Creative burnout…. time to in-put instead of out-put.

It’s not always possible to be creative.

This may not seem the most eye-catching of statements, but for the writer/maker/artist/practitioner it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of the obvious from time to time.

But actually, is this so obvious? I’ve often spoken to writer friends who get anxious when they’re not producing, or whose research/planning periods seem to be going on longer than usual, with no initiating idea to get them started on the rough draft.

When I look about me (in real life as well as online), there seems to be a culture of constant creativity, with no let-up in pace and productivity. Friends have no sooner delivered a novel or screenplay or theatre production when the next one is being anticipated. It feels as though we are in perpetual assembly line mode – out-putting constantly, with no dip in quality or originality allowed. In fact, more innovation seems to be expected each time.

And suddenly, I’m feeling very tired with all this activity…

And suddenly I long for something more organic, human-friendly and balanced.

And suddenly I’m reminded I am a farmer’s daughter, where there were seasons for planting seeds, fertilising, growth, and harvest – not forgetting those essential periods for laying fallow.

Have we forgotten the basics, in order to try and keep ahead of the game?

Many of my friends are exhausted, and it’s not just that tiredness that comes with dark winter evenings and the desire to hibernate. They are tired creatively. The juice is sluggish. The spark is failing to ignite quite as quickly as usual. I’ve had anguished emails from collaborators and former students lamenting the sudden dearth in ideas. My advice is simple and immediate, as I’ve been here so often myself: Relax, breathe, time to fill the stock cupboards and have some in-put as well as out-put…

How to in-put seems to depend as much on the kind of activity that has caused the depletion as what kind of personality or character we have.

Sometimes after long periods revising and editing, I long for visual stimulation and no language… I find myself wanting to take long walks by the sea, where my eye can carry on until the distant horizon, or if in a city, hours in art galleries (Rothko and Redon are incredibly refreshing for some reason).

When I’ve been storylining or devising, I have a sudden hunger for reading, but after teaching or working as a dramaturg in the studio, I want to lie down and listen to radio plays or audio books (one of favourites being Jim Norton’s reading of Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’). Sometimes I simply need to grab some friends and kick up my heels. I’ve found my productivity after a particularly raucous weekend with little sleep is surprisingly fruitful.

The central issue seems NOT TO PANIC…. Just accept there are times when we are tired – dull and jaded – and the remedy is finding the way(s) of getting your mojo back. We need to feed our imagination and creativity, as well as giving them moments of rest.

7 responses to “Creative burnout…. time to in-put instead of out-put.

  1. so true Kaite – not just for writers, but those of us in creative/arts orgs too….we can feel obligated to continually produce – but I without timeout, time to think, time to reflect and time to really seek out our core ethos and purpose for the creativity we produce will only lead to mediocre results and dissatisfaction. space – peace – freedom – helps the spirit to be creative

  2. love love love this x


  3. Comforting words, Kaite, They help to lighten this sense of guilt I get when I take a necessary rest…XXX

    • Thanks, Eleonora. Guilt is something I often have to battle with (blame the Irish Catholicism I was raised in) – but it is a negative energy which does more harm than good… This is why I think being pragmatic about creativity, our processes, our ‘necessary rest’ as you put it, is essential. We can’t constantly be creating – and the more we accept this and are truthful about it (rather than using it as an excuse when we’re lazy), the happier and more productive we will be. Well, that’s the theory, anyway….

  4. Pingback: Bestseller To Burnout – When Is A Series Too Long? |

  5. Great post! You’ve made an excellent point here.

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