I was reading an interesting discussion about creative burnout on the blog ScoutieGirl. Her reflections on her own work schedule and how to be as creative as she could be got me thinking. Here are a few of my random musings.
1. Creativity comes in lots of different “flavors.” When I first read “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron (about 10 years ago), I let go of some of my own prejudices and misconceptions about living a truly creative life. Some of these ill-founded ideas were based on familiar stereotypes: the starving artist, high-maintenance pain-in-the-ass, incapable of sustaining stable relationships, living a life of excess and dissipation. Who in their right mind would want that for a life? (Oh yeah, let’s not forget another stereotype, the insane genius.) By dismantling some of these stereotypes, The Artist’s Way helped me to embrace, for the first time, the idea that “creatives” can make a good living, have stable loving relationships, and seem outwardly normal in every way. This was very good news to me, a middle-aged woman, launching out on her own as a refugee from academia.
2. If you are waiting for Your Muse, be prepared for him/her to arrive on an erratic schedule. Some people have the flexibility to work very well like this. However, if you add a partner, children, clients, or artistic collaborators to the mix, they get pretty impatient with your damn muse. Muses are happy to be trained. If you show up at pretty much the same time every day to do your work, and stick with it, your Muse will learn your schedule and will work with you.
3. You have to know yourself well enough to honor your own rhythms. Whether you are a morning person or a night owl, it makes sense to work when you are feeling the most awake and alert — the most responsive and fluent in self-expression. Sometimes, you can have more than one rhythm. After a long absence from writing, I have been writing every day for the past two weeks, usually in the morning. I log in to a site called 750words.com and have at it. I may write more, or other things, at various times of the day. However, it is that early-morning-while-it-is-still-quiet time when I can best get things going. I usually keep a pretty sedate schedule, up by 8 a.m., in bed by 11 p.m. and asleep by 11:02. When I am working on a new project, I can be so mentally stimulated that I am writing late into the night. Like tonight. When inspiration beckons, I like to follow it. I am in the process of finding a way to organize my time so that I can have a blend of structure and spontaneity in my work. I’ll let you know how that goes!
4. I think there is a difference between physical burnout and creative burnout, although they may go hand in hand. My own comeback from burnout actually began when I became aware that a few health issues needed improvement, and ASAP. I began in earnest to pay attention to getting enough rest (I am talking 8 hours a night, folks) and to improve my nutrition. As I began to feel better, I somehow showed up again in my own life. I didn’t even realize that I was burned out, and that was why my creative inspiration had dried up. My personal burnout manifested as overwhelm. Too many irons in the fire, too many tasks, too many requests, too many emails. The only thing that there wasn’t too many of was clients. I simply didn’t have the energy to do the daily and weekly activities necessary to fill the pipeline with new customers. Happily that is now turning around as well.
Each of us is constantly adapting to circumstances and our environment as we find it, moment by moment. When you change anything — your schedule, your nutrition, your projects — you will change too, and your work will change as a result. This is called “artistic development.” The great thing is that, apparently, a growth response to change can keep you learning and creating throughout your lifetime. That is what I am counting on.
Have you found a rhythm that works for you? How do you balance all the aspects of your life?