How To Survive Creative Burnout

Outside the Hundertwasser-haus, Vienna[This is a chapter from The Dance of The Possible: the mostly honest completely irreverent guide to creativity]

The longer you work at creating things, whether it’s websites, essays or paintings, the greater the odds you’ll have days where you don’t feel like doing it anymore. Until that first day you may have heard others describe burnout, but you just shrugged it off as superstition, or perhaps you believed yourself to be immune. But the day it hits you, the world seems suddenly grey. What was once fun and challenging feel empty and pointless. Or perhaps the things that used to motivate or move you don’t resonate at all. If this sounds familiar, or you fear that this day is in your future, this essay is for you.

How to know when you’re burned out

The first thing to realize is that everyone’s creative energies come from different places. The reasons you might feel stuck or empty will be different from your friends and co-workers. So don’t be surprised that while you’re feeling low, others around you aren’t. Creative work is personal and is fueled by the unique combination of qualities that makes you, you. Just because you’re not running through the halls yelling about how you love your job, while the rest of the people on your floor are dancing in the halls, doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong. But to be yourself you have to honor the  feelings that only you are feeling.

Burnout means you’ve pushed your creative energy beyond the point of recovery. Like a well of water, creative energy replenishes itself slowly over time. A person who has pushed their creative well too hard for too long will, like its watery counterpart, one day find it empty. Usually by the time you notice something is seriously wrong, there’s little energy left to work with. Common signs you might be burnt out include:

  • You dread waking up (unless this is not unusual for you)
  • You don’t care about something you were passionate about
  • You saw the title of this essay and felt a ray of hope
  • Inspired, motivated creative people annoy you
  • Everything seems gray and pointless
  • You’re drinking or eating more, or showing whatever your signs of depression are
  • You find it hard to relax
  • It’s a struggle to do even basic work

But be warned: before you chalk it up to creative burnout, be aware that there are some other problems that can easily be confused with it. How is the morale in your workplace? Are people generally happy or is the vibe downbeat (or toxic)? There may be other issues in your workplace that are having a negative emotional impact on you. Most likely, there are several issues you’re dealing with at the same time, including issues at home or with family, that are contributing to how you’re feeling. Sorting it out can take time, and it’s rarely helpful to blame everything going on in your life on one or two specific events, people, or environments.

Surviving burnout

The Hundertwasser-haus, ViennaUsing the well example again, what would you do if you ran out of water? Would you become one with your couch, pizza in hand, watching movies all day long, leaving it to the fates to decide if you’ll ever drink water again? I think not. You’d go out to the store, or perhaps to a neighbor’s house and ask to borrow some of theirs. Burnout is entirely survivable. Creative people get burnt all the time, to varying degrees, and many of them develop the habits that allow them to come back, sometimes stronger or more motivated that they were before. The well will fill again all on it’s own, unless you do something stupid (start taking drugs, staying up all night and trying to plow through even though that never works for you, giving up completely and joining the army, etc.)

The best place to start with survival tactics is with your teammates and co-workers. Pick the one person who you relate to best, and tell them how you feel. “Hey friend, I’m so burned out right now.” 9 times out of 10 you’ll get more support and encouragement than you expected. If the person you confide in is cool and empathetic, they’ll hear you out, ask you what they can do tell help, and establish a base camp of support. Even if the conversation lasts 25 seconds, you’ll feel more human, and the burden of crappy feelings won’t be on your shoulders alone. If you have specific things they can do to cheer you up, name them. Be specific.

Do you want them to try and make you laugh? Do you want encouragement? Do you want them to listen to you vent and complain now and then? Dance outside your office when they walk by? They can’t know how to help you if you don’t tell them. If your manager understands anything about creative work, it’s in his or her interest to help you deal with burnout. Even with the most calculating and evil manager, if you report to them you’re an asset to them. When you’re toasty, you’re at risk of crashing completely and become entirely useless.

So even if they see you as a yuppified form of urban cattle, they want you producing and creating over the long haul. If they can convert weeks of malaise and poor work into a handful of days, it’s entirely in their interest to do so. It’s simple economics. A more likely situation is that, if your manager is paying any attention at all, they already know there’s something wrong. They can sense the difference in your behavior in meetings, and see the quality or precision of the work you’re producing. A good manager would ask and investigate to find out what’s wrong (it’s their job), but some don’t know what to say. In that case, it’s up to you.

