How to Battle Creative Burnout

burned outSometimes, being creative is a chore; just the thought of sitting down to write, pulling out my beloved camera, or even trying to figure out a dinner I haven’t made 100 times before is daunting, paralyzing and almost more than I can handle.

The last few weeks have been like this for me, I feel like I have been running full force and hit a creative block head on. Slowly, I have been feeling my way around the wall trying to find the other side. I find creativity is like water, it tends to ebb and flow, sometimes coming in a torrent and sometimes in a trickle so scarce you have to dig deep to find it.

It is hard to inspire creativity in others, especially in your family, when your own creativity is not flowing. It is very common to see people sacrificing their own creativity (and energy and sleep!) for others, not realizing that in the long run this hurts everyone. This isn’t to say you should focus on yourself to the exclusion and at the expense of others, but nurturing your own creative spirit is the key to a creative family – whether it be your immediate family, work family, or community.

These are some things I reflect on and strategies I use when I am feeling blocked creatively and I am sharing in hopes they will help you next time you feel creativity is a chore. These are also ideas you can suggest/use when you notice your loved ones fall into a creative slump.

Discover what is draining your creative energy. Sometimes the answer will surprise you. It might be an unresolved issue you have with someone, something going on at work, or an event or circumstance that you feel is out of your control. It could be something physical such as a lack of sunlight, not getting enough sleep, not eating properly. It could be a lack of creative stimulus. It could be a web of many different things that you need to untangle. This is usually the case with me, I spend so much time and energy taking care of everyone else I neglect the simple things that nourish me.

Change what you can, accept what you can’t. Once you have discovered what is blocking your creativity, sit down and figure out what you can change and what you can’t. Try to reverse the negative emotions you are feeling and use them in a positive way. Most changes are small and can lead to feeling better rather fast. Of course, if you leave things for too long, small issues can grow and grow, eventually requiring some serious soul searching and life evaluation. Take the time to do this, the longer you put it off the more uncomfortable it becomes and the less likely you are to do it – blockages in creativity are usually signs or symptoms, not causes.

Identify what changes you can make to put yourself in a more receptive, creative frame of mind and do them. Start with the small changes and build momentum and confidence.

There are some things you have no control over and the challenge is to just accept them. Fighting them or feeling guilty because you do not have control makes it hard for creativity to thrive; all your emotional and physical energy is directed at trying to remove an immoveable obstacle. Sometimes we have to just acknowledge that it is there and do our best to work around it.

A good example of this is other peoples’ attitudes. No matter how much we want to make people see our way, we can’t change someone who doesn’t have any desire to change. Wasting our energy and getting discouraged when we see no result is counterproductive and damaging to our creativity.

Examine Your expectations. What are your expectations surrounding your creativity and where do they come from? Do you hold yourself to a higher standard then everyone else? Or do you strive to meet the expectations of everybody else – regardless of how they match up with your hopes, dreams and desires?

What expectations do you have of your creativity?

Is it always there to be turned on at a moments notice?

Is it a tool?

Is it energy akin to a living thing that needs to be nurtured, protected and cared for?

Is it like a muscle or skill, requiring consistent use and training?

I feel my creativity is a skill to be nurtured, but regardless of how you feel, being able to define your relationship with creativity is important. It helps you realize that off-days and blockages are a part of the natural rhythm and that, as discouraging as it can be, it isn’t “just you.”

If you expect perfection in your creative endeavors it is very easy to decide it is too much work, or too difficult and just give up, or you might never start, because that’s easier than trying and not meeting our expectations. When you are faced with a creative block keep your expectations in check or throw them out the window and tell yourself to create, with no firm outcomes in mind.

Try different avenues of creativity. If you hit a wall, try going around it, or climb over it, or grab a shovel and start digging. Try a hobby or creative activity you are new to and approach it without expectations– it’s a good way to be creative because you are in a learners stage and it is easier to adopt a “let’s see what happens” attitude. Yesterday, I pulled out some charcoal and sand paper and proceeded to try and draw a picture. I never considered drawing to be a skill I posses, but in the end I had a glorious sludgy mess to scrape off the table and a picture that looked like, well, a black piece of sand paper. In the end I had:

  • One rather large pile of charcoal dust
  • A piece of sand paper that had been smeared in charcoal
  • No picture to speak of
  • A great time getting messy and trying something I had never tried before
  • A feeling of renewed creativity, of refreshment, like a calming creative breeze

My goal was simply to give it a shot and have some fun with no expectations – to this end, it was a resounding success.

Inspired, I moved on to my next “just-for-fun” project. I pulled out a picture I had taken at a wedding, grabbed some sandpaper and water colour paints, and took a crack at it. It went from this:

To this:

Scan of the final result. The photo was first sanded to give the paint something to adhere to. Water color paint was then applied over top of the photo.

A masterpiece? Not by a long shot! Creative? I think so. I never took art in school and never felt confident in any way with painting, drawing and that genre of art,so  just having the courage to try something new was liberating. I didn’t feel any pressure because I knew I have no training or experience, and therefore, no expectations except to enjoy myself.

Creativity feeds creativity, and that block I have had the past few weeks? It is starting to crumble. I hope this post can help the next time you are feeling a creative block. If you have any advice or words of wisdom to share about strategies that help you when you feel your creativity is blocked, I would love to hear them!

Posted in Creativity/Inspiration.

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