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.

Writing · Writing Guide

The Resistance

Sadly, I am not referring to the small military force led by General Leia Organa, today.  Instead, I’m talking about a concept outlined by Steven Pressfield in his book “The War of Art.”  

The Resistance is just about any activity, thought process or life event that pulls you away from your art or your “Calling”and stops you from creating it.  

It can be small things, like reading Facebook or deciding to clean our your fridge instead of sitting down and writing that short story.  It can be big things, like taking on a project that does not relate to what you actually want to do.  The Resistance distracts us from the things we want to achieve.  It gives us excuses not to do the things we love and pursue the dreams we want.

The Resistance can also look like a self-created drama.  I tend to know a lot of people who want to be writers, by they have dozens of excuses for why they have not started that blog/written that short story/outlined that novel.  They will hem and haw about how they have no time or how they have no money.  They will go into dramatics about how too many things are just terrible in life and they have no inspiration.

J.K. Rowling was a single mother living on state assistance when she started her famed Harry Potter series.  Stephen King was a High School teacher who wrote in the evenings and on weekends (and subsequently got so many rejections letters for his novel “Carrie” that he started to collect them) before people started to buy his work.

Many people have ideas for stories, but it’s only the people who do not give into the Resistance, who soldier on, that actually finish their work.  Writing and other creative endeavors are often solitary practices, but just like any other worthwhile endeavor, you must show up and do the work.

If you often find yourself avoiding your desk or avoiding chances you have to write, I would recommend Pressfield’s books on the matter.  His no-nonsense approach is a great way to get you to examine what your Resistance is and how you can stop giving in to it.

The War of Art is the best place to start, but my personal favorite is the next book in his series about creating, Turning Pro.

 

Writing

Going beyond Writer’s Block

8550914112_72b040a3ac_qI’ve been thinking a lot about Writer’s Block lately.  It used to be a concept that I wholeheartedly subscribed to.  My novel never got finished because I was “blocked” among other excuses.  That’s the lie of Writer’s block, it tells you can’t complete your project and gives you an easy excuse to wiggle your way out of getting that writing done.

Sure, there are still times I sit and stare at a blank screen, but usually I either don’t do for long, or switch projects.  Here are some ways to help you get past those moments when you are feeling blocked.  Some methods are those I learned from others and some are just tricks I’ve found along my way as a writer.

The muse is fickle.  You shouldn’t be.

If you want to be a professional writer or even if you just want to complete some of your writing projects to have that glorious feeling of finished, you have to stop waiting for the muse.  I’ve written short stories where she shows up and does her job, but I’ve also written them when she hasn’t.  Guess what?  Both were situations yielded decent stories that still needed a little bit of revision before they were polished and ready to go.

The other thing I’ve found, is if you show up and do your work regularly, the muse may do the same.  If you show up occasionally, and you are unreliable, the muse gets unreliable too.  It’s only within the last two years that I’ve treated writing like a job.  I show up.  I do my work.  If she shows up too?  Awesome.  If she doesn’t?  I’m still going to get that writing done so that I can be one step closer to my goals.

Also most writers who do this professionally?  They don’t wait for the muse.  They have deadlines and mortgages.  Even if writing is something you are doing on the side, remember that.  It does take away some of the romanticism that surrounds writing, but trust me, you’ll still find your magical moments.

If you are stuck, switch projects.  

I’ve heard a lot of the comic writers I follow talking about this.  That sometimes when it just isn’t working, they put what they were writing away and work on something else.  I do this a lot.  If you’ve read my post on time management you can see my post-it notes have my tasks for the day.  I keep them in front of me partially so that if I need to switch it up, I know what other things I need to work on for that day.

I also tend to have a list of my writing projects on my wall in front of me, that way if I need something else to work on, I know what I have in progress.

Go for walk.  Run to the grocery store.  Get out of the house/office.

For me, this tends to mean a grocery run.  I either turn music or listen to a podcast while I shop and I put my story in the back of my mind.  My brain is still kind of working on it, but I’m doing other things while it does.  Sometimes an idea strikes me as I shop, other times it doesn’t.  Sometimes I get back to my desk in a different state of mind, more refreshed, less frustrated.  That can be enough to give me the renewed energy I need to keep going.

The most important thing to remember, is this:  Look for ways to keep going, not excuses to stop.  

Some of these suggestions could be abused.  Maybe you just switching projects so you never actually complete any of them.  Maybe you constantly leave your office/house in search of inspiration and never really get that writing done.  It’s all a choice you make.  If you want to get past the lie of Writer’s block, you choose to keep writing, keep working, and keep finishing that work.  If writing is just a fun way to explore the world for you, maybe it’s okay if that work never gets finished.  Either way, keep your goals in mind and I hope that some of these suggestions help you the next time you need to push past a block.
photo credit: Dead End Yield Sign via photopin (license)