Standing Up to Creative Burnout

Nova Scotia is a province with four very distinct seasons. Seeing as there are only twelve months of the year, we find ourselves in seasonal transition about once every three months. As a creative person, my practice also goes through different “seasons”, and just as some seasons, like summer, tend to be more enjoyable than others (ahem..winter) not all seasons of my creative practice are filled with easy, breezy, summer days.

Over time, I have come to identify different points throughout the year where I find myself more motivated and better able to focus on my work. For me, Fall has consistently been the time of year that my productivity peeks and I tend to take the greatest risks in progressing my work. However, I have also noticed that following periods of high productivity, it has been difficult to avoid the looming plague of burnout. I used to be really hard on myself when faced with burnout, and feel anxious that I may never find my way out of my creative rut. Over the past few months I have been dealing with some pretty extreme burnout, but this time have approached my escape route a little bit differently.

I wanted to share a some insight into some of the strategies I’ve been incorporating in attempt to overcome creative burnout:

1) Remember it’s just a season that will pass

It feels cliche to write this, but honestly, it’s really crucial to be kind to yourself during a creative rut. If we could all work at peak levels of creativity and productivity all of the time, I don’t believe that anyone would ever create anything truly groundbreaking or innovative. We need to build up to and work towards creating something we’re happy with, and usually making a bunch of work we’re unhappy with along the way is simply part of the process. I remember someone telling me years ago when I was in a rut that “you have to make a bunch of really “bad” work before you can make “good” work”. The most important (but often hardest) part is to not give up; remember that a creative rut is just temporary, and like any season, will eventually pass.

2) Commit to a new habit

Commitment is vital to any creative practice, and part of this commitment is weathering the storms, and learning resiliency. Adopt a new habit to help keep yourself moving instead of standing still. In effort to keep my creative juices flowing over the past few months as I’ve been battling a rut, I started writing—every single day. I took inspiration from the well-known book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, and made the commitment to write three full pages of shorthand each day, no excuses. Forcing myself to just get something down on the page, even when it felt like the most daunting and tedious task in the universe, has helped me push through a pretty muddled headspace, and into greater clarity. Committing to a new habit will hold you accountable to showing up, and can be a preventative measure for indulging in excuses. Maybe you decide to draw, or read, or meditate for ten minutes each day! Whatever you choose, stick to it.

3) Get outside

Not everyone may be as enthusiastic about this one as I am, but I will preach away anyway: get outside. Taking some time to breathe in fresh air can do absolute wonders for clearing your head and boosting both physical and mental energy. If you follow me on Instagram, you may already know I am an early bird and avid runner; early mornings are reserved for spending time outdoors to move my body. You don’t have to do anything strenuous though; just take a nice walk through your neighbourhood, or try commuting home from work by foot a few times per week. Getting fresh air is such an easy and energizing way to boost your mood and begin to strengthen your mind-body connection. During the winter, I admittedly become a major homebody, but making a point embrace the season, even if it means doubling up my socks and mittens, has been extremely helpful. It’s also really inspiring to explore throughout the winter places you frequent during the summer. Seasonal changes in nature can be really fascinating. I love going to the beach in any season; watching the sea grass change from lush and green in summer, to golden in the fall, to brittle and frozen in winter, never fails to captivate me.

4) Refocus your creativity

Sometimes hearing someone say “just make something for fun!” can be as aggravating and unhelpful as someone saying “just lighten up!” when you’re anxious or worried about something really important to you. When in a creative rut, sometimes it’s just really darn hard to make any work at all—and that’s okay; you don’t have to. What’s important though, is to not lose sight of your creativity; try refocusing it After my show of sculptural works opened in January, I could not bring myself to do studio work for weeks, even if it was to make a few pieces of simple jewellery “for fun”. In hindsight maybe I should have tried to, but I didn’t, and the world didn’t stop, my business didn’t fold, and I’m back and at it again now. 

In the weeks of my deepest burnout, my hands were idle and lost, so I darned socks. That’s right; I swapped my jewellery tools for a needle and thread, and darned socks. I also made a little makeshift loom and tried my hand at some very amateur weaving—just for fun. Both of these activities satisfied my creative inclinations, while allowing my burnt out metalsmith take a rest. 

We’re now halfway through March, and I’m very excited to report I’m happily back at my jeweller’s bench. All my socks are mended, and I’m back to working with metal. I have slowly but surely found my way back to the place that brings me the greatest joy. In easing my way back into my studio routine, I have indeed made a few pieces “just for fun” once I felt ready, and they actually turned out to be pieces I will soon produce in regular production! Things are falling back into place.

I want to emphasize that I am in no way an expert at all this, and I don’t want to minimize the depth of emotional agony that a creative rut can inflict. However, I know I’m not alone in struggling with creative burnout, and if you’re someone who has never dealt with it, I’d like to know your secrets. I just wanted to share some of the things I’ve found helpful in moving through tough periods of creative lacklustre -a topic that in my opinion doesn’t get talked about openly or often enough. It’s not easy, but eventually, you’ll make it through to the next season!

Thanks for reading! :)