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Dealing with Creative Burnout

Dealing with Creative Burnout

Kelly Thompson illustrator Creative burnout

Creative freelancing is hard. Anyone not in the creative industry could possibly find that statement to be a bit of a joke, but being fully self-reliant, self-motivating and long time solo takes a particular kind of personality, and a lot of perseverance. Over the last month a lot of my most successful creative peers have a big thing in common, they are all dealing with creative burn out. I am sure that many of you are wondering how this could even happen, but when working and realising other peoples creative requirements, and constantly having your creative button turned to "on" sometimes the tank starts to run a little empty, and all you want to do is anything but be creative. Being creative as a hobby vs creative every day are two very different experiences.

A freelance creative life is unstable at the best of times and results in much pressure. Work is usually delivered within fast timelines, ideas are required relatively instantly, and waiting is definitely no longer part of the creative process. Along with needing to deliver results on call, we are always concentrating and observing, often focused on one image for days on end. The work is constantly criticised, adjusted, redrawn, resubmitted and occasionally completely scrapped - we become quite resilient and definitely can't be too sensitive about things (unless you are offering $25 for a sketch, then we become most sensitive). *

Despite all of our current frazzle, sore backs and blood shot eyes we do love what we do, and in an effort to keep doing it for longer we have started to talk about it more, I thought I would share some of our tips for creative survival to help you all deal with your creative burn out. I write this not only for you, but as a reminder for me too.


It took me a while to understand the importance of friends who do the same thing as me. You have your normal friends, but you really really need your creative friends - if you don't have a good posse of creative pals, and you are a freelancer, go find some quick.

So what's the difference?

Your normal friends, probably friends you have had for years are great because you have history, they get your jokes, they'll always be there and you love them, BUT they don't actually get your life. When you say you have a deadline and can't go out for drinks they think you're piking, and wonder why you can't do it tomorrow. When you say you have no money, they say "me too", but they got paid three days ago (they get paid weekly), and you got paid two months ago (your client is paying soon right?). You know how it goes...

When you're having a creative fizzle having a great circle of people in the same industry is your greatest help, they're the ones who get it, and talking it out can be the greatest way to clear it up, set up a B.L.C (or B.M.C for the boys) and talk it out over drinks on a regular basis. 


You dish out a lot of "yes" when you're a freelancer, it's easy to fear saying no if you don't know when the next enquiry will arrive. Being a "yes" person is tiring, and if you end up doing a lot of jobs for average money the time vs money equation just equals a big fat BURN OUT! If you're feeling a little tired cut back on a few jobs, and feel happy being a little bit poorer because you have some spare brain time.


I don't like to generalise (but I'm going to), us freelancers can be a little neglectful when it comes to exercise. Let's face it, when its 7pm and you're on a colouring roll you don't want to break to exercise, because creative satisfaction is the greatest fuel, BUT we need to keep some balance. (I say this after only just starting to find any life balance...only just). For the last year, I have been practicing pilates after my drawing shoulder became so tense my neck clicked out of place and left me in so much pain I couldn't work for a week. Since doing pilates I have felt much more motivated creatively because I feel better in my body, and after a 15 minute stretch break my mind feels clear and ready to refocus. Just a tiny break is great for your thinking, do it!

Kelly thompson illustrator exercise


I can never empty my inbox, but it took me until this year to get over it. If I were to answer all my emails I simply wouldn't have time to draw. Now I have a permanent auto responder, it's long, but addresses most enquiries advising people when I can get back to them. I spend one day a month replying to questionnaires and students, but unfortunately I can't make work and do more than that (until I have a P.A, ah the dream). With all the outside stimulation it becomes impossible to focus or become properly immersed in new ideas, this results in the worst lack of motivation and feeling of brain drain zzzz. Each day I spend around three hours emailing, but after that I am drawing - it is really important to have uninterrupted time, and disconnect from non-creative things to give your brain a chance to focus without interference. 


It is easy for your freelance job to run all hours, you don't get to go home at six like most, you work to deadlines and they are all over the place. In an attempt to separate work time from rest time set yourself regular hours and aim to stick to them as much as possible. That includes all emailing and work-related admin after hours! Be honest with your clients about it, they're not working at 10pm so why should you? 


I recently saw an illustrator friend, and we both shared our impatience for a Christmas break. She (who loves journals and used to use them all the time) mentioned that she took a journal on a flight to India and drew in it for the first time in months, she said that it reminded her why she loved her job.


Make time to get out and play, I know it's hard once you get used to the insular freelance life, but it is always rewarding. If you're unmotivated and fluffing around there is no use standing at your computer procrastinating, go and see a movie, go to the gallery, have another B.L.C meet up, don't feel guilty about it, it's for the best. Over Christmas take a full break and disconnect from all work, emails, social media, do nothing, have no goals and just re-cooperate, let your mind rest and you will come back fresh.

Burn out need a drink Kelly Thompson Audrey Hepburn


I have ticked all of my goals, well the ones I wrote down and said out loud anyway, and they felt amazing to achieve. Now that feeling of satisfaction is wearing off and I feel like I am floating around, treading water in no specific direction. I've been thinking about this feeling a lot lately, and I realised that I haven't set any new goals for a while, so it's no surprise I am feeling a little bit creative blah - I don't have anything to direct my thoughts and energy to, I am unfocused.

Over summer I am going to relax and see what new plans spring to mind, I encourage you to too, it is amazing what setting some goals can do to direct your creative mind. 

Now I am going to re-read all of these thoughts and apply them to myself! If you have some things that help cure your creative block please share them with everyone below, I would love to hear them and tell my pals too. 



* true story, I was offered $25 for a fashion sketch last week...sigh

Special thanks to Audrey Hepburn for illustrating this post so well

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