Writer's Block,  Writing Life

Refocus on Writing Now: Overcoming Creative Burnouts

As artists, sometimes we just burn out. Think writer’s block, but it’s more than just writer’s block. Like not a block, but an enormous brick wall. An exhausting creative rut. I’ve heard someone refer to it as an “Art School Hangover.” It’s a sudden crash that often comes after an intensely heightened period of creativity.  But now, I want to talk about getting past it.

One of the problems with a block like this is that it’s usually not going to be solved by a quick fix. I tend to get over my writer’s block by forcing myself just to keep writing until it becomes easier again. For most writers, that’s a pretty effective strategy. Write for 20 minutes with a prompt and let it flow, even if it is the worst writing you could ever do. You write until you find your way back into your craft. For a block like this though, that’s not going to work. I end up staring at a blank screen for a long time until I have to go run errands or get called away by something else.

So, why is that? In my case, this time around, the creative burnout ran a lot deeper than just writer’s block. I was out of focus. I couldn’t make myself read a book even when I had the time to. In short, I was scattered and exhausted all the time. No wonder I couldn’t get any writing done.

If you don’t have energy for your day to day tasks, you’re not going to have creative energy to spend for writing.

So I had to make some changes. Life changes. Even though this was a problem that started with what looked to me like a case of extra-annoying writer’s block, it really was so much more than that. This was about finding more energy when I already felt like I was running on empty.

Establish a routine.

I started by establishing a routine. While I couldn’t control everything I had to do in my day to day, I could consistently decide when I went to bed and when I woke up in the morning. I set alarms. I was on a schedule. Even on weekends, when I had time to sleep in a little bit later, I really tried never to sleep in too late so that I could really stick to a more regimented routine.

In addition to waking up before 8 am on the weekends, I should note that I also took up running and yoga. I didn’t do this because of my creative block, but because I’d been having some trouble with my back, which in all likelihood probably did contribute to my lack of energy.  An exercise regimen isn’t necessary for overcoming a creative block, but it’s something that I did to help combat some of the bigger reasons I was feeling drained in the first place.

I also made an effort to pay more attention to my health. Again, just getting to the root of why I was so drained in the first place. I was drinking 2 or 3 cups of coffee a day (I mean, what writer doesn’t?), skipping breakfast, and I seemed to always have a migraine. So, now I’ve switched from coffee to tea, I always eat breakfast even if it’s just a piece of fruit, and try to remind myself to drink more water. My migraines are hereditary, so I won’t be rid of those, but even still, there’s a big difference in my overall physical health and I can feel it.

Buy a planner.

I say “buy” for a reason. While I love bullet journalling and all of these other trends around making your own planner, all of these things take time and energy. I tried getting into bullet journalling, but I ended up just doodling all over my journal. And sure, it looked lovely, but it didn’t mean I got writing done and wasn’t that the whole point?

If you’re getting over a creative burnout, indulging in other kinds of creative projects is not going to help you get back to writing. Save that for a later date. You might have energy again, but it’s not being spent the way you want it to. Buy a planner if only because it’s functional and not distracting.

Make to-do lists you can actually finish.

Now that you have a planner, let’s use it. When I was feeling blocked, my to-do lists were usually very long and I’d never finish them in a day. I’ve found that it’s helpful to set smaller goals and fewer of them. If writing is on my list, it’s to write 250 words. That’s one double-spaced page, give or take. If I write more than that, good for me. But I don’t have to write more than that. It’s a goal I know that I can meet and it’s an amount that can be done in maybe 20 minutes or less.

Set aside time for writing.

Once you feel like you have a handle on your routine, the next challenge is finding time to write. Carve it out of your schedule. If you’re like me and don’t have a very consistent schedule, it might not be possible to just decide you’re going to write during the same hour-period every day.

Instead, it’s the first thing I plan in the morning. I can’t write fiction first thing in the morning, so I take a minute to look at my plans for the day and see when I might have time to squeeze in a quick writing session.

This solution isn’t really a quick-fix and takes a lot of maintenance. I’m still trying to keep up with these habits as best I can, and for the most part, I’ve found that I’ve been able to. Because the habits I’ve tried to include are not especially time consuming or tedious, I’ve found that I’ve been able to stick with it. The exercise regimen is probably the least “fun” thing I brought into my routine, but like I said before, it’s there in part out of necessity and I can feel it immediately when I’ve been slacking off there.

In short, this is my experience for getting out of this creative rut and it’s incredibly personal and personalized. There isn’t a one-size fits all solution and so instead, have it be about finding your own healthy habits that will bring up your energy levels and get you back to writing.

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