Creativity is a natural phenomenon. And, like any natural phenomenon, it is not perfectly uniform. Creativity comes in waves or seasons — seasons of abundance and seasons of dormancy.
I’ve been writing professionally for almost seven years now, and I’ve come to recognize my own creative patterns. I will go through bouts of intense creative energy, and I will occasionally go through periods of feeling burned out, tired, and depleted. During the latter phases, writing seems to require a great deal of effort.
As I’ve mentioned before, I do not believe in “writer’s block.” Writer’s block is merely a label we apply to a myriad of creative problems — one of which is creative burnout. When we are burned out, we have been drawing from our creative wells too intensely without taking the time to replenish our wells. If you have experienced this, you are not “blocked” — you are simply depleted.
Another problem that can manifest as writer’s block is what I “shiny object syndrome.” This is when we spread ourselves too thin by working on too many creative projects at once or when we jump haphazardly from one project to the next without taking the time to strategize.
I experience this problem as feeling out of alignment. When I am in this state, it feels like wading through sand. I am working very hard on several projects at once, but it doesn’t feel as though I’m making any progress. I am not “in alignment” with the flow of the world or the Universe or whatever you want to call it.
I have gotten much more responsible about filling my creative well to avoid burnout, but I still struggle with “shiny object syndrome.” This can often spin out of an intensely creative period in my life when I become creatively “hyperactive” and can’t seem to find the brakes. I will work through the weekends. I will juggle several projects at once. And I will often work myself to the point of exhaustion.
The most difficult part about recognizing these creative imbalances is that our own patterns are not always immediately clear. Often we don’t realize we’ve fallen into a patch of burnout, overwork, or shiny object syndrome until we’ve been in it for a while, and sometimes it’s only in hindsight that we can recognize these imbalances.
Once we do catch ourselves, it’s time for a diagnosis and a pattern interrupt to correct the imbalance. Here are some signs that you may need a creative reset:
- Writing feels like pulling teeth. You cannot get “in flow.”
- You are not enjoying creative projects as you normally would.
- You are constantly changing course and second-guessing yourself.
- You feel like you are spinning your wheels.
- You work at odd hours or you work all the time — even on weekends and holidays.
- You feel “flat,” “dull,” or “foggy” throughout the day.
- You are extremely “busy” throughout the day, but you don’t feel any sense of accomplishment — even when you complete a project.
- You are starting to feel apathetic toward your work.
- You are starting to question whether you are a “real writer.”
Some of the above are signs of creative burnout and overwork; others are signs of “shiny object syndrome.” If you have experienced a handful of those things, you probably already know what camp you fall into. If not, here is a very brief breakdown of the three most common creative imbalances:
- Creative burnout is characterized by a lack of inspiration or ideas.
- Overwork is characterized by working a lot of hours or feeling constantly “busy” without accomplishing anything.
- Shiny object syndrome is characterized by feeling frazzled, unfocused, or like you are spinning your wheels.
All of these can lead to frustration, anger, sadness, self-doubt, and apathy.
The good news is that there is one remedy that can help all three of these imbalances. For me personally, a pattern interrupt can work wonders, and this usually comes in the form of a creative reset.
So what is a creative “reset”?
A creative reset is a restorative period of mental rest designed give your overactive creative self a break. You can use this time to replenish your creative well, rest, or gain clarity around your creative priorities.
For me, the very best way to “reset” after a big project is to take a week off and go on a trip with the sole purpose of unwinding and enjoying myself. But quite often this just isn’t possible. We can’t all take off on a weeklong vacation at the drop of a hat, so we are forced to get creative. Often I can successfully reset with just a long weekend — especially if I am able to get out of town or immerse myself in nature.
Lately, I’ve been working on my online course, podcasting, blogging, and strategizing for how to launch the course and complete my nonfiction book. It’s been a lot of creative heavy lifting, and I have definitely been getting whipped into a state of “shiny object syndrome.”
I have family coming into town later this week, so that will give me a much-needed break. But I knew that if I was going to get through this first half of the week without hitting a wall, I needed a mini reset. So this weekend, that’s exactly what I did.
On Saturday, I lazed around in bed all morning beta-reading a friend’s new sci-fi book. It had been such a long time since I gave myself half a day to just get lost in a book, and it felt so luxurious. Reading fiction is a wonderful way to give yourself a creative reset because it provides a temporary escape. This is why I love fiction, and this reading marathon reignited my love of my own genre.
Then on Sunday, I went up into the mountains and collected native plants to transplant in my garden. Having quiet time out in nature really grounded me in the present moment and helped me reevaluate my priorities.
If you enjoy cooking, gardening, hiking, or doing anything physical, these activities can work wonders by getting you out of your overactive mind and back into the body. I especially enjoy camping trips because they allow me to tap into my primal human self that is more immersed in the physical world than the mental world I usually inhabit.
We all need a creative reset from time to time. And if we can allow ourselves these brief mental respites on a regular basis, it can keep us from having to take more extended breaks from our work later on.
Remember: Any time you do creative work, you are expending energy. Just as our bodies cannot put out an unlimited amount of energy without refueling with food, we cannot produce an unlimited amount of creative work without replenishing our creative energy.
Are you in need of a creative reset? When and how will you give yourself one?
Photo by Bench Accounting