How to Side-Step Creator Burnout

Burn out.

It happens to everyone. For some, the creative fires burn long and motivation seems to flow like a never ending stream. But one day, everything dries up and you’re left scratching your head and wondering where the magic has gone. This painful affliction haunts us all – much like the common cold, everyone ends up getting it in some form or another. But how do you avoid it from happening?

Prevention is part of the cure. It may not be the silver bullet, but it can sure help you avoid the common traps we lay to sabotage ourselves and create doubt in our abilities, despair about the level of success, and depression about the lack of attention and wealth we’re receiving.

One of the tell-tale signs that burnout is imminent is an obvious decrease in mental energy levels. You may not realize it, but when your mind is suffering, your creativity suffers. If you feel lousy, the last thing you want to do is slog it out at a desk for 8 hours to come up with creative, brilliant solutions. If this extends over a period of time, you’ll have ZERO motivation to finish any of your projects.

Image by Shelly Longney

When you’re feeling lousy, try and shake things up a little. A change of scenery, a good night’s rest, an activity that doesn’t rely on using your grey matter. Things that are completely unrelated to your (comic) task at hand may help your regain your focus and plow through those ‘low’ moments when you’re not feeling 100%. The last thing you want to be worrying about is getting a comic out on time. Worry more about caring for your state of mind and you will have the endurance to get you out of any low motivation dips.

Another way to rebuild your motivation is to delegate some of your tasks to a trusted friend. By reducing your work load, you’ll have less to worry about and free yourself up to do more creative things, rather than worrying about the mundane daily aspects of your comic hobby/business. People are paying/visting you for your work, not how you handle the business side of your work. You need to bring your A-game, every game. The best way to do that is to keep focused on your specialty, and that is drawing/writing your comics.

The final tip I’ll leave you with is a little thing I like to call ‘pouring salt on the leeches.’When you pour salt on a leech, it shrivels up and releases itself. You want to do this to all of the things that suck time, motivation and energy from your project. If you are truly committed and focused on creating the best strip or story that you possibly can, you need to remove all of the outside influences that distract and siphon away your precious time to do things.

Certain things can’t be helped, obviously – if you have a job, family commitments, etc. But there are times where you SHOULD be focusing on your work, instead of spending 3 hours surfing the TV/Netflix for something to watch. Cancel the accounts, unplug the TV and place it in a spot that will make it difficult to physically go and reconnect it when those urges arrive. You’ll be quick to snap out of your dream-state, regain your focus and become more productive.

There you have it kids. A few ways to side-step burnout. Now quit wasting time reading this article and go do something productive!

Andrés ‘ Drezz ‘ Rodriguez is the new guy here at Webcomic Alliance and is the author of the modern noir Online Graphic Novel entitled El Cuervo.  In his spare time he works as a stunt man on MTV’s Jackass and as a punching bag for UFC Fighter Georges St. Pierre.  If you have any suggestions for upcoming tutorials, feel free to connect with him on Google+ or you can follow him on Twitter at @ElCuervoComic

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  1. Great article, as a programmer. I work for 8 hours in front of a computer. I hardly have time to go out and organize my mind. What I find works for me is to close my eyes and think of happy thoughts.

    • I hear that. I’m a designer and come home every night to sit in front of a computer again. I have more a case of computer burn-out and comics-burnout I think. But still, some helpful advice by Drezzy.

      My 45 minute commute is actually my quiet meditation time. Not that I’d suggest meditating while driving, but I get as close as I can come to meditating while driving (safely).

  2. I’m re-learning the importance of preventative, personal care. Even taking 15 minutes every morning to do stretches or breathing exercises to give the brain a break can be very helpful.

    I’d add that one should pick break activities with care! I’ve been mixing up “distraction” with “destressing” – the problem is, a distraction still winds the brain up. The result is that I’m “relaxing” but my mind still feels over-clocked. It’s a bit of a wicked cycle.

    Thanks for the reminders to chill out and let the mind rest.

    • Off-time is just as important as on-time, for the creative process. I too have to remind myself of that. and strangle that little shoulder angel who keeps whispering “slacker!” every time I stop for 5 minutes for off-time.

  3. I’m glad these tips may help some of you folks. Bear in mind that this isn’t the antidote for creative sluggishness.

    Lack of motivation is a killer in any field, and if you are already predisposed to having low motivation due to other ailments, getting off your butt to go for a walk may not help.

    My only other suggestion would be to take a mental hiatus for a while and do things that appeal to you – catch up on sleep, vent about your current situation, be angsty and moody until one day you’ve spent all that negative enrgy and it morphs into something you can work with.

    The original concept for El Cuervo came from a story I was developing that I started writing when I was in a bad place creatively. Its been over 10 years since that time, but its given me a lot to work with. So turn your crappy unproductive days into something worth working with.

  4. Great advice for when one reaches the occasional point where working on your comic is just about equal to the thrill you get from mowing the lawn with a pushmower. 🙂

  5. Excellent article, Andrés. I have noticed that some times my mind is creating ideas at a very fast pace. So fast that I just want to keep coming with more and more gags. In those happy times I don’t want to draw anything because I feel like losing the creative moment’s impulse. There are other times where definitely my creativity is not in a high level. Those are the moments when I can use the ideas buffer I have created previously to draw new cartoons.

    By the way, going outside, to places where there are lots of people, usually helps me to come u with new ideas.

  6. For me, the major cure was to understand my limits. I used to do a webcomic called Punk-Pink!, where I’d do 11×17, full-color pages… it just became unbearable to do even one page. Thing is, I realized a couple things: one, the story was HUGE, and the story in my mind was hopelessly ahead of the one on paper, which became a source of frustration for me; two, I didn’t enjoy sitting in front of the computer for hours coloring; tehree, they just ate up too much of my already-limited personal time. When I remade it into RuneSpark, I went down to a simple, monochrome strip format, two to an 8.5×11 page, and paced myself to where I’d only have to work on my comics three days a week to give myself ample time to myself while still adding at least one strip to my buffer. I still have slip-ups every now and again, but the difference in motivation between doing Punk-Pink! and RuneSpark is pretty massive.

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