Do you feel more burned out than a fire pit at the end of summer camp? A therapist will tell you to journal your feelings; fellow artists will tell you to bleed onto the page, that pain is the catalyst for great writing. And while it’s true that the greatest confidant and outlet for stress can be found between the pages of a journal, or in the blank space of a Word document, what do you do when you are too stressed to find the words? When your mental and emotional stress is producing physical symptoms? How on earth could you be creative when the numbers on your bills are higher than the ones in your bank account, or the harassing neighbor minds your business instead of their own, or your kids are fighting in the next room, or you feel like you are running on empty? How do you give of yourself when you feel you have nothing left, much less your prose, poetry, and creativity?
Many writers and creatives have suffered from mental anguish. Fran Lebowitz is known for her decades-long writer’s block. The author of the best-selling series of all time probably did not imagine selling 600 million copies while living in government housing on benefits. Writer’s block will be covered in future posts, but right now we’re focusing on the mental, emotional, and even physical exhaustion known as “ burnout.” It specifically affects creativity in some of the following ways:
*Struggling to do basic work, difficulty concentrating
*Constant fatigue, irritability
*Unhealthy comparisons, self-doubt
*Muscle pain, headaches
*Dread when waking up or thinking about your creative work…
Someone who understands burnout is Tanya Marlow, author of "Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty." After giving birth, she began suffering from a debilitating chronic autoimmune neurological disease (M.E.) that leaves her bed bound 21 hours a day. She says: “To be in a long-term state of limbo, not knowing the outcome or length of time waiting is utterly, shatteringly exhausting.”
No matter the cause of our current struggle, I think many of us can relate to the pain of waiting for a situation to change. And as much as we can be told “just write!” it feels impossible to do so when we feel like we are running on fumes and have nothing to offer creatively. When you have unmet needs and feel the crunch of your situation bearing down on you like stacking Tetris blocks, perhaps the last thing you feel is witty or inspired. Apart from prayer, faith, and our situation changing, the following are some active but simplistic steps we can take to reclaim our creativity while we wait.
1. Remember the compliments you have received about your past work. Remind yourself that you are still the same person who has been published, has 5-star reviews, or told your writing meant something to someone. Remember who you are and admire your past accomplishments.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or get support. Despite the openness to talk about struggles, we can still feel self-conscious about being vulnerable. Find a circle of fellow creatives who understand all of the ups and downs of writing, who will give a listening ear and offer wisdom. Talk to a trusted friend. If you have neither, confide in a journal and allow yourself to be messy and say whatever is on your mind. Don’t spiral into negativity and fear, but rather be honest about what you are feeling and ask for encouragement. You are not alone and will be surprised by how honesty is the velvet mallet that cracks the shell off of others.
3. Practice gratitude. This does not mean faking positivity. Dr. Caroline Leaf, a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist with over thirty years’ experience, cautions us not to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to negativity. She says that “ toxic thoughts and emotions grow like weeds if we do not deal with them.” Studies show that writing down what you are thankful for changes behavior, improves brain activity, and increases our abilities of imagination and problem-solving.
4. It’s okay to have creativity trickle out like a leaky faucet instead of a cascading waterfall! Writing one line or paragraph a day is still something you can work with. Neil Gaiman wrote only 200 words a day for "Coraline." If not writing, do something else creative. If you can’t create just yet, that’s okay too! Put on a podcast and clean the house or do laundry. Tackle something that will make you feel a sense of accomplishment.
5. Give yourself the same grace you would extend to others and practice love like your life and creativity depends on it–because they do! Even if you are staying home, get dressed and put on a little makeup or spray on some cologne. Don’t allow the “yucky” feelings to show up in your countenance. Dress for success.
6. Instead of comparing yourself to others, uplift them. If you are going to be on social media, encourage another author by leaving them a good review or positive comment. Read books or listen to podcasts that will inspire and encourage you.
7. Finally, remember that everything is just for now and this trial, while painful, is not permanent. You owe it to yourself and those around you to take a self-care day, get some extra sleep, eat healthy, light a candle in the tub, and do something you enjoy. You can’t pour into others if you don’t replenish yourself.
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” ~ Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms