Is Creative Burnout Worse than the Fear of Creative Burnout?

It-was-a-pleasure-to-burn Tivi Jones
photo by gcfairch – click image

I’m not very good at staying up late. It’s a skill I do not possess. Never have.

My first real boyfriend in high school was in the army while we dated. He would call very late at night, after he finished doing whatever they did during the evenings. You’d think a giddy, love-sick teenager would be able to stay up past 11 o’clock with no problem.

No dice for me.

Even in college. Pulling “all-nighters” usually consisted of me falling asleep on my books by 11 o’clock.

I have a thing about 11 o’clock. My body shuts down like it has an off switch.

Sometimes I admire people who can stay up super late or function on three hours of sleep.

I cannot.

But I don’t try to any more.

As a creative person, I feel I need my sleep in order to have my brain firing on all cylinders.

If I don’t get enough sleep, I can’t tap into my creativity. I feel creative burnout take effect if I don’t actively refill my well.

But I sometimes wonder if this is fact or fear.

Is creative burnout worse than the fear of creative burnout?

Should I drive my creative car until the wheels fall off?

Or should I pace myself in order to prevent burnout?

When I first started working for myself, I burned out often. I would work every day from 5 am until 11 pm, crash at night, wake up and do it again. After about 10 days, I’d burn out and not be able to accomplish anything worth mentioning for two to three days.

I felt impotent in my creative prowess.

But, really, was it so bad?

Two to three days off, after 10 days of super creative output. Is that really so bad?

I often wonder if my routine of shutting down at a certain time every day or actively working NOT to burn out is keeping me from reaching my true creative potential?

Is creative burnout a concern for you? How do you manage it?

5 thoughts on “Is Creative Burnout Worse than the Fear of Creative Burnout?

  1. I have a hard time staying up late too (although, waking up at the crack of dawn is no problem for me)! I majored in architecture and it was the norm when I was in college, but I would always start falling to pieces around ten or eleven when working on a deadline. Now I am back to [trying to] stay up late to pursue my creative endeavors outside of my day job. I will have several days in a row of super creative energy…then I am mentally done for a couple of days and feel like I am not doing enough. My solution is to make lists…lots of lists. That way, when I do come back from burn-out, I can pick up where I left off.

  2. Sometimes I think it would be easier if I was a morning person like you but that’s one thing I’ve never been able to train myself to be. My creative juices start flowing around noon and I’ve been known to work until 3 a.m. without realizing the time. Fortunately, that’s not the norm but midnight is. Once I get on a roll, I can forget to apply the brakes so I just run out of gas.

  3. There’s a misconception in many conversations about the creative process that somehow a self-destructive bent makes you more creative. You don’t say how old you are — BUT — sacrificing your health is not worth it, either short or long term. I recommend “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron to anyone who is exploring the daily bits of living life as a creative.
    Find your natural rhythm. 10 days on, 4 days off doesn’t sound bad, as long as you are getting sleep and good nutrition, and really really rest on your off-days. Different people are productive at different times of the day. If you are exhausted, your concentration and your work will not be of very good quality. Try to stay (or get) as healthy as you can. Your creative output will change, but it will be on more solid ground.
    I am recently on the comback trail from a major creative burnout, where I did not write for about nine months, while keeping other parts of my life chugging along. It took a mini-retreat, away from home and out of my routine, to see that I was actually burnt out. Happily, I am writing again, and other aspects of my life (including happiness) are returning. What you are describing sounds to me more like a health and energy/exhaustion burnout rather than a creative burnout. Sometimes they go hand in hand. I wish you well!

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