Productivity · Writer Self-Care

Hustle Culture is Destroying Your Creativity – Avoid the Burnout

I’ve been lucky the last couple of years to work with dear friends and amazing people on a variety of projects. One thing we’ve told each other a lot this past year is that we have to remember to rest. I have a tendency to try to fix one more thing, or do one more project, which feeds into a habit of working all the time.

This year, it finally caught up with me. I had two months where I just did not want to write or create anything. I felt like my creative well was completely dry, which honestly freaked me out because I’m the kind of person who doesn’t believe in things like “writer’s block.” I do believe that our creative energy is finite to an extent. A few years ago I saw someone refer to it as your “creative cup” and that you have to be mindful of what is drawing from it.

For the first time in years, I completely drained that cup and this time I had no idea how to fill it back up. I tried my usual methods, start a new story, clean a space in my house, etc. Nothing worked, I was just drained. I was also working incredibly hard, on-call for a community I had built 24/7 that was fine a few years ago but now it had grown so much I could not just answer every call or try to fix every problem. For some people, this would be the point where they put down firm boundaries and stopped jumping at notifications. I am not able to do that. Because of the way my brain works, I tend to want to answer notifications/emails/etc. immediately, so I realized I had to step out of my position in that community and take some time to re-connect with myself.

It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made in the last few years. I loved the space and I loved the people I worked with, but I knew what I was doing was not sustainable and that the people I worked with had better boundaries than I did.

I realized it was time to take a real break and figure out what came next.

I had to change my strategies for filling my creative cup back up, and these were the questions that helped me work out what path I needed to take going forward.

  • What do I want my daily life and routines to look like? For me, I didn’t want to be on call 24/7 anymore. I wanted to wake up and choose the routine to start my day. Right now, it includes figuring out theme for my day, 3 tasks to focus on (research says that’s really all you can do in a day), writing down what I plan to do for exercise and ways to relax/play each day.
  • What was the most draining about my past projects? Can I avoid those aspects in the future? My choice on this question was that I will not take on volunteer projects unless A. I love the project, I’m excited about it and it’s helping me move myself/my career forward. or B. The project has to work with my schedule and pay me for my time. If it doesn’t fit that basic criteria, I can’t take it on.
  • Will I be happy I did this in five to ten years? I’ve seen a lot of posts that ask you to think about when you’re old and gray, but I want to go a bit less forward. If it is not something I think I’ll look back on and smile in five years, I need to approach the project carefully and decide if it is worth it.
  • Am I working with someone who values my work? If the answer is “no” one thing the last year has definitely taught me is that it’s time to get out. I’ve spent too much time building up people who take my work and effort for granted. If they can’t say “thank you” and recognize my skills, it’s time to step out.

Lastly, thank the people who have supported you and recognized your need for growth. Also, if they do recognize your skills but it doesn’t fit with your vision for your life and future, remember to tell those folks how much you care about them and thank them for the ways they’ve supported you. For me, I’ve worked with some amazing people in volunteer positions that I’ve had to step down from as I grew as a person. As my career progresses, I want to keep them in mind for projects that I need to hire people for. I firmly believe that rising tides lift all boats, but that we still need to remember that everyone needs rest and support as we flow through those tides.

Motivation · Writer Self-Care

4 Ways To Get Unstuck Creatively

This year, I’ve felt stuck and unmotivated to write or work on my writing projects more times than I would like to admit. There are a variety of reasons for this, sometimes I feel like no matter how much work I put in I’m not moving forward quickly enough, other times I don’t have the creative “flow” I wish I had. I’ve found some strategies to help me keep moving when I feel stuck though and I wanted to share them with you in case your struggling with the same sorts of feelings.

Make a list of what you’ve accomplished over the last year or so. Celebrate your accomplishments, even if they’re small.

I say the last year or so because sometimes it’s easier to look back at a longer portion of time, but you can go shorter if you need to. You can even review your goals for the year and take some time to pat yourself on the back for the things you’ve achieved. If you’re anything like me, sometimes you forget to stop and smell the roses and recognize the things you’ve accomplished.

Give yourself credit. Seriously, even if you’ve only hit 1/10 of your goals, hitting that one goal still puts you closer to your dreams than you were if you had not tried at all. You can also look at things other than your goals. This past April, I went to Wasatch Comic-Con, a smaller convention that focuses on creators. I went to workshops and hung out with creators in the industry I aspire to be a part of, I got great advice and I was brave to go to those workshops and do things outside the comfort zone. That experience has moved many of my comic projects forward and has helped me grow as a writer and creator. I may not be moving as fast as I wish I was in terms of getting things finished/published, but I can look back on that experience and acknowledge it helped me move forward.

Talk with other creators or creative friends.

This can be hard for those of us who spend a lot of time on our own during our creative process, but I’ve found that reaching out, especially when you feel stuck, can help immensely. Sometimes your friends can help you see your story or plot from a different perspective or by merely talking about what you’re trying to create, you can work towards clarifying your vision.

Ideally, it’s great to do this over the phone or face to face, because as humans, we’re social creatures and that social contact can help lift our spirits. For me, I live in a tiny, rural town so that’s not an experience I always have easy access to regularly. Sometimes I will contact a friend via email, Discord or other means and ask if I can chit-chat and bounce ideas off them for a bit. It always amazes me how sharing my ideas helps me improve them and make them more clear.

Read the stuff you enjoy.

