Rule number one for all creatives is DON’T BURN OUT. Its common sense but we do it anyway. Despite everything I know I still do it. Neglect to put petrol in your car, change the oil or have it serviced and it will grind to a halt leaving your sorry ass on the motorway, in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain. With no phone reception. Neglect to feed and nurture your creative self and the result is much the same. There is also no RAC/AA cover for this eventuality . . . you will have to do it the hard way and walk; coming back from creative burn out takes as long as it takes.
So, how to avoid the burn-out? We talk about creative ‘output’ for a reason; the words, the music, the ideas, all pour out of you. You need to put something back in occasionally or you’re going to run dry. Creativity may come from an undefined somewhere but it does not, not, not live on fresh air.
The best strategies seem to fall into two basic categories; nurturing and boundaries. Without these two, you are nowhere.
Forget the hippy-dippy feel of this word – it comes from the word “nourish” which means to “sustain with food, foster, cherish, nurse”.
Take care of yourself.
This is so basic is shouldn’t need saying but sadly it often does – Don’t expect to do your best work if you are, strung out on lack of sleep, too many ciggies, too much coffee, alcohol, drugs, emotional dramas, lousy diet, or internet browsing. Contrary to popular myth a steady diet of the above will not make you a great actor/ writer/ artist/musician. We can all sustain a bit of that
( not trying to be a killjoy ) but keep it up and all you’ll do is break yourself. If you are broken then no-one else is going to write that novel, paint that canvas or dream up the great design.
You are your own greatest resource, respect what you have and value your Self enough to take care of it.
Take your nose off the grindstone and do something else.
Doing something else allows the creative part of your mind to switch into another mode. Not only is this is restful but, ultimately useful, for your creativity will continue to work at a deeper level – think Archimedes in his bath. Play the ukulele or the kazoo, take up knitting or gardening, something, anything else that you can switch to. It helps if it is something fun. Anything fun pays back into the creative bank.
Physical activity is especially good for this; there’s a zen like thing that happens. Ask anyone who runs or swims or walks. Ideas, inspirations and solutions will come when you give them room. If you do this often enough your creative mind comes to recognise this ‘switching off’ and will begin to use this channel to your conscious mind.
Give yourself some playtime. Regardless of any deadlines you might have, you have to do this. You can get away with denying yourself for a while but do it for too long and you will dry yourself up. It doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive or time consuming Salsa class or blowing bubbles, doesn’t really matter but it does need to be fun/satisfying in some way. I repeat, anything fun pays back into the creative bank.
In much the same way as play is frowned upon once you get past a certain age, so daydreaming is considered a waste of time. Not so, daydreaming may well keep you alive. Not in a physical sense but in a crucial, imaginative, sensitive, nourishing and creative way.
Dreams are absolutely essential to our emotional wellbeing; they nourish the soul. Daydreaming speaks to the heart and essence of who and what you are both as an individual and as a human being. And creativity has to have the freewheeling, noodling downtime that daydreaming gives. One of my favourite Albert Einstein quotes is “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. And he should know.
All very well and good but how do you take the time, make the time to daydream? It’s a question of whether you and your creativity are worth it. The good news is you don’t necessarily need big chunks of time but you do need to do it. My favourite is to make a cup of tea and stand at the window and watch the sky. Not, make a cup of tea and browse the internet, send a text, phone my mother, drink tea with one hand and fill the cat’s bowl with the other. Just do nothing for a whole five minutes. Then you can do all that other shit.
A couple of other suggestions are ;
Take a bath with no interruptions. ( Harder than you think, especially if you have children )
Walk the dog alone. Not, walk the dog and text somebody. Wander lonely as a cloud. It’s not lonely, it’s deeply restful. Haven’t got a dog? Borrow one.
Doodle – doodling on a page is brilliant for getting the monkey mind to take time off. You don’t need to be an artist to do this and nobody else has to see it. It’s about random lines not making a masterpiece. I’m not a drawing kind of artist but I’ve got sketchbooks full of doodles.
Stare out of the window on your daily commute instead of texting, phoning, playing with your ipod/tablet. You will be so much more refreshed and notice so much more than if you fiddle the whole time.
Take a proper lunchbreak – don’t sit at your desk, checking your inbox/junkmail/Pinterest/Facebook.
Not daydreaming as such, but related to . . . . Meditate in the morning or before bed. No method, no guru, no teacher. Just sit with yourself and allow your breathing to relax and slow down. Yes, the monkey mind will chatter like, well, a monkey but sit with yourself anyway. Can be five minutes or an hour, whatever is good for you. If all you get out of it is five minutes to yourself in peace and quiet then you’ve gained something. If you persue meditation as more of a practise you will come to find that there is a vast space on the inside and below the monkey mind there is a deep deep calm. All of which helps to redress the thousand and one demands that erode our personal head space and leave us feeling strung out.
Other Useful Things to Do;
Anything that absorbs you completely . . . . jigsaw puzzles, origami, lego ( highly recommended for adults ) , taking things apart, cleaning them then putting them back together again, more doodling ( buy yourself a colouring book and a set of feltpens if you feel inhibited by the idea of doodling ).
Scrapbooks . . . . . as a visual artist this is what I do to re-inspire and feed the creative mind. Cutting pictures out of magazines, sticking them down with glue is the most absorbing process. Again, it doesn’t have to be perfect ( I get way too hung up on making it look good ) and no-one has to see it but it gives the unconscious mind so much fodder.
Find new areas of interest – depart from your norm, whatever it is and look at something new. New interests feed the imagination in ways you cannot anticipate.
There are a hundred and one ways that you can feed your creative self, get to know what works for you and keep, keep, keep doing it.
Next time . . . . how boundaries can help you stay sane.