As a fledgling writer, one of the greatest day-to-day struggles that I face is with burnout. Juggling a job, a family, social functions, school, on top of the day to day needs of being alive is a task that can be overwhelming. I am constantly plagued by doubt, compounded by a less than supportive society that doesn’t always consider the pursuit of art as a ‘real’ job. The creeping voice of failure that suggests the deplorable option of giving up is relentless in those very vulnerable moments of breakdown.
An article caught my eye last week titled “Why we are burning out in the arts.” I’ve been going through a few rough patches recently, and I wanted to see if it offered any insights that I could benefit from.
While it offered a lot of information on the institutions in art culture that lead many artists to burnout, it didn’t offer me much in the way of advice to overcome or avoid burnout. I felt that the conclusion of ‘self-care’ was weak and under-explored. It also didn’t take a look at artists individually, instead focusing on generalities that ended up not ringing very true with me.
So I contacted a friend of mine to talk about the issue.
Zach Fischer, an incredibly talented freelance illustrator, concept artist, and cosplay designer, and a pretty cool guy besides, is on pretty good terms with burnout. And the struggle to stay financially above water is only part of the issue. Art is emotionally taxing, and keeping the creative juices flowing is a key function in avoiding burnout.
“Logically, you can recognize that something needs to get done. This project, it has to get done. And you prioritize it, push everything else aside, to do that. But that doesn’t always work.” In fact, Zach said trying to do so can sometimes lead directly to burnout.
Creative energy isn’t always logical. Not only can it be in constant flux on its own, but what it is focused on can also be changing. Sometimes that story that your editor is waiting for isn’t where the muses are dancing, and only by indulging those gut instincts, those fleeting ideas, can the muses be brought back into focus.
I have actually seen this strategy work for myself. A lot of the time, the creative energy is there, but the focus isn’t necessarily where I want it to be. And that can be stressful. Taking the time to relax with what your passion happens to be at the moment can rekindle your will and drive in other areas, and lead to more productivity in other projects. Plus, you are still creating art.
“Sometimes you need to burnout, though,” Zach pointed out. “Sometimes you need to burn off those things that are holding you back or getting in the way, so you can create something new.”
For Zach, burnout is an opportunity. Not only can it purge old ways of thinking that can hold an artist back, but it can allow for a re-evaluation of goals and strategies. Burnout can force an artist to take a step back and look around themselves. But what you surround yourself with in these times is crucial.
In these vulnerable times, an artist really needs a supportive network of friends and family. But not unilaterally supportive. Realistically supportive. You don’t want people who will flatter you, or ‘fangirl,’ as Zach put it. You want people who will pick you up when you’re down and push you to look at the situation in a new way.
As always, every obstacle can be a bane or a boon. It is in how you approach it that determines what you will gain from it.