Here’s an easy way to go (if you don’t trust your manager enough to share this, go here):

“Hey boss. I’m concerned about something. I haven’t been as motivated as I’d like on this project for the last 2 weeks. I’m trying to figure out why, and it’s possible I’m burnt out on some aspect of this work. If you have suggestions for me, I’m open to them, but I just wanted to make sure you were aware of what’s going on. I’ll keep you posted as I figure out what we can do about it.”

By starting a conversation like this, you take responsibility for you burnout. You score points with you manager (and with yourself) for be aware of what’s going on, and taking a mature and open course of action about it. Generally, things go better for person A, if person A takes action about what person A is feeling. For myself, I can’t say I’ve always been person A, but I realize that when I take the weaker, easier, person B path of ignoring and denying the entire situation (any my feelings about it), it rarely works to my advantage. Person B’s life expectancy, and quality of life, is probably never as good person A.

Survival tactics

In then end, I’ve found that talking with other people won’t dramatically change the way you feel. It’s important to talk and express things, since expressing feelings is the only way to work through them, but in the end, change only comes from within. Change is slow, tricky and unpredictable, but everyone has certain triggers or experiences that help them shake things up more than others. Since everyone’s different, the approaches for how to work through it often have to be discovered by you. Here’s some of the things that I know have worked for me, and other designers and engineers I’ve worked with, but I recommend serious experimentation on your own:

  • Plan an escape. Take a day off and do the most dramatically easy but fun thing you can think of. Go see a matinee downtown, have a fantastic lunch, shop, browse, and walk. Be as indulgent as you can stand, and drag as many of your friends along with you. (Offer to return the favor with them when they’re burnt out.). Use a vacation day, or a sick day (Isn’t burnout a form of poor mental health?)
  • Laugh. Whatever it is you find funny, bring more of it into your life. Whether it’s certain people, films, tv shows, plays, books. Choose to laugh.
  • Scream. I’m a believer in primal screams. I always feel better after I’ve yelled at the top of my lungs for no particular reason, doubly so if I’m pissed off about something. Practice different screams, such as yelling ordinary words (“Papaya!!!”) vs. generic scream sounds (“Aaaaaaaagggh!”). Get friends and co-workers to participate if you can. Even if alone, and you have to do it into a pillow or underwater to not upset the neighbors, do it anyway. You’ll feel better, I promise.
  • Fun time. How much time per day do you do stuff purely for fun? Just because you like it and for no other reason? Why isn’t this number larger? What is more important than fun and happiness over the course of a lifetime?
  • Sleep & Exercise. Unfortunately, our minds are connected to our bodies, and if we treat our bodies poorly, well, our minds kind of get pissed off. I’ve found that if I’m not getting enough exercise, I’m about half as useful to the world than otherwise. Start taking a walk every day. Go swimming. Have more/better sex. Free up your body, and your mind will follow.
  • Travel. Get in the car, pick a direction, and drive. Grab friends, or not. Bring food, or not. Play music really loud, or just roll down the windows, and stick your head out (pssst.. this is a good time to scream). Use some vacation time, or ask for time without pay so you can stretch out your time (and your time may be more valuable than your money).

Beginning again

After you’ve made some effort to escape, and let the well fill up again, it’s time to get back to work. Sometimes the toasty feeling remains, even though you’ve filled up your credit cards, have seen every new film, and are exercising and laughing daily. Even with the most understanding boss or teammates, most people can’t afford to escape for very long. The work and the deadlines may have slipped back, but the work is still there. Here’s some advice for how to start again, and reconnect with the work at hand.

  • Break things into smaller pieces. What are the smallest meaningful pieces to work with? Work on a page. Can’t do a page? Work on a paragraph. Get down the smallest bit you feel you can manage, but do it. Like Guthrie said, take it easy, but take it. After you do one piece, find the strength to do the next one. If you can’t, go for a walk, call a friend, but then come back and try again. And on and on. One small piece at a time. If you’re lucky, once you’ve got a few pieces done, you’ll hit your stride and it won’t seem so bad. If not, just slug it out. At least you’ll be able to say tomorrow you did something today.
  • Look at the worst pieces of work you know of. The worst writing. The worst painting. The worst web design. Worst whatever. Do you feel anything when you look at the crap? Does it annoy you? Make you angry? Is there still a response there at all? Some energy somewhere in your gut? Can you redirect it?
  • Repeat above, only with the best piece of work you know. Go to a museum, or your favorite building. Watch your favorite film, read your favorite book. Do you get any energy there? Anything you can bring with you into your own project?

