What is Creative Burnout?
Creative burnout is when artists are in a state of exhaustion, depression, and/or stress when it comes to approaching their creative work.
The problem is that when screenwriters look for a way out of their burnout such as via a motivational YouTube video or an article, they’re often just met with the same old common mantras…
“JUST KEEP WRITING. “
“BE KIND TO YOURSELF.”
“YOU’RE DOING BETTER THAN YOU THINK.”
While the mantras might be true and sound, they can fail to resonate or help because they ignore being real or empathizing with screenwriters over the hardship of writing. Let’s face it…
- Writing can be taxing.
- Most days, you’re more likely to write something you dislike rather than something ingenious.
- Brainstorming story ideas is more often a headache than a breakthrough.
- Success isn’t promised, guaranteed, or how you might’ve envisioned even if attained.
- Everyone is either married, taking vacations, has kids, or is feeling content with their careers, while you’re single, broke, and staring at a blank screenplay page.
- And you’re no Wes Anderson or Christopher Nolan, so who’d listen to your pitch anyway? (If you are indeed Nolan or Anderson, you’ve probably experienced one or two of these thoughts at some point as well.)
If writing was so easy and promised instant success, everyone would do it. We’re all human, and exhaustion happens when work gets on top of us. It can even happen when we least expect it or for reasons we can’t identify.
What are the Solutions to Creative Burnout?
It might sound counter-intuitive, but rather than ignoring it, writers need to face their creative burnout head-on.
Instead of suppressing this very natural human emotion, let’s attempt to leverage your burnout so that you can bounce back with genuine joy. The rekindling of these creative juices will spark the adventure to your next screenwriting goal.
How? Well, we’re going to tackle some key steps to overcoming creative burnout later on in the article. But addressing burnout starts with two main issues…
1) Building awareness of what led to your creative burnout in the first place.
2) Following steps to overcome the burnout, or rather, flow with the creative burnout tide towards your potential breakthrough.
First, let’s begin with building awareness…
The Mind of a Screenwriter
The list of nervous, self-questioning, and overwhelming thoughts goes on and on. Friends and family may falsely perceive you to be the next Ernest Hemingway or Jane Austen (who’s to say they didn’t go through creative burnouts too?) but you’re just struggling to even put pen to paper.
For screenwriters, there could be multiple sources of creative burnout:
- Overloaded with multiple projects.
- Unbalanced schedule.
- Pressure to make a higher income.
- Too many distractions.
- Unspecified goals.
- Inaction due to fear of rejection.
- Unrealistic goals that don’t align with your personal/work life.
- The pressure of success itself.
You might be on a run of good writing projects, feeling on top of your game and burnishing past fears. But sometimes all it takes is one project to hit a wall for negative thoughts to resurface again.
The point here is to build awareness of these thoughts. After all, the creative burnout built over time could be muddy and fuzzy to understand. But the more writers understand that these issues are common, the more solvable they will feel.
Writers have a tendency to work alone, where overwhelming negative thoughts can fester easily. But the more writers you speak to, the more you’ll understand that these feelings of creative burnout are totally normal, if not completely expected. And acknowledging these demons is the first step to battling them.
But how do you actually overcome creative burnout? How do you rise from the ashes like a phoenix and rekindle your road to writing success? We look at some key steps…
6 Key Steps to Overcome Creative Burnout
1. Revisit Your Source of Inspiration
“Remember who you are“, Mufasa says to Simba in The Lion King. Mufasa reminds Simba about his purpose in life when he’s at his lowest point and filled with doubt. And he motivates Simba to realize his childhood dream of becoming king of Pride Rock.
So in your case, find your Mufasa. In other words, sink yourself back in the films / TV shows that once motivated you to become a screenwriter or motivated you to tell the story that you’re currently working on/struggling with.
Perhaps your inspiration came from certain TV shows and films or even specific scenes within them? Maybe it was a book that inspired you? Go back to these sources and refresh your memory with what you drew inspiration from in the first place.
Whatever it is, when you go back, allow the feelings that once excited you to resurface. Sometimes writing is about doing everything but the act itself and instead, reminding yourself of why you wanted to write in the first place.
Your inspiration is still there, just dimly lit at the moment due to the residue of creative burnout you’ve built over time. Reviewing what once motivated you will be a conscious and subconscious reminder of what brought you to writing stories in the first place.
