Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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October 29, 2018

Writing When Life Is More Trick Than Treat

by Christina Delay

How do we keep moving forward when life decides to TP our plans? In other words, how do we keep going when we hit creative burnout?

In a season that my daughter likes to call “candy-tastic,” it may feel like we must throw candy around like everything’s peachy, but inside we’re dealing with the mother of all cavities.

What Creative Burnout Looks Like

Creative burnout is a tricky goblin. It starts small, with a little poke in your side that may say, “Is that really the best idea?” Or, it may just be this impending sense of doom that if you don’t do all the things, you’ll miss out on the one thing that could maybe lead to the big thing.

Here’s the deal. That doubt or anxiety to do it all? It builds. And it’s sticky stuff that has the consistency of tar. And before you know it, you’re tarred and feathered and can’t raise your fingers to the keys to type the words…because everything’s all gunked up.

After that initial doubt or anxiety, creative burnout escalates. We become defensive, taking action we wouldn’t normally take to protect ourselves. We begin to feel stuck in all areas of our lives. We get sick, depressed, irritable, and experience mental fatigue. We lose the ability to create.

Help! I’ve Entered Burnout and Don’t Know What to Do!

Creative burnout is inevitable. At some point in our life, we’re going to go through crap…and lots of it. The problem with being buried in crap is we lose the ability to smell what we’re wading through. We don’t realize how bad it is until someone else points it out to us and offers a hand to pull us out of the mess.

Knowing you’re in burnout is half the battle. (By the way, I prefer the term entering burnout rather than being burned out. Because if there’s an entrance, there’s a way out.)

Kerry Schafer, my co-host and the creative coach for Creative Wellness Retreats where we teach creatives how to prevent or get out of burnout and go deeper with their creativity, had to be my hand a few weeks ago. In her words, “it’s time to jettison the non-essentials until you get back on solid ground.” When we’re in burnout, we’re essentially in survival mode. We don’t have the capacity for all the tasks and responsibilities we normally do.

So, what next? We’ve let go of the non-essentials, but what do we do next to refill our creativity and conquer burnout?

Thankfully (unfortunately?), I’ve been through this before and have some tips to defeat creative burnout.

Insulate yourself.

Like a bear putting on his winter coat to survive the long months of hibernation, during burnout we need to insulate against illness, depression, and irritability. Take your vitamins, drink tea, exercise, get 8 hours of sleep (yes, this may mean not binging Netflix).

Practice healthy selfishness.

Say no to the things that don’t feed you and say yes to the things that feel indulgent. I’m not talking bonbons and wine here. I’m talking about the thing that you wish you could do if you just had the time. Volunteer, do the craft, bake the cookies, visit that antique shop.

Visit your inner child.

Practice daydreaming again. Lose yourself in a great book. Color a picture and don’t worry about the lines. Remember when you used to keep a diary and hide it under your mattress? Do that. Pick up flowers or interesting leaves or acorns on a morning stroll. Slow down the pace.

Focus on what excites you.

When in burnout, don’t force the creativity. Instead, focus on what does excite you. It may be something totally unrelated, like planting flowers or your morning coffee or holiday baking or cleaning out your closets. We have those urges for a reason, and that reason is not always procrastination. Go with it.

If you’ve entered a period of burnout, I feel for you. And I’m there with you. But practicing these tactics and getting rid of the non-essentials can greatly lessen the burnout time period.

For more tips to defeat creative burnout, check out these creativity strategies from Leonard da Vinci, or join us on Whidbey Island in April 2019 for a retreat focused on creative wellness.

Have you ever entered creative burnout? How did you deal with it? What tips do you have to share?

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About Christina

Christina DelayChristina Delay is the hostess of Cruising Writers and Creative Wellness Retreats and a multi-award-winning author represented by Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency. When she's not cruising the Caribbean, she's dreaming up new writing retreats to take talented authors on or giving into the demands of imaginary people to tell their stories.

Cruising Writers brings writers together with bestselling authors, an agent, an editor, and a world-renowned writing craft instructor writing retreats around the world.

Get ready to Dive Deep and join us on a 7-day Immersion Cruise with Margie Lawson this December to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel! Only TWO SPACES LEFT!


About Creative Wellness Retreats

Creative Wellness Retreats exist to teach you practical tools to go deeper into your creativity and learn how to protect yourself from burnout and creative blocking. If you’re already in burn out mode, our retreats for authors and artists will offer channels for healing your creativity, using effective techniques that are driven by your MBTI type.

Join us on beautiful Whidbey Island next April for a one-of-a-kind creative wellness experience.


17 comments on “Writing When Life Is More Trick Than Treat”

  1. I've been there more than once, and your tips are great! You can feel guilty taking that time for self-care, but it's really the only thing that can get your back on track with creativity and productivity.

  2. I love this whole blog, but even more, THIS: I prefer the term entering burnout rather than being burned out. Because if there’s an entrance, there’s a way out.

    So much of burnout is emotional. It's never as bad as it seems INSIDE your head. I love your ideas, and would add one more: Friends.

    Orly Konig, Fae Rowen, Jenny Hansen and MANY others have talked me off the high bridge I'd walked onto with every intention of jumping off. I have survived my way through going on 10 published books that way.

    And if you're at ALL intrigued by the Cruising Writers, check them out! I've been, and HIGHLY recommend them!

  3. Christina, for me, replenishing the well works best when I can be outdoors, with my feet on Mother Earth, whether it's gardening, going for a walk or sitting on a bench in my yard visiting with a statue there of Guan Yin. She sits beneath a small English walnut tree and reminds me to be compassionate not only with others, but myself also. Best of luck with your healing workshops. They sound lovely.

    1. Oh, Nan. So much truth here. Sitting outside, listening to the wind blow through the trees, my wind chime singing in the breeze - it does wonders for replenishing me.

  4. Christina, you know those Life Alert things older folks wear around their necks? If you fall, crash & burn, you push the button and somebody shows up to scrape you off the floor? Your post was like that for me. I don't think I was even aware how burned out I was until I reread the opening to my WIP and hated it, something I never do -- that is the hating not the rereading. This morning I wrote a new opening. And now I'm going to have a cup of coffee and lose myself in and old Andre Norton (actually Alice May Norton) sf novel. Thanks!

    1. James - I'm honored that I was allowed to be your Burn Out Alert! Kerry Schafer and Julie Glover were mine a few weeks ago, and I'm incredibly thankful that I could pay that forward to you. Enjoy your self-care rituals and your SF book! I'm off to read a historical :).

  5. Christina, you've given me something to think about, since I never thought I'd be dealing with this issue. Your retreat sounds very interesting.

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