Avoiding burnout

After you’ve gone through it once, you might fall victim to the arrogance of invulnerability. The false idea that since you’ve been burnt to a crisp once and survived, you can do it again. Don’t be stupid. It’s pure denial you’re feeling, not confidence. As long as you take on tough assignments and push yourself creatively you run the risk of going to far, and to live up to your potential as a creative person, you have to find ways to push yourself without pushing too far.

  • Change your work environment: What do you do at work when you feel stuck (not burnt out, but just stuck on a problem)? Are there things you can do to your cube or office to help you deal with those times? Posters of work that inspires you? Things that make you laugh? Music that helps you think through a problem? You spend 8 hours a day in that space: it’s worth taking a couple of hours to improve it by even 5 or 10%. If you suck at this and don’t know where to start (e.g. you’re male), ask a friend to help you out.
  • Project assignments: How do you decide what project assignments to take? How can you find more variety in your work, so that there’s a chance you’ll develop new interests, or new skills? Real growth is the best burnout prevention technique. It’s easier to stay interested if the work and the people stay interesting.
  • Work on more than one project at a time. My wife, an artist, never works on one painting at a time. When she feels stuck on one, she’ll move over to another and it always seems fresh and interesting, compared to the work she just left. I find the same thing with writing and designing. Find ways to give yourself alternatives, so that you can still be productive, while having the choice to temporarily skip a problem you are annoyed by or frustrated with.
  • Managers and work relationships. Do you like the people you work with? I don’t know how long I could be creative if I fundamentally didn’t like or get along with my boss, or most of my co-workers. The real problem might not be creative at all. It might be the unhealthy nature of your work relationships. Time spent improving relationship skills creates the potential for change, while banging your head against the wall every day and complaining to friends probably doesn’t.
  • Career & Lifestyle: How long have you been doing what you’re doing? Do you expect to do it forever? Perhaps you need bigger changes in your life that you’re getting. A new friend, a new lover, a new city, a new company, a new hobby, might be the only way to move your life forward.

Know Thyself

However you choose to deal with your situation, pay attention to yourself. What works and doesn’t work for you? When did you feel most inspired in your life? Least? What things in your life seem to influence your morale and motivation? No one can answer these questions but you. It’s often harder to figure out and listen to what your own needs are than to take advice from others. The sooner you sit down and allow your own truth to come out, the better off you’ll be.

See: Creative Burnout Revisited, my sequel to this essay ten years later

[Photos from Hundertwasser’s Hundertwasserhaus]

[Published June 2004]

85 Responses to “How To Survive Creative Burnout”

  1. Robert

    The typographical and spelling errors in this article make it almost impossible to read.

        1. Jūratė

          well, i’ve managed to read it:p

      1. Todd Schofield

        No they aren’t. The content of this article is fantastic, but completely lost if it’s presented with mistakes.

        1. Scott Berkun

          Hey Todd – apologies about the typos. This essay was revised and proofread for it’s inclusion in The Dance of the Possible (DOTP) – most of those corrections have been applied here, but if you catch any let me know (and I’ll send you a signed copy of DOTP).

    1. Sundhar

      Try not to look at the medium with which the artist is trying to send the message….

      Try to feel the message…

      I read a lot of blogs and notice a few mistakes but i don’t take them seriously, as i try to feel what author is saying…

      PS.Please do not notify me of any typos in ‘this’ message LOL ;-)

  2. Hannahluvv x

    I’ve been writing for a while now and so far i have written 8 chapters but now whenever i think of the story to write more my mind goes black and i don’t know what else to type.
    Now I’m completely stumped


    1. Scott Berkun


      Common problem. I deal with it all the time. The trick is easy. Go reread what you have. When you get to the end, odds are good you’ll have ideas for what should come next. This probably won’ t be fun, but it will work.

    2. Trevor

      I’m trying to write a sequel to a story I completed where one of the story lines went unfinished and left at a cliff hanger to signal a sequel. Well this plot is actually very quick to resolve and I don’t have any other ideas.

