out. And it is hard to get out of a rut.
Writer Nathalie Sejean defines creative burnout as an “injury,” not a fatality. This means that the event is not a means to tell whether you are indeed on the right track or not, nor is it a definition of your caliber as a creative professional.
Most writers like Scott Berkun and websites like Artwork Archive would tell you ways to overcome creative burnout, but what they need to understand is that today’s creatives are dealing with a socially-distant reality due to the restraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. Phrases like “Travel to unwind,” “Visit a friend,” and others might not be the best fit given today’s risks.
Here are my suggestions:
1. Schedule your personal projects
If you have time to manage your income-generating projects, you will also have time for your personal crafts. What makes personal crafts so important to a creative professional is the fact that you still get to have the time to create for yourself, and to better promote yourself as a continuously improving professional. This also helps you develop your own portfolio of works for other people to look at (especially your clients).
Aside from that, this makes for great practice especially if you want to explore your niche even more. Most importantly, it reminds you that you are not limited to your income-generating projects; you are a creative professional capable of retaining, redefining, and improving your own style.
Writers, work on making books of your own. Artists, develop your own galleries. Musicians, develop your first song or playlists. Once you allot time for your own projects, it will eventually open up new doors for you in the long run (and this time, the credit will be yours for the taking).
2. Screen breaks
Studies show that taking regular screen breaks increases your attention, productivity, and the overall quality of your work. It is absurd to labor through a project that comes from an exhausted, burnt-out version of yourself. This makes it so important to allow yourself a reset point wherein you get to re-strategize your approach and deal with your income-generating projects bearing the best quality of work your current professional caliber and expertise could possibly create.
Never allow yourself to work on a project with tiresome and weary energies. Always ensure that for every project, you give the best output you can muster in your given time-frame. In the end, we are only human.
So allow yourself a ten-minute, 25-minute, or even one-hour breaks and learn to admit that you are in need of a break. Recognize your behavior patterns and learn how to tell whether you are still in possession of all your faculties or not; this is focal to ensure that your work remains satisfying as you do it, not necessarily topnotch.
3. Get physical
Although they do not necessarily require any physical activity, creative projects can prove to be a challenging, mentally- and emotionally-taxing activity. We need to be able to let out steam in some way other than anything that involves our screens. Physical activity, therefore, become a necessity to rid ourselves of negative energies and sweating off the grinding pressure of our projects.
Try to keep the routine simple. If you find yourself in need of a break, or every time you feel that your focus becomes duller by the moment, try doing 10 push-ups to keep the blood pumping. If you feel like you need to take a walk, take a walk (though make sure your environment is well-secured and not too crowded). Just like how you are able to allot time for your personal projects, allot time for letting out steam for you to keep going.
4. Expose yourself to online forums
Join a Facebook Group, a Discord Chat, a Twitter Space or any other community that shares the same experience as you do. You can initially join as a passive member and read some notes coming from those who have more experience. Listening to your fellow professional also helps you better define yourself as a creative professional and may even become a great source of inspiration.
Find ways on how to make your creative activity a social convention. Don’t shy away from people seeing you as you work. Go Live via Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok and communicate with your followers (though you don’t necessarily have to respond to them). Having people watch you from a screen may prove to be an anxiety-driven roller coaster ride, but it can also be liberating in a sense that as you work, you also start to gain confidence over the fact that you can work as you are being seen and admired.
It’s not narcissism. It’s simply within our nature as a people to connect and socialize with one another.
5. Go through the process of being in a rut
Most of the time, creative professionals just can’t help but fall into the abyss of nothingness and the ultimate scarcity of ideas and inspiration. Shutting down is not necessarily normal; sometimes it just happens out of the blue. The worst part about this experience is the fact that we cannot even identify what may have caused this in the first place, and this prevents us from solving the problem.
The best thing we can do is to go through it. Take your long-hour naps, take a week-long shutdown. But never consider this as a form of laziness because there might be some factors that affect you from dealing with your workloads (e.g. it makes you feel dumb, you don’t find any sense nor relevance as to why you should do it). The statement “I don’t want to do it,” does not necessarily mean that you lack the discipline over work. It just means that you are simply not interested in it at the moment.
Allow time for reflection. Meditate with your thoughts. Re-strategize. Re-conceptualize. This is a time for evaluating your thoughts now more than ever.
Take as long as you need to. Build your way up to meet the best version of yourself again.
As you do so, you don’t have to apologize for any of it.
As a creative, I have worked my way into developing my own network of professionals that recognizes me and how well-embedded I am with my work. The best assurance I always give them is that I always look for projects that challenges me intellectually, and at the same time, provides me with the necessary hit of satisfaction as I finish their works for them. I view burnouts not as a weakness, but as an indication that I am still aware of my own welfare, and that I still know what I want to do and what I don’t want to do.
We just have to trust ourselves more than any other person because for one thing, other people simply won’t do that for us.
We have to learn how to take care of ourselves.
About the Author
John Thimoty Romero is a licensed professional teacher, a graduate of Philippine Normal University – Manila last 2017 as Bachelor of Secondary Education – Major in English. Upon his graduation, he received the Gawad Graciano Lopez – Jaena Co-Curricular Award for Campus Journalism.
He is the founder of Essays Against Mediocrity, a website dedicated to support independent authors, poets, and other content creators.