9 Tips for Preventing Creative Burnout

The biggest lie I was told in college was that journalism was dying and I wouldn’t be able to find a job in my field. Journalism, PR and advertising are all evolving disciplines, but good writing is still highly valued in all those fields. In fact, with the explosion of content marketing, I would say good writing is more in-demand than ever before. Journalism is different, but it isn’t dead.

I love my job because I get paid to write and edit all day. But now that I’m also focusing on editing my first novel and writing the second one in my spare time, it’s an overwhelming amount of writing and editing in one day. Here are some of the tricks I have found to help prevent burnout in a field that requires a lot of mental energy when you’re also creating on your own time.

1. Create First Thing in the Morning

I’m not a morning person by any means, but when I started waking up an hour earlier to write, my output increased dramatically. Mornings are great because there are fewer distractions, there’s nothing else I “should be doing,” and I find my brain is in a better place to be creative. I have a theory as to why this is: if you start creating before you have a chance to check your email, read the news or log on to Facebook, you’re working with a brain that hasn’t yet been bogged down by all the crap going on in the world.

2. Pay Yourself First

The financial principle of “pay yourself first” means you should invest a percentage of your income into savings before taking care of the rest of your monthly expenses. Whether you’re a freelancer or work in a profession where you get paid to write or edit, you can think of the creative energy required for those projects as other creative “expenses.” By investing in your work first thing in the morning, you can ensure you won’t use up all your creative energy before you have a chance to invest in your personal projects.

3. Have a Ritual

Some authors are really psycho about their writing rituals. Mine is simple: brew coffee, sit down at the kitchen table in my cozy sweater, and start writing. It’s not that I couldn’t write without my coffee or my writing sweater, but the smell of the coffee triggers a response in my brain that lets me know it’s time to work. Now whenever I smell coffee, I feel instantly ready to create.

4. Separate Right-Brain and Left-Brain Work

As someone who spends so much time editing, it’s very easy to let my left brain hijack my creative writing flow. It’s really hard to write natural dialogue or killer descriptions when you’re bogged down by worrying about perfect punctuation and word choice. When I work on my fiction writing, I write in the morning (without editing) and edit old material in the evening. By knowing I’ll have my editing time later, I feel free not to worry about it as I write.

5. Compartmentalize

This is something very small that I think can make a huge difference. I am very picky about drawing lines between my “work” work and my “creative” work. I use my personal computer at work, but I have different Google Chrome profiles for work and personal with different bookmarks and different themes. It’s sounds like a very small thing, but at the end of the day when I switch from a plain silver browser window to a leopard print one, it’s a clear transition from work to play.

6. Read … And Read Some More

Reading should be a no-brainer for writers, but sometimes the best way to get “unstuck” in the fictional world you are creating is by getting lost in someone else’s. Don’t worry about always reading high-brow stuff that’s going to help you become a better writer. Sometimes you don’t want to read Ayn Rand; you just want a book that’s going to take care of you. “Junk food fiction” is fine as long as you supplement with a multivitamin.

7. Watch Stupid Television

Between work and writing my own stuff, my brain frequently feels like a wrung-out sponge. When I get home, I don’t pressure myself to immediately sit down and work on fiction. Now, I let myself watch stupid TV to clear my head and unwind. I won’t say that “South Park” has made me a better writer, but it kind of acts like an oil change for my brain.

8. Exercise

My marathon training has been put on pause due to an injury, and not being able to run is driving me crazy. Even though not running means I have more time to write, I’ve found that exercise is actually one of the best ways to clear your head and get out of a creative rut. Bonus points if you listen to a trashy audiobook while you run.

9. Engage Other Senses

When you stare at a computer screen all day like I do, sometimes the last thing you want to do is pick up your Kindle to read. I often find I would rather not use my eyes at all. Podcasts and audiobooks are great because audio content forces your brain to process information in a different way. Cooking is helpful too because you get to use your hands, engage your sense of smell and challenge your taste buds.

Does anyone else have weird things they do to trick their brain into more creative output? I would love to hear how other people deal with this.