Ah yes. The dreaded creator burnout (a.k.a. burnout).
I don’t know who hasn’t experienced burnout at least once in their lives, unless you’re some sort of superhuman, which shoutout to you I guess. I’m trying to get like you my boy.
All jokes aside though, burnout is something that can sneak up on you when you least expect it. It can create this never-ending cycle of dread and exhaustion and it sucks! Especially if you have things that you’re trying to do.
Burnout is commonly associated with a job or academics, but I don’t think enough people bring up what it looks like for creators. So if I interchange the terms, just know it applies to the same thing, but I’m focusing on one particular area that burnout can present itself in (i.e. content creation).
I’ll be talking about what creator burnout is, why creators burn out, my own experiences/what it looks like for me, and ways to combat it.
And if you like this post, make sure to listen to the audio version on Wednesday! You can also visit the ‘Podcast’ tab to listen to new (and old) episodes.
What is Creator Burnout?
What exactly is burnout?
According to Google, burnout is defined as “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”
Burnout symptoms can manifest themselves in a number of different ways:
- Physical Symptoms: chronic symptoms (i.e. headaches, stomachaches, intestinal issues, etc.)
- Emotional Exhaustion: feeling drained, tired, irritable, unable to cope, or lack energy to get tasks completed. Can also experience a lack of creativity or a feeling of cynicism about the task at hand.
Now, what does it look like for creators?
There’s no “one size fits all” because everyone’s experience is different, but on average, people report a feeling of dread when they have to do something they once loved. They can be unmotivated to write or make music or create a piece of artwork. They may lack energy to focus on the task at hand. And sometimes, the guilt will settle in because you think that as a creator you always have to be creating. And when you’re not, then it can start to feel like you aren’t good enough and that you’re letting your audience down. Usually, the feeling intensifies if being a creator is your livelihood.
As human beings, we are constantly chasing something more. That’s the nature of the beast. But as creators not only are we chasing more for ourselves, but we’re also competing against other people in the same field and having to uphold an image for our audience. Sometimes that becomes too much, especially since people tend to forget that the people they see online are human too.
This leads me to why creators burn out in the first place.
Why Do Creators Burn Out?
Surprisingly, for a number of reasons.
The constant pressure to produce.
When you always feel like you have to produce something in order to stay relevant and become just as successful as other content creators, it can get overwhelming.
We live in a time where everyone is always onto the next trend and it’s detrimental if you don’t keep up. And if you don’t keep up, you run the risk of losing followers, subscribers, customers, etc. Hence the pressure. In order to remain relevant, you have to be consistent and that can be hard when you’re trying to find your place in an already oversaturated market.
Not to mention how infuriating algorithms and shadowbans are so it’s no wonder why people struggle and eventually burn out from all the stress.
Constantly having to uphold an authentic image.
It’s great to be yourself. To be your authentic self. There’s something gorgeous about being able to share yourself with the world and build a brand off of it.
But there’s also a cost that comes with upholding that image.
There comes a point where your image becomes a business and like all businesses, they have to be marketed in order to succeed. Now your personality and your life are scrutinized, consumed by numbers, and you’re pressured to constantly uphold a persona.
Eventually, you start seeing the things that work and don’t work. You become someone who wants fame and validation from likes, comments and follows. Of course, you’re still you, but now you only post things that will make you bigger and better instead of things that make you happy.
But what happens when upholding that persona becomes too much? What happens when you stop enjoying the things you post? When you stop feeling like your footprint on social media is actually yours? When you don’t even recognize yourself?
That’s when burnout happens.
And it always seems like something that you think will never happen to you, but authenticity can be just as draining, especially if you feel like you have to give your all in order to keep your audience.
Feeling that ‘breaks’ will set you back instead of help you.
Like I mentioned before, creator burnout is even worse if you make a living off of what you do. This can cause you to feel like you can’t take any breaks because a break means a loss in potential followers, sales, etc. This means less money, maybe you can’t pay your bills, etc. Down the rabbit hole you go.
You start taking less time for yourself because you feel like if you don’t, everything you worked your ass off for will crash and burn.
You work through the weekend, never take vacations, and maybe you can never turn off your thoughts about what you should be doing if you ever have a sliver of downtime.
This my friend, helps contribute to those feelings of emotional fatigue.
Basically “how many fucking times can I re-invent the wheel?”
Let’s face it, none of us are original. We constantly talk about how ‘Oh this person didn’t come up with an original idea’ or ‘I miss the days when people came up with original content’ but there isn’t an idea in the world that people haven’t already thought up. Originality is truly the process of taking an old idea and turning it into something new. Not coming up with something new.
So it gets exhausting when you have to keep thinking up new ways to talk about the same topic. You think, ‘what’s the point?’ because other people already talked about it enough. Why does your voice matter?
Trust me, if you felt like this in the past (or feel like this now) you’re not alone. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve gone through this. And I hate to say it, but I’m currently in the stages of burnout all over again.
What Does Creator Burn Out Look Like for Me?
Burnout is my biggest enemy. If it was a physical entity I would probably fight it on sight. That’s how much I go through it.
For example, it took me three days to write this blog post. I had the idea. The title. Everything was cued up and ready to go, but every time I sat down to write it, I was hit with this overwhelming feeling of dread. I would watch Dexter or paint my nails even though I knew I had to get this done because I was on a deadline. The crazy part is, I wanted to do it, but emotionally I just couldn’t bring myself to pick up the computer.
If I didn’t force myself to start writing it while I was at work (where I also had less distractions) I probably wouldn’t have gotten it done. I actually loved writing this post and recording the episode though once I got into the swing of things, but, my reality right now (which is where the idea came from) is creator burnout. I’m not ashamed to admit that.