      Most of my issues are with character interactions, teens and chit chat, I don’t really know how to evolve them socially to create actual plots anymore. I’m a soap opera style writer, I do the drama and have the characters and by my small fan base I’ve been told I do the teen genre the best and so that is what I do, it seems the most interesting.

      But now I’ve got characters, they have names, histories, faces, I look up pictures for inspiration on their appearance. I got them in social settings but I just don’t know what to have them do, I totally blank.

  3. Gautam

    A friend of mine sent this artice, may be he has realized that I am burnt out, which I think I am. Very interesting and practical thoughts. I would try them out

  4. Christina Reihill

    ..Good to read this .

    Creative Burn out can feel like you’re going mad and the worst part of feeling that ( whatever that is ) is the aloneness of it …After an intense period of creative productivity ( staging a production of my odyssey in verse) I was feeling spun out and suddenly completely disinterested in my work- I felt I’d walked off somewhere and dropped into a void of nothingness hidious ..

    But something felt familiar about it – I’d been here before – just less so …Finally after days or was it weeks of wandering around in myself going nowhere – I talked to a friend and it all poured out- how useless I felt – how isolated I’d become and the terrifying feeling of my lost identity in all that – she listened without interruption – bought me a huge pizza and fed me assurances that my life and work were very worthwhile – I left our lunch feeling like a child hugged into life again. The following day I cleaned the windows on my house and did nothing .

    The next day I watched a wonderful Spanish film ( The Secret in Their Eyes ) and another artist friend told me she knew it well . I’d walked off somewhere but I was finding my way home..

    I’m still walking but articles like this make me feel less alone and strange here …thank you

    1. Lydia

      Omg! I feel the same way! You are not alone! I started a new job and was working pretty steadily on and off for 6 months. I hit blocks along the way, but I was totally inspired, I constantly found solutions to creative problems and I felt like I was made of gold. I was constantly being directed to new inspiration and my world was filled with magic and I buzzed inside! Then one day, I woke up and it was like, the light had gone dim. I was in the dark, “walking around” completely. Its been about 2-3 months and I’m still not there.

  5. Devan

    I’m a 13 year old who has worked on an idea for a book for at least 5 years now and I’ve gotten really far but can’t put it in a complete story because iv’e been completely dry of ideas for at least a month now. I’ve tried the most of methods you suggested and I still feel bummed out. I don’t know what to and I really need some help.

    1. Maggie

      Holy bubbles kid, five years!!! I wrote for about half my life before I realized that I needed more in my life than just writing and school. In my senior year of high school, I changed my whole life–I went to art school and gave up writing for almost two years. Now I love to write, and I have creative drive–as well as options. Options are important in life. You need to try something else–some kind of sport, music, dancing, painting, clay, pottery, I don’t know, even just like refurbishing….something–cars, old electronics–start collecting….something. Anything. Don’t focus. Branch out.

      1. Chris

        Hi, just wondering what you do now. Also what did you study at art school, visual art? How do you balance each of your interests and passions

        1. Maggie

          Hey Chris, two years after I wrote that comment, I’m almost finished with my sophomore year of college. I study the figure (drawing and sculpting; I would like to try painting, but it’s expensive, and college art students are twice as broke as uni students). I’m learning anatomy so that I can sculpt ball jointed dolls; I’ve also studied casting and mold making, so that I can duplicate dolls.

          I still write on the side, mostly in my downtime, such as going home or grocery shopping, but now that I have back my desire to tell stories and write, I can’t wait for my junior year, when I may get more opportunities to do just that.

          Believe me, branching out is the best thing I can recommend for conquering burn out. Doing and loving to do a wide variety of things means when you’re sick of one thing and just can’t get anymore out, there’s somewhere else to focus your energy. It also helps because it broadens your focus, and if you participate in a community (which I also recommend), then you can turn to your friends in those communities when you’re just not feeling right.

          Good luck to anyone who’s burnt out.

  6. Rick Tuthill

    I’ve been a graphic designer for 30 years and I would say that for the past four or five years I’ve suffered from burnout on and off. Usually it starts as a feeling of being overwhelmed by the project’s that I’m working on and when I feel like this, it seems like I just sit and stare at my computer and my mind goes blank, I just sort of lose the motivation to do my work. I start to feel like I’m no longer good at my job and I feel insecure about my abilities as a graphic designer when I never used to feel like this years ago, I used to love what I did but now feel like I’ve lost my desire to do this kind of work anymore.

