How Prevent Creative Burnout

That’s not exactly the kind of “burn” I meant…

Long-term projects take on many forms: be it art, writing or music. It’s anything that a creator pours their soul into day after day after day for long periods of time. This includes things that may begin as hobbies that turn into something more serious over time.

Because it takes patience, nurturing and dedication to see a long term project through, all creators run up against the dreaded creative burnout or writer’s block at sometime in their life.

Back when I started my first webcomic project, it came in a flurry of excitement… only to leave me overwhelmed and burned out within the first three months.

From my experience, three months seems to be a fairly standard number for your first wave of “long-term project drop-outs.”

By that time, a number of things may have happened with the creator:

  • Their initial excitement for the project has worn off
  • They may not be getting as much public response as they had hoped they would
  • They came out with a flurry of creativity at the beginning and worked themselves out of “inspiration”
  • They discovered that the amount of work & time in up keeping their project was more than they could handle
  • They didn’t plan ahead and have now hit a dead end in what to write
  • They’ve missed a number of updates or personal deadlines due to any of the above reasons and have lost confidence in their ability to continue the project
  • Real life comes a-calling as it tends to do (curse it!)

In my experience, many of these feelings are perfectly normal for ANY long term art project you may choose to undertake. There are certain stages where every creator feels like throwing up the HIATUS sign and walking away in disgust at the pile of rubbish that they had gazed ahead at in starry-eyed wonder just a few months back.

If you’ve found yourself in this soul-telling situation, you’ll know the feeling I’m describing. You’re burned out. The project feels like it has no worth to yourself or any other breathing being on the planet. You’re the biggest failure ever in the eyes of the web community. And you just want to either fade away into obscurity or rip down your blog or Deviant Art account in a fury of frustration.

We’ve all been there, including me. I don’t go through this as often as I used to, for whatever reasons – but there was a time that I teetered on pulling my projects from the web. Then, at the last minute, someone would come to rescue my sanity and I would sit down and force myself to continue on.

I have to say that looking back over the years, I’m so glad that I never gave into my doubts and artistic frustrations. I would have lost out on so much… not just in my own personal artistic development but in all the friends I’ve made through my projects. Every time I find my mind swayed towards the futility of it all, I remind myself why I’m doing this all in the first place. Because I love it.

What do I suggest to prevent creative burnout?

As I said before, I think that no matter what we do, eventually we hit a point as creators where we question the meaning of our work. You could have a ton of people telling you that you’re the most wonderful thing since Photoshop… but unless you believe in yourself, your writing, your art, your world or your characters, nothing anyone is going to say to you will convince you to see it otherwise.

~~} Have faith in your work. Remember to love your creations. Remember the wonder of exploring your characters, world, music or your writing, no matter what type it may be.

~~} Approach your work through the eyes of your audience. Shove aside all personal criticism and just look or listen to your work.

Sometimes I do this with Wayrift. I’ll finish a page, put it away for a little while… then open it up again, pretending I’m a reader. You may think it’s silly, but to put yourself in the position of your audience looking at your work is very important. Sometimes I have a particular reader in mind when I do this (if I know a certain character is a favorite with a reader) – and I imagine their emotional reaction to what I’ve just created. Doing this helps me to appreciate my own work in a way that is outside of the Creator’s Cling.

~~} Make sure that your creative endeavors are not eating up all your spare time… if they are, you’re certainly going to burn out. In order to create, you must have input that sparks inspiration. This means that you have to go out and experience life, draw from it all that you can and bring back to the sketch pad, computer or scripting page.

Hang out with friends. Read a good book. Watch a good movie. Read other webcomics. Take a walk or play your favorite sport. Play a good game. Whatever inspires you and gives you new materials or an outlook. It’s important to have time away from creation and a balanced life outside of your work.

~~} Beside that, I think it’s very important to set realistic goals for yourself. If you find yourself working too hard to make self-set deadlines, then maybe you should consider cutting back your schedule. It’s far better to work a little less than to burn out and quit working completely.

If you quit, you run the risk of losing momentum for your project completely. So unless real life is really bogging you down, my suggestion is to fight the artist-blues and keep plugging away at it. In the end, when you can look back on the final outcomes of your hard work, you’ll be glad that you did.