Honestly I am very bad about recognising when creative burnout is looming upon me – or even when I’ve full on driven myself into it. When I have trouble creating, often my first impulse is to focus harder, to try and figure it out, start a new project or bounce to another one in progress. . .
Anything but ‘recognise there might be a reason for this and take a break’, really.
That tends to mean I don’t recognise I’m getting burnt out until I’m fully ensnared in frustrating, exhausting, tear-worthy inability to dredge out words. I mean, layering yet more pressure on top of already failing motivation doesn’t help? Whaaa?
(I don’t recommend this method if you can avoid it; I’m still working on that myself.)
If I catch it early, when I’m still feeling listless and uninspired as opposed to thoroughly wrung dry of creative thought, it’s a little easier to deal with. Writing is so much of my life – I rarely get burned out fully, it’s more often that I’m burned out on a specific project or genre. Or even that a specific project is actively burning out my creative inspiration. (Really it’s likely the other way around – writing is so much of my life because I rarely burn out fully, instead writing is how I deal with burnout in other areas of my life.) So sometimes even just letting the current project lie or admitting it won’t work out and switching to something that catches my Muse with the sparkle of inspiration and I evade burnout.
Unfortunately the thing that keeps me at it the hardest when I feel my creative energy being sapped away is also what drains me the most harshly – my deadlines. Not so much deadlines imposed on me, because there are fairly few of those, but the ones I set myself. The I was going to post something today deadline. The but I wanted to write for this event deadline. The I said I would do this by tomorrow deadline.
And they’re hard to let go of! I’m stubborn, and it’s not always a good thing. When I really need to I can crunch through and finish something on time. (Last August I wrote an almost 18k story in about two and a half days, including editing time, because I had a deadline, and I love that story. Over that month I wrote 31 short stories totalling over 80k words, because I signed up for an Event. I am happy with most of them.) But when it’s not important I often find myself clutching just as hard to the but I said I would deadline that really doesn’t exist.
I use them to try and press myself into writing when inspiration is lacking, as though being driven harder will just make it appear, and really I should know better.
Instead I have to step away and go is this deadline really important? Heck, is it even really a deadline or just a goal I set for myself with literally no reason to cling to it? Even if it is a deadline for real, is it that important or is it something I should let go?
The majority of the time, the answer is Serena just let it go.
I’m getting better at doing just that – I think.
Sometimes a small break is enough – take some time to read something that sparks my imagination, play with the cat, go for a walk and look for pretty flowers – but sometimes it’s really not. Sometimes the Muse only needs a little bit of encouragement, some breathing room to think – even just hands busied with another task and a clearer mind. One that isn’t trying to hunt down ideas and bludgeon them onto the page.
Sometimes the Muse just needs a frigging break and it’s time to just listen to her and let her go off to have a cup of tea and a nap. She’ll tell me when, I just need to pay attention.
And rather than forcing myself to face up to writing when it’s just not there, it’s time for me to do something else. To say ‘I don’t have to write and it’s not working right now’ and instead take some time to do something relaxing, something inspiring, something that just makes me happy.
Spend an afternoon being really indulgent and sink into reading an epic length story. Pick up an entirely different type of creative project by crafting jewellery, making up a new recipe, pulling out a colouring book while I listen to an audiobook for a while.
What’s hardest for me isn’t motivating myself, it’s saying ‘it’s okay to not fight yourself on this right now’ when I’m not motivated. And you know what? It is.
Recharging my soul and letting the Muse rest makes me love writing so much more, makes me excited to write instead of looking at it like some kind of battle, makes achieving my set goals actively a joy again.