    I’m lucky that I get to work from home for a small company and I’m fortunate that I work for very nice people. some people would probably think I’m just being a big cry baby but I can’t help how I feel. When the burnout get’s bad, it makes me feel trapped by my job. i work with another graphic artist who is very talented and I feel like his work outshines mine and like I’m in competition with him, which I don’t want to be. It’s just my own insecurity I guess. For the last several years I’ve been painting in my spare time and the painting has become my passion now instead of the graphic design that I do for my living, I’m trying to find ways to meld painting with making a living but it’s not easy.

    I found this article helpful in the respect that it says exactly the way I’ve been feeling for sometime now. Recently I’ve been thinking of finding full time work that doesn’t involve constantly having to be creative every single day but I’m not sure what I should do. I’m starting to come to the realization that maybe it’s time to make a career change, but I’m 54 years old and I don’t know what that would be and I know how bad our economy is. Anyway, it felt good to get this off of my chest because I don’t feel like I can talk to my wife about this in too great of detail because I don’t want her to worry.

    1. Stephane

      You could maybe teach graphic design, or write a book or start a blog. There is nothing more welcomed than knowledge. And teaching bring also a really warm feeling. Someone as experience than you most have so much to share!

      Just an idea.

    2. SBee

      Hey Rick, I can totally relate. Been doing graphic design since 1988. I’ve been burned out for the past 19 years but had to keep at it to raise the kids. Now they’re gone and I got laid off. The thought of pounding the pavement again just makes me want to hurl.

      So, I’m getting into a new field, art therapy. Going back to school at age 45, but I don’t care. I have to do something else that’s meaningful and making ads for profits I’ll never see is not the way.

      Good luck to you!

    3. Kathy

      Great article Scott!
      Rick your comment was very helpful. I am 52. Some days I feel I still got this. Other days not so much and then wondering what’s next. Teaching and blogging is not my thing.

      Rick your comment was posted in 2011. What have you done lately?

      Scott, what would you suggest?

      Thank you greatly.

    4. maria

      I have been feeling just like Rick…. worked as an illustrator for many years now. I feel tapped out . I stare at the computer screen like it’s a blade of grass , waiting for it to grow, change… nothing. I’ve tried peoples suggestions on how to get back the creativity but nothing works. I don’t even want a job that i need to come up with any ideas or really need to think. But now I’m older and have been looking for a job over 2 years even fast food restaurants won’t hire me. I’m lost and my brain is empty and have no idea what to do.

    5. Brian

      Rick. This just bought tears to my eyes. This precisely how I feel. I would almost have written this word for word except I have been doing this for 20 years and I am 44.

      I also feel like a cry baby. Here I am, working in a field that others wold kill to be in. Making a good living for what would be considered easy work by those outside our industry. Yet I find myself so riddled by self doubt that I’m almost ready to walk away. I’ve shared my feelings with my wife and although she is supportive, she’s currently unemployed and having difficulty finding work. She was an account director. I have 2 daughters. 1 in private school and one a freshman in HS. I can’t afford to make a rash decision. However, I’m struggling and don’t know how long I can hang on.

    6. Mike

      Your story is exactly the same as mine, right down to the number of years you’ve been a graphic designer and your age (54, at the time you wrote this).
      How are you now? Since it’s been six years since you wrote this article, what has happened with your career & interests?

  7. Miranda

    I really enjoyed this article. I’m starting a lot of new creative endeavors right now and I’m terrified of becoming burnt out from ‘new project’ overload. It’s nice to have access to these tips preemptively. Thanks for posting.

  8. Shekhar

    A very nice and helpful article. Thanks for posting it.
    I feel a lot better after reading it.

  9. Lisa

    Nice article. I’m 27 and a full time graphic designer. I’ve been planning/designing my wedding on top of working 40+ hours a week. The wedding is coming up in a month and I think I have hit the rock bottom equivalent to burn out. I just go to work and stare at a logo project I’m on and feel so totally overwhelmed! I start to doubt myself and my abilities as a graphic designer. It’s nice to read that it is a common problem and that I’m not alone. I think it’s impossible to be creative all the time! You need to take breaks and get away from it all. Let’s just hope I can survive till my honeymoon! =)

  10. brook

    Thank you for putting the mess I’ve been going through in clear words.

