Have you ever been super dehydrated, and no matter how much water you drink, your lips are still chapped and your throat is still dry? That's how creative burnout feels to me, and I see it as something totally different from creative block. Feeling blocked is a problem solved by perseverance and innovation, but working harder will only make burnout worse. The ideal solution to burnout is a vacation so that you can restore your fire, but that’s not always realistic, so here are some suggestions for everyday life.
Follow that stream of distraction for a little while.
You know that thing you're doing while you're supposed to be doing that other thing that's burning you out? Maybe you're supposed to be building a website for a client, but you suddenly have this idea for a book nagging at you. Instead of feeling like you’re a loser with no focus, think of this this way: you’ve tapped into a new creative vein, and you owe it to yourself to see where it goes. It doesn't mean you're giving up on your passion and starting anew. You'd be surprised what new inspiration following a new idea can bring to the rest of your life, including that work that's making you feel stuck. Fighting against burnout is like swimming upstream. Just let go and ride the rapid of that other new idea for a while.
Admit it to yourself and then to someone else.
For me, the hardest part of feeling burnt out is that I never want to admit it, even to myself. Like many creative people, I charge into new creative projects with boundless energy, refusing to believe I could ever lose steam because I've got inspiration and drive coming out of my eyeballs. A few months later, when I'm stuck and thinking of giving up, that same bullheaded approach I took to starting the project is what slows me down the most. I refuse to believe I'm feeling burnt out, and instead charge ahead even though a break is what I need the most. If you're ever in this spot, hold yourself accountable. Look in the mirror and say it out loud: "I'm feeling burnt out. I'm tired, and I don't know where to look for inspiration that will reinvigorate me.” And then tell a friend. Admit it out loud, make it real, and that will make it much easier to face.
Test new organizational systems or daily routines.
Do you have a bag of chips every day after lunch? Have an apple instead. Do something different to break up your routine, even something small. Being in a rut creatively can go hand-in-hand with being in a rut in your lifestyle. You’re not experiencing anything new everyday, so you’re not coming up with new ideas either. Do you write a to-do list every morning? Try breaking it into three sections: “must do immediately,” “need to do at some point,” and “would like to do.” After every one of the first two sections, do a “would like to do” as a reward. You’ll be productive, and maybe stoke a new creative fire along the way.
Back-stalk yourself creatively.
Do you ever look back at old pictures of yourself on Facebook and feel inspired to start a new exercise routine when you remember how good your arms looked two summers ago? Do the same thing with your own creative work. Look back at things you’ve made in the past with fresh eyes, and maybe you’ll be inspired to improve upon it or feel inspired to make something else. It will also remind of the feeling you had when you made it— and maybe bring back some creative fervor for new projects.
Let it run its course.
If the only way out for you is through, don’t give up on yourself or get consumed by negative feelings or self-doubt in the meantime. Go for a run and take a shower. Play with your dog. Do something soothing with a repetitive motion, like coloring or knitting. Think about what it is that is burning you out and mull it over. Don’t ignore it or try to force through it. Remember that you love to do what you do, and how proud the fifteen-year-old version of yourself would be of what you’re doing today. Have faith that creative energy will come back. Holding onto even a thread of that will pull you through.
When was the last time you experienced burnout, and what did you do to bounce back?