2. Brainstorm and Reflect on Your Creative Burnout
After you’ve taken time to re-immerse yourself in the movies/shows/books you love, diagnose yourself. What is it about those stories that really gets you hooked? This involves brainstorming and then reflecting. First…
- Genre: What genres are you usually watching? Is it fantasy/adventures, film noir, crime/gangster movies, or psychological thrillers? Whatever genre or tone it is, it could be speaking to your writing style or voice.
- Theme: Was there a message a film or TV episode left you with that tugged at your emotional cords? Do you have a similar theme that you’d like to reflect in a story?
- Character: Don’t just think about ‘cool’ characters. Rather, reflect on a character’s inner journey, his or her wound, or values. What about that character did you empathize with?
- Story World: Are there ancient/fantasy worlds that blow your mind? Or how about the inner workings of a gang or specific niche world? Whatever it is, those types of worlds could speak to you and could be the setting for your next script.
- Writers/Directors: Perhaps there’s a writer/director’s style you’re drawn to. For instance, if you enjoyed films like Moneyball, Steve Jobs, The Social Network, or shows like The West Wing, you might really enjoy Aaron Sorkin’s style of writing. Find who that writer/filmmaker is and let him or her inspire you. You can do this not only by delving into their work but by reading and listening to their advice.
Before you set off on your reinvigorated writer’s journey, think about what led to your burnout in the first place so you don’t repeat the actions that made you feel a slump. For example:
- Did you take on too many projects at once?
- Did you set unrealistic/unspecified goals?
- Were you writing with too many distractions (ie phone, social media, etc…)?
- Did you not schedule a time in the day or week for when to write?
- Were you writing for others and not yourself?
- Did you go through a personal upheaval (job, relationship, family) at the time?
Reflect on what led to your slump and make an adjustment or two to minimize the chances of another burnout.
For instance, focus on one project rather than three. Devote 30 minutes to writing/brainstorming in the morning, or create a calendar to schedule the different tasks you need to get done.
Whatever adjustment you make, it begins with awareness. This allows you to forgive yourself and not be so hard on yourself, which we’re all prone to do from time to time.
Once you’ve identified what led you to your slump, you’re ready for the next step…
3. Develop Goals
All characters have an inner or outer goal in movies, television, and video games. So why not you?
Sometimes, what leads to creative burnout is not having a clear goal in mind of what you wanted to write or produce in the first place. So this time, make that goal clear for yourself at the outset of your re-inspired journey.
Steps for Developing Your New Goal
1. Select a Project: Ask yourself, “What type of screenwriting journey do I want to take next?”
- Do you want to write a 10-page short film that shows your artistic strength over commercial appeal?
- Do you want to hammer out a 120-page feature screenplay or revise one you’ve shelved before?
- How about an idea based on something you love?
2. Set a Time: Once you have your goal in place, set a timetable for when you want to accomplish it (even if it’s a rough estimate). Is it one month, three months, a year, or another time frame?
3. Create Objectives for Your Goals: Create segments or mini-chapters for your journey. To say, “I want to write and sell my screenplay” packs a load of objectives to complete within it…
- Brainstorming a story idea.
- Writing your first draft.
- Rewriting. Rewriting. Rewriting.
- Copyrighting/protecting your script.
- Finding agents, producers, and filmmakers.
- Pitching your story.
- Receiving notes and rewriting AGAIN!
- Repeating these steps until you SELL.
Identify what objective you’re in, and break that objective into further steps if possible. Perhaps, for example, you want to spend one week just creating a synopsis of a story idea. Or perhaps you want to outline the inner desires/conflicts of a character you have in mind.
Whatever it is, make a plan of action, and follow through. Structure is the key to making any overwhelming task more manageable and, in turn, transforming feelings of burnout into creativity.
4. Engage with Your Community
You are not alone! And engaging with community groups is an important way to remind yourself of that. There are plenty in your same shoes, with similar challenges, creative burnouts, dreams, inspirations, and more.
There are different ways to achieve this, such as:
- These platforms are filled with communities of writers.
- Why get in touch? Perhaps someone will offer to read your script, share insight on how they booked their writing agent, or start a collaborative journey.
- We’re able to connect in ways today that previous writers never had before, so why not use the technology at our disposal?