    My job involved innovative software development, prototyping applications. It was a blast and a breeze for 4 years, until I got this new position a couple of years ago under a poor manager with mood and monomania issues. I never suspected how much I was owing to my previous manager for performing well, he actually provided reassurance and encouragement in such subtle and indirect forms that I never had to learn to manage stress or uncover my psychological weaknesses. The result is that I crashed badly at the new place, both personally and professionally. I went through burnout, mood swings, depression, therapy, partial recovery, anxiety…basically my world came upside down within the last year. I did not have the courage to express myself until the damage was done (extremely proud and independent character).
    Now that job is over and I’ve been shyly starting to look for a new one, meanwhile falling back to my parent’s place.

    I’m barely able to look at the code editor or the tremendous volume of innovations hitting everyday without feeling overwhelmed, and broken. I don’t know if I’m going to make it back up there or if I’ll choose the “really really stupid” course of switching to something else. At this point, I have a physical reaction (stomach and scalp stinging) warning me that I am thinking too much about something. I believe it’s called a psychosomatic symptom. It’s good in a way, because it forces me immediately back to a more relaxed state, but I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to the same creativity/productivity in this condition.

    Thanks again for this post, it made me want to express myself and that’s a bit of therapy :)

    1. Scott

      You’re welcome. Very glad to hear this was useful.

    2. J.G.

      This is exactly what is happening to me, except I’m in a place where I really like my boss. Unfortunately, I don’t have the creative spark. I was highly driven and incredibly confident (borderline arrogant) for the last 3 or 4 years. All of this started when I got married and got a new job – both at the same time. The work is a lot more challenging, but at the same time I’m around much smarter people so it’s incredibly intimidating. Basically my comfort zone was completely destroyed. Normally that would be an okay thing, but it has killed my motivation and caused severe anxiety… anxiety to the point where I’m now taking medicine to curb it. It has also destroyed my writing abilities. I’m surprised I’m able to type coherent sentences right now – I used to be able to write essays and papers on any topic, whether I understood it or not.

      The point isn’t that I want to be able to write. I just want to gain that confidence so I can relax and stop thinking about the fact that my creativity is effectively shot. The worst part is thinking about it and trying to put my finger on some kind of diagnosis when there really isn’t anyone or anything to blame but myself. I’m going on a year of this drought and it’s been a pretty miserable one, professionally. Not sure where to go from here.

      1. brook

        Thanks for your reply J.G.
        It’s as if I reading my own thoughts.
        I also do not deal well with the threat of competition, except when I’m completely absorbed in a creative task, that’s when I totally forget about everything. I think it will help me to take a new job with a little less emphasis on creativity, while the well slowly refills.
        Best of luck!

  11. James

    I used to draw… a lot. In fact I draw more in school than do actual school work. Most of my drawings would come from my imagenation. Lately I’ve be thinking of things that I’ve wanted to put on paper, but as soon as I put the pen/pencial to paper…nothing. I tried writing about to resolve this block before but again…nothing. I read through this blog and will be appling the tactics in hopes to draw again.

    Even if I can’t get out of this funk, still a great blog.

  12. Joshua S Lundquist

    Hey Scott – “You don’t care anymore about something you were passionate about”

    I know this feeling, in fact, I just wrote about this! This is where being a multipotentialite really saves you alot of strife. If I get ‘burnt’ on one interest, or even a handful, there’s always something lurking in the back of my interests grab-bag that I forgot about / realize I want to do. But for those of us not blessed with the scanner / polymath genes, I can see how this would be an energy drag. I like how your wife has multiple paintings going on, so my advice would be the same, but to try having multiple projects in multiple media going on! It takes a bit of surrender to the idea that you ‘need to get this done,’ or that you should wed yourself to only one medium / genre / project. Thanks for this!

  13. M

    I am an artist but for the last 6 months…my enthusiastic abilities and artistic liveliness have like faded away so drastically… It is as if i don’t feel like being that individual anymore… I really want to revive my inner self… but i am finding it so hard… and it is like nobody can truly understand this!

