Creative Burnout is Not a Myth
and there’s a way to heal from it
Maybe creativity came easy to you. You could tap into it, people would praise you about it, and you never really questioned what made you creative and if it could ever stop.
And then maybe one day you woke up to realise you had lost your way to your creativity. Nobody ever mentioned that was a possibility and yet here you were, feeling dry inside, with a knot in the stomach, and fearing someone would realise you were no longer creative.
Maybe you thought it was gone and over.
Maybe you thought you had been a fraud all those years and that it was time to retrieve back into ‘normalitude’.
Maybe you felt life was not as charming without the sparkles of crazy that made you you.
Symptoms of a Burnout
Hi, my name is Nathalie and I’m a recovered creative in burnout.
Five years ago I was living in Los Angeles trying to write the smart, witty and ultra-low-budget screenplay that would give me my first break. I was living in Hollywood, driving on Sunset Boulevard, attending weekly Q&As with J.J. Abrams, Guillermo del Toro, or Joe Wright, and yet, I felt empty.
I had overcome odds and obstacles to be where I was, all I had to do was being creative and yet, I felt empty.
Every day I would tell people I was going to sit at my desk to write, every day I would sit at my desk to write, and every day I would write. And yet, I felt empty.
Ideas came from my right brain. Everything I wrote carried a purpose, a controlled intention, a hope for a reaction. And as I was writing I knew it lacked magic, spontaneity, and risk. In other words, it lacked creativity.
The Shame of Being a Creative who Doesn’t Feel Creative
After a few months at that rate, something started filling up my emptiness: shame. Shame for not being able to deliver. Shame for no longer feeling creative.
The more ashamed I felt, the more I would try to push back. I would work harder and force ideas onto the paper. I would write, and rewrite, and I would fail. Every moment of creation was painful and I started dreaming about taking a regular job, the one that pays because you show up and execute.
I was lost but I knew one thing: I should not talk about it. Even to myself.
When your identity is to be creative and your living depends on your ability to come up with original ideas, admitting you no longer feel creative is complicated.
Until that point in life, it had never occurred to me that I could wake-up and stop feeling creative but after months of inner fight, emptiness and shame, I started believing that that was it for me. I had dried up my creative well.
It took me a couple of years and a graphic novel to realise that I had not stopped being creative. I was experiencing a creative burnout.
I know, I know, burnout is the new trendy word. Everybody is on the verge of being in a burnout. That’s people’s way of showing they’re working super hard, and they’re very dedicated employees.
But being in a burnout is not a joke. It’s not a badge of honour. It’s an indicator that your life-force is drying up and your mental and physical health are in danger.
It’s not cool to be in a burnout. It’s painful and devastating.
And the tricky part is: it takes time to realise you’re experiencing a creative burnout.
You can still function. You can still come up with ideas and produce work that will satisfy your client, publisher, editor. But you know. You know that what you “created” came out of habits, tricks and skills rather than creativity.
And it could be ok but it’s not. Because you know relying on those skills and tricks and habits is the only thing you have left, and it’s just a matter of time until they stop being enough.
What you need is tap again into the volcano of creativity you use to trigger at will.
But that’s what a creative burnout does: it closes the door to the volcano.
No more access.
Healing Your Injury
There’s a way though. It is possible to unlock the gate and access your creativity again. It starts with destroying a myth.
The Myth is that you and I are creative. We are not creative. Creativity is not a gift given from the gods because we are special. We are not creative. But we have creativity within us.
Imagine that creativity is a hidden muscle. When you visualise creativity like a muscle, the obvious appears immediately:
a creative burnout is not a fatality, it’s an injury.
You haven’t dried up your well of creativity, you’ve overworked your creative muscle. You forgot to stretch it. You repeated too many times the same movements, over-developing sections and weakening others. And you probably didn’t nourish it with supplements.
We all do the same mistake. Athletes do it too.
That’s why they have coaches, experts, and doctors to help them heal and grow stronger.
Because you can grow stronger from an injury. And if the creative burnout is an injury, you can come back more creative from it.
By taking care of it.
The remedy lies in taking incremental and repetitive steps to get back on track. And seeing yourself as a professional athlete and your creativity as the chore muscle of your growth and success.
One of the most efficient technique I’ve used over the years, and that I’m currently using, is completing a daily creative challenge. A creative challenge is a creative outburst you commit to produce daily for a determined length of time: one week, one month or one year. You chose.
It’s free and accessible to anyone. You can decide to start a creative challenge today and you’ll effectively be taking the first step toward healing.
That being said, there are ways to ensure your daily creative challenge will provide you with the benefits you’re looking for: healing and/or strengthening your creative muscle.
You can recover from a creative burnout. But you need to want to.
If using your creativity matters to you, you need to invest on it, and commit to taking care of it allocating time and resources to develop its strength and see it flourish.
How to chose your daily creative challenge is a topic in itself and will be the focus point of my next article.
Nathalie Sejean is a co-founder of Activate Creativity, a platform that helps people reconnect, stretch and nurture their creativity.
10.28 Detox™ is a CREATIVE Detox that takes 10 minutes per day, for 28 days. It starts every Monday.