I set a new goal for myself in the last couple of months where I try to read at least two books and two graphic novels a month, as well as trying to read for at least 30 minutes a day for pleasure. I have a terrible habit of feeling like reading is the time I could spend being productive, but by making reading for pleasure apart of my goals, it feels more like productive time. If you want to be a writer or author or creator, it’s good to consume books and graphic novels you enjoy so that you can see what other writers are doing and admire their accomplishments (and perhaps, learn from them).

Take a break. Or take some time to free write.

It can be tempting to sit at a desk and punish yourself for not being productive enough. If you find yourself doing this, step away from your work and try doing something else you enjoy for a while.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling stuck, but you still want to write something, try freewriting for a bit. It doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to be great, you’re just putting words down on the page and acknowledging that you may have to edit or delete a good portion of them. Something I’ve discovered over the years is that self-punishment isn’t productive and it doesn’t help me motivate myself to do more, so sometimes I sit down and write for a bit, even if it’s not connected to my current projects. I’ve found that once you start writing, it’s easier to switch gears to one of your more cohesive projects and get going on it again.

Productivity · Time Management · Writer Self-Care

How To Declutter Your Digital Life – Digital Tools Vs. Digital Distraction

I’ve been reading Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism” over the last few weeks. Like many people in their 30s, I started using social media in my early 20s and I’ve just continued to use it, without realizing how much digital clutter was making its way into my life. I did not realize the negative impact digital clutter was having on me. Our social media apps and programs are built to be addictive and to make us feel like we’re engaging and talking constantly with other humans.

There is some value in social media and other tools of the digital age, but not all of it is equal.

In Newport’s book, he discusses the concept of choosing your digital tools wisely and decluttering the tools you use that may cause you to become distracted or put you in a feedback loop for online approval. This hit me really hard last week. I have a wonderful husband who who has been really supportive of me lately. I had a sudden impulse that I needed to share how wonderful he was on Facebook…Instead of simply turning to him and telling him how much I appreciate his support. Sure, sharing on Facebook would show others how I appreciate him, but the point was to be grateful to him, not to showcase my gratitude to the world.

I think Digital Minimalism has some great lessons to teach, even if I don’t feel like all the lessons fit perfectly for me. Since a lot of the work I do is online and through social media, I can’t abandon those tools entirely, but I can make them better tools and less distracting.

Digital tools add value and help us live better lives.

Digital distractions keep us from living that better life.

I definitely recommend checking out Newport’s book, but here are some ways to get started tossing out the digital clutter:

Delete The Apps That Aren’t Serving You

I went through my phone and removed applications that I don’t regularly use and I removed some that I felt like didn’t really add value to my life. I have a handful of “games” I play when I need to de-stress or take a breath, but I also had some games that had started to feel like an obligation, something I had to log into every day. Those went bye-bye.

I also deleted apps that I had downloaded with good intentions but hardly used or never used. If there comes a time that they server a purpose for me, I can download them again later.

Unfollow, Unfriend, Unlike and Leave the Group

Last night, I went through all of the groups I was in and pages I had liked on Facebook. I removed any group or page I felt like didn’t add to my digital life. I’ve already done this sort of thing with Instagram and Twitter. I joined a lot of these social media applications early on in their existence and over the last ten years or so, I’ve liked and joined so many groups and pages on a whim that add nothing to my life.

While these apps can still be more of a distraction than a tool for me at times, at least know the content I’m viewing when I use them is catered to the life I currently want to live.

It’s a lot like clearing out an old box of stuff from ten years ago. The woman I am now doesn’t have a use for some of the things she would have dearly loved in her 20s. It also helps me make space for groups, pages and people who actively add to my digital life and help me keep my focus on where I want to go in my real life.

Writing · Writing Guide

5 Ways to Stay Creative

  1. Keep a Pinterest board for inspiration

When I see prompts, pictures or other things that spark an idea in my head, I usually save it to one of my pin boards, either for writing ideas or story inspirations.  Pinerest boards are great to look at when you get stuck and want to feel creative again.

2. Schedule time for your creativity

I know it sounds like this goes against the way we typcially picture creative types, but I promise having a routine can really boost your creativity.  If you schedule a time each day to write, paint, create, you will start to find you no longer need to wait for the muse.  You can work without her.  I think you will find that the work you produce when you are not inspired is likely as good as what you created when you thought you were inspired.

3. Be patient

Sometimes, especially for writers, you need to sit and think for awhile before a creative idea can form.  Matt Fraction calls this kind of moment “Catching Butterflies.” This is where you just need to sit, think and make sure your mind is not distracted by facebook, or the laundry.  It may look or feel like you are not doing anything, but the wheels are turning and things are happening as long as you are not distracted.

4.  Don’t force it

If you’ve sat down to catch butterflies for two hours and have nothing to show for it, it is probably time to change tactics and give your brain a break.

My best friend has a thing called a “Meta” list.  On that list she puts all the things she can’t quite process yet, but still needs to think about.  It’s sort of like putting your creative problem on the back burner for a bit, allowing your unconscious mind to work through what your conscious mind isn’t ready to tackle yet.  So switch gears, find another task to work on, and go back to your project after you’ve taken a break and washed a floor or folded that laundry you weren’t thinking about earlier.

5.  Follow people that inspire you.

Social Media can be full of posts that drag you down, but there are lots of tools and places to find posts that lift you up or get you thinking.  If you follow posts that make you feel depressed or like you are not doing enough creatively, unfollow those pages and seek out the kinds of content that make you want to do something new or make more of your art.

 

What are ways you stay creative?  I’d love to hear what you do when your mind/muse just won’t help out.