  14. Mark

    Thanks for this article – ten years after it was written but it’s still spot-on. I think I’m experiencing burn-out.
    I’ve been self employed for over ten years in web/graphic design, during which I’ve had a long-term contract – which I’ve just basically walked out of, after being given a 15 minute deadline on a campaign.
    I feel like I’ve given all I can give in that time and, whilst I can’t say the salary was the issue, there was a sense of treading water for much of it, without any kind of support mechanism or backup.
    So it’s left me without confidence that I can make it in a rapidly changing sector. Not that I have any motivation to, anyhow. There’s part of my that says I need to get back on the horse/get back into employment as soon as I can, and there’s another part of me that thinks I need to take a whole lot of time to find out what I really want to do in life, before I turn 40! There’s only so many times you can redesign a website before you say ‘what is actually the point of this?’

  15. Matt

    “You saw the title of this essay and felt a ray of hope”

    I definitely felt this haha.

    I am currently taking a programming course at university and the goal of my project was to create a game. I was so excited about creating this! But as things progressed I started getting sick of it. At this point it just feels like I’ve been dragging my feet. Going back through all the coding over and over again with a laser-focus for the tiniest errors has me drained.
    It’s a comfort knowing that there are other people who frequented this page. And this is very helpful for me.

    Thank you for the article, cheers

  16. Charm

    Hey… can you please help me?
    I have always loved coloring – mixing them into whatever I feel. It’s how I show my emotions yknow but for the past 3 years I’ve been focusing on academics I neglected the ability of being “creative” and whenever I try to paint… I end up coloring them with black, gray or any neutral colors.
    It just surprises me because Im not feeling sad or gloomy and I normally paint when Im motivated but I cant finish anything though… I stop whenever the overall color of my painting is gloomy… Its hard coz I start painting in a cheerful mood and it gets down to dark and sad colors… Its totally depressing so I just stop, not finishing anything. And probably would have to stop painting soon if I can’t find a solution for this… Please help me… The advice from this article that kindda helped me was: Finding a worst artwork. It made want to create better than it but it didnt last long… I painted them black and brown its totally totaaaally depressing. I usually go for vivid colors, bright and lots of colors in harmony.

  17. Essence J.

    I feel awkward writing this, but this is exactly how I’ve been feeling as well. I feel awkward because I feel like I shouldn’t be burnt out like this, especially since I’ve been going to the Art Institute of Houston for a year now. Everything was exciting and new in the beginning and I was doing well, but now I’m struggling and I’m starting to have second thoughts about my career choice. I feel like being an art student can be a little more stressful than a traditional university/college student at times. With all the projects, deadlines, and art supplies (that I can’t even afford right now), it has caused me to become overwhelmed, stressed out, and just completely burnt out. It’s so sad because this is exactly what I will being dealing with once I get a job. If I can’t even handle all the demands in school, there’s no way I will be able to keep a job in this field.

    1. Isabel G.

      I feel the same way. I’m a college senior in a Graphic Design program and I also work at my University as a graphic designer. While I am so grateful to have my job, I feel very overwhelmed by the amount of design work I am expected to create between 4 classes and work. I’m always working because class and my job take up the majority of my day, but then I have to work on projects at home as well, so there’s never an “off” button. As a result, I am creatively burnt out and I realized that I need to lighten my workload next semester, whether that means taking on fewer projects at work or taking fewer classes. It’s just very discouraging to feel this way when I haven’t even started my professional career yet.

  18. Anonymous

    I think I am suffering a similar thing at the moment. I work as a content designer for a small media company.

    I really enjoy the work I do but in the past 4 weeks I have found myself to not really be as motivated and I don’t get as much fulfillment out of my job since I started 6 months ago.

    I know what the root of my problem is though. My boss and my co-workers. Their attitudes and the way they talk and act really upsets me and makes me nervous and timid. Their sexist, racist and homophobic comments they make don’t help much. The fact I haven’t confronted them about it and also the fact I have Aspergers Syndrome makes it all the more difficult. There is no one my age or with a likable personality that I can relate to in my current job. I worked in a supermarket before. I could get on with people better there but the work I did was borderline depressing. Now I am doing what I love but the people I work with, the hour long commute to work and the lack of me time is slowly eating away at me….