I think, in this case, it was a combination of fatigue and a lack of ideas because it’s like I said earlier, how many times can I reinvent the wheel? What’s something that people are looking to hear? How can I get people to start listening to my podcast and reading my blog more without shoving it down their throat? I’m noticing that I’m starting to get in my own head about the destination rather than enjoying the journey.
Usually, for me, it always starts off this way. I might be slightly unmotivated. Maybe more tired than usual, but sometimes it’s due to other things so I don’t always contribute it to that. Then, I get to a point of dreading it and hating myself for dreading it. Then I feel guilty about giving up on something I loved when it’s clear that people (at least I hope) are enjoying it and now I just left them behind. Then I start thinking about how I put all this work in and spent all this money on equipment only to stop doing it like every other project before it. I’m not quite there yet with my podcast or blog and I never want to get there. This is a passion project that I need for myself. If it does well, it does well. It’s just a matter of letting go of that control.
And control is the biggest factor in my feelings of burnout. It’s the same reason why I haven’t picked up my novel in over a month. Creatively, I’m just burnt out. Maybe it’s because it’s a longer story than I’m used to. Maybe it’s because writing Four Pink Walls forces me to dig up old wounds. Or maybe I’m just unmotivated right now and I need a break. And breaks are okay. I always keep thinking that I need to publish a book every year or so that way people don’t forget about me. But the truth is, they’re not. And it doesn’t matter if I publish my next book tomorrow or in five years. The people will still be there and I’ll thank myself for it because I gave myself the break I needed when I needed it.
You have to take care of yourself. It’s a lesson I’m learning too.
How to Deal with Creator Burnout?
So how do you deal with it? How do you stop feeling like you’re running on 1% all the time? How do you get back to loving what you do?
Figure out why it started in the first place.
It’s easy to run back to old habits. Trust me I’ve done it more times than I can count. But burnout is one of those things that can’t be fixed unless you put in the work to do it. That means putting effort into changing the things that cause you to feel burnt out and catching the signs before it starts.
Get to the root cause of why you reach points of burnout all the time. In my case, it’s control and fear that not working hard will result in my failure. But it’s different for everyone so you have to figure out your own reasons and face them head-on.
After that, work on ways to destress. Even if that means having to take a break from what you love, it’s important that you find ways to help relax your brain. Meditate, take a walk, or read a book, etc. Talk to people about how you’re feeling. Whatever works for you.
The only way to truly combat it is to nip it in the bud before it starts and that means finding the root and learning how to deal with it before it becomes a full-blown dumpster fire.
Rest is not a reward. Rest is necessary.
I heard something once about how self-care (or rest) shouldn’t be used as a reward for hard work. It should just be something you do because without a proper foundation, the house is going to crumble.
Rest is necessary in order to avoid burnout, so like I was saying before, learn to take a break. Make it a part of your routine. It’s not going to kill you and it’s not going to be a detriment to your success. I’m learning this too, so don’t feel guilty for prioritizing yourself first. That’s what you’re supposed to. Everything else is secondary.
So take time to pause and reflect, even if it’s for ten minutes.
Vacations are a godsend.
This can be an actual vacation (which shout out to you because I haven’t been on one in a while) or a vacation away from social media and content creation.
If that means logging off for a month or not painting for a while or taking a break from the book you’re writing, then do it. A vacation away from the things that are causing your burnout will actually benefit you in the long run. Obviously, this still goes hand in hand with the idea of taking breaks, but a longer break (i.e. a vacation) is not a death sentence.
Do something for yourself—not your audience.
Yes, I said it. Fuck your audience. Do something for yourself for once.
In other words, a passion project that’s just for you. Maybe you want to write a story but you don’t want to share it with the world. Maybe you want to paint something and keep it to yourself. Maybe you don’t want to post that photo or video because it was just something fun for you to do. Whatever it is, take the time to explore without the constraints of what society says; remember what you love about your craft.
I actually have a great example of this. I wrote and edited two books that I will never share with the world. One is a book in verse that I wrote as a side project when I was working on Set Me Free. And the other was a novel that I wrote before Mourning Doves when I was still going through a lot of personal things in my freshman year of college. I wanted to share those things at first because I was under the impression that whatever I created had to be shared with the world, but those were too raw, too personal. I wanted them for myself. So I kept them to myself. Only a handful of people have ever read passages from both works, but I’m the only person who’s read it front to back. And that’s how it’s going to stay.
That actually helped me when I was burnt out with other projects because it allowed me to just have fun and remember why I started writing in the first place.
So try that next time you feel stuck. It helped me out so it might do wonders for you.
It’s okay to quit.
Sometimes despite all your best efforts, things just don’t work out. And in those moments, it’s okay to quit. If you find that something isn’t working, try to find other solutions and if that doesn’t work, shelve it for another time. It might work in the future or it might not, but don’t stress yourself out trying to get it to be something that’s it’s not going to become.
Talk about your feelings.
This is probably the hardest part, but if you have someone to talk to, you should do it. Getting your feelings out there will make it easier to deal with and at least you have a support system for when times get rough.
Burnout sucks. That’s reality. But as long as you take the steps to address it and stop it before it becomes a problem, you’ll be okay. We’re in this together.
I hope you guys enjoyed this blog post! If you guys are interested in receiving updates on podcast episodes, special guest appearances, giveaways, and more, make sure to sign up to my email list! You can head over to the ‘Podcast’ tab or use the link below.
Until next time!
-The Writer Chick.