- The most important aspect of this is to know you’re not in this alone. Just learning that others are going through exactly the same thing can relieve some of the pressure.
- Got an actor or writer friend who you’d like to write a screenplay with? Is there a film-obsessive friend of yours who’d love to read a synopsis of your story idea to take a break from their own work?
- How about any directors/filmmakers looking for a screenwriter (ehm, such as YOURSELF)?
- Make use of your own personal network, whether that means industry professionals or not.
- Not all community members are free. However, professional script coverage services are an excellent way to get in touch with professional consultants who will provide invaluable feedback on your work.
- Sometimes you just need a different perspective. And one that comes from someone trained in solving screenwriting issues is almost certainly going to give your screenplay freshness.
5. Share Your Progress
As humans, we tend to feel more accountable when we share our progress or goals with others. It creates a sense of reliability. And when what we do has an impact or an effect on others, it tends to boost motivation. Often a cause of creative burnout can be the sense that our work has no impact, and that we’re the only ones who bear witness to it.
If you are feeling shy about your progress, then at least track it for yourself. Make a note, keep a tracker, or enact some kind of rewards system.
- Did you start a new screenplay journey?
- Did you finish that short screenplay?
- Is there a deadline for when your script will be completed?
- Do you have a calendar you can share?
- Is there a screenwriting stage you’re in?
- Can you celebrate a particular achievement, even if small?
Who knows, your networking might lead you to connect with someone who’s interested and wants to be your personal fan, reader, or collaborator. And even if your progress is just for yourself or for those in your personal life, it’s important to create accountability for your work. After all, if a writer completes a screenplay and no one knows it, did it actually happen?
Setting ambitious targets and falling short of them can sometimes make you feel worse. So instead, as discussed above, set realistic and achievable small goals in order to get to the bigger ones. Then tracking progress will help you feel like you are achieving, even if you’re doing it slowly.
6. Allow Breaks
When David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan were writing The Dark Knight Rises, even they got hit with writer’s block and decided to take a break before reconvening about the story. After taking several days to step away, the two came back together.
So the moral of the story is whether it’s a day, a weekend, or two weeks, plan a break from writing, especially when you feel the onslaught of overwhelmed feelings coming.
You may find a creative solution to your writer’s block, or the breakthrough story that you wanted to tell all along could pop into your imagination. After all, an overwhelmed imagination is less likely to be able to communicate any ideas, let alone the ones you’re struggling with.
Moreover, like all great writing techniques, structure and strategy are vital. So plan your breaks, whether they’re daily or weekly.
For instance, if you’re writing for 45 minutes, allow a 5-10 minute break in between to let your thoughts simmer. This will help you to feel refreshed and minimize the chances of burning out in the middle of the day.
For bigger breaks after days of writing, you could…
- Revisit movies/TV shows you love or haven’t watched yet.
- Read a book that you’ve been wanting to get into.
- Take a hike or go walking.
- Grab coffee with another creative!
Use the break as leverage to reboot the next segment of writing. Sometimes, integrating a break could be just the pause our minds needed to let those creative juices simmer, boost motivation, or discover an unforeseen plot twist for your current screenplay.
Overall, Minimize the Toll of the Next Creative Burnout
Your writing journey is unique to you. Find the step or stage that connects with you and apply it to your journey.
However, even after all this, you might be saying to yourself, “What if I get burned out again?”
To some extent, the life of a writer should have creative burnouts factored in. However, whilst creative burnout may be difficult to avoid altogether, we can minimize its effects or the chances of it happening again by following the steps above.
- Evaluate yourself and your burnout.
- Revisit your source of inspiration in films, television, books or art.
- Take time to brainstorm.
- Integrate breaks.
- Set a clear schedule.
- Specify your goals for the story you are telling.
You are only human at the end of the day, just like everyone else who experiences creative burnout – from first-time writers struggling to find the time to Hollywood’s biggest hitters. But by setting the ground to allow your own inspiration within you to re-spark, those creative juices will start to flow and you can get closer to being the writer you envision.
This article was written by Elbron James and edited by IS Staff.
Get *ALL* our FREE Resources
Tackle the trickiest areas of screenwriting with our exclusive eBooks. Get all our FREE resources when you join 60,000 filmmakers on our mailing list!