  19. Vicki

    Scott – you suggest a conversation with your manager,prefaced with “Here’s an easy way to go”.

    Please be aware that some (many) managers would react badly to this conversation, very likely marking the employee as a potential problem and someone to put on the short list for the next layoff. I have worked for those managers.

  20. Akshay

    This article started off well and did give me a ray of hope. Then it turned into a superficial romcom montage type thing with trite bullet points. “Talk to a friend, scream etc”. As usual there’s nothing introverts can do here…

  21. Anonymous

    “Have more/better sex.” Hahahaha…oh being single sucks. :-(

  22. Jim

    I got burnt out just reading this article.

  23. wil

    In my case what happens is that the more I create, the more my taste gets better so the less I like the stuff I did last week :(

    1. wil

      I will read it, thanks a lot!

  24. Ben

    Hello Mr. Berkun!
    I am only 12 years old, but I am trying to write a book with my friends. And I am serious, I’m not talking about a 30 page short story. I really like your page, and it helps me a lot. Currently I am structuring my characters and settings. Do you have any advice for me? Thank you!

  25. Madeline Lombardi

    Im so unbelievably empty and i cant paint anymore. Anytime i start i will be a few hours in and paint the canvas black to startover. i am feeling all of these symptoms previously mentioned and ive taken your advice and planned a week off work in two weeks. I hope this will aid in healing and help my creativity. I plan on taking a solo road trip. Me and a sketch pad for a couple days.

  26. ChickieMama

    Thank you for this article. The image of the well running dry makes sense to me, and makes me realize I am not crazy; I just ran out of water because I used so much of it for so long.

  27. reza rishehri

    i do paint,sculpture,photography,music,video making,installations,but my problem is i dont see any thing in art anymore,art is pointless for me and i dont know what should i do…

  28. Ömer Arda Kaya

    Thanks for sharing this, hopefully it will fix my problems.

    I’m an unrelated game developer, and I have been developing personal games everyday for hours. After a while I started to lose enthusiasm and motivation. This essay helped me understand that taking a break and not pushing myself that hard will fix these problems.

  29. Ace

    Since the passing of my son, from cancer, in 2011, I’ve suffered from depression, and burnout. I just didn’t feel, don’t feel, like painting. Your article here is wonderful, and I just wanted to thank you for writing it, and sharing your knowledge, and wisdom. I’m sure your advice will help get me out of this rut, that has pretty much sucked the life out of my creative abilities, and creative desires. Thank you so very much.

  30. Christine

    just wanna thank you for the tips. I realize I have tried a large number of things here already, this burn out is lasting longer than I would like.
    I will try the “really bad piece of work” since that’s the only one i didn’t actually think of, maybe it will do something. Branching into different media might be helpful. I am recently more interested in photography than drawing or painting or animating.

  31. Paul

    What a great article and this is something I’ve been dealing with for a few years as a design creative. It started in 2017 when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimers and I was traveling a lot for work. At that point, I just lost all interest and didn’t see the point anymore. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great creatives at some amazing companies, but I felt so uninspired and self-doubt crept in. I left my high paying job a few months back, because I had just had enough.

    I’ve started working out more and focusing on home projects that I had been neglecting. It helps greatly and I really appreciate the time being at home doing something different. I’m still up and down, but I honestly think I just needed another outlet outside of my creative work. I haven’t designed anything in months, but I am taking some coding classes and really enjoying the challenge of it. I’m in my forties, so it might be time for a career change. Thanks

  32. Rick

    Hi, Scott loved your article it really helps. Thank you.
    Artists, including painters, illustrators, and other creative minds, can experience burnout. This means that there will be times that you will need to recharge your creativity for you to get back the creative juices flowing.

  33. Wes

    So many comments. I have been working on designing, coding, implementing an app for months now, and the work has thus far been really good. But I have been stuck, looking at a screen for weeks now and it’s so frustrating. It’s interesting how one feeling snowballs into others and how what we work on influences so much of our thinking about the future, where we are going, competency, success.. And when I feel good about my work the same applies. I am even considering a sabbatical.
    I have taken two weeks leave starting tomorrow. Hope to come back with fresh energy.



  1. […] Posts like @armano’s [When is your website a community?] pointing out that “communities don’t form overnight.” And then there are links we revisit when we need to be reminded [How to survive creative burnout]. […]

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