Creative burnout, your project isn’t working

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So far in this series, we’ve talked about some heavy reasons you might be experiencing creative burnout. We talked about life taking a toll on us. We talked about the world sometimes being a shitty place to be. 

There are other reasons we might suffer creative burnout that aren’t so clinically depressing. This week, we’re going to talk about a common one. 

You have a project you’ve been working on. A novel, a short story, a podcast season. Whatever it is, suddenly you’ve hit a snag. You don’t have the energy to work on it anymore. You have the time, but not the inclination. Is it the dreaded writer’s block? Have your words failed you?

Probably not. 

The problem is probably with your story. For whatever reason, it’s not working. You know it’s not working, and you’re not ready to admit it. So, instead, you’re ghosting your draft like you’d ghost someone on Tinder. But unlike your Tinder stalker, your project can still be saved. 

See the problem for what it is

The most important step to take is to see your problem for what it is. It’s a problem with the story, not with you. You are not lazy. Remember, laziness doesn’t exist

This is good news because problems with your story can always be fixed. Maybe your characters are boring. Maybe the pacing is wrong. Maybe there’s just not enough going on to compel the plot forward.

The important thing is to not internalize this. You are not your writing. No one story, no matter how bad, is going to define you. 

Now that you understand that, we can talk about how to fix it. 

Freewriting time

Freewriting is my favorite writing tool. I will come to the blank page like I would a trusted friend and just spill my guts. When my story isn’t working, a lot of what I’m doing in freewriting is complaining. 

This is boring. 

I hate this main character.

What is even happening?

I don’t want to write fight scenes, I hate them.

This isn’t interesting enough.

There’s too much going on to keep track of.

Yes, I do eventually get tired of hearing myself complain. But, by that time I have a list of things that need fixing in my draft.

Mind you, I will do this even if it’s a rough draft. While I don’t normally edit first drafts until they’re done, sometimes it’s unavoidable. Sometimes the project just isn’t going to work how it’s going right now. It’s better to toss a draft and start at the beginning again than to lose the project together.

Talk it out

Sometimes the blank page isn’t the best ear, though. While it’s a great listener, it can’t talk back.

This is when it’s important to have writing friends. Or, at least friends who you can bounce things off of. Friends who don’t mind hearing about your story in its infancy. Most importantly, friends who you trust to be honest with you, even if they don’t think you’re going to like the answer. 

Take a break

If you’ve taken your project’s problems to the freewriting page, you’ve met a writing buddy for coffee to talk it out and you still don’t know how to fix your project, it might be time to take a break. Set the project aside for a while, and work on something else. Note that I don’t suggest avoiding writing altogether. I suggest taking a break from that specific writing project.

The reason for this is simple. You want to keep exercising your writing skills. Every bit of writing teaches us something. And remember, your brain is still working on problems even when you’re not actively thinking about them. So while you’re writing a bit of poetry, your subconscious is still working through the problems with your space opera. 

I don’t suggest taking too much time away from a problem project, though. Otherwise, the subconscious will forget. My rule of thumb is no more than a week.

Is this the story you want to tell?

Before I even go into this, let me be clear. This is a last resort. This is not going to be the case most of the time. 

That being said, sometimes a story just isn’t one that you want to tell. Sometimes it’s a great idea, but you aren’t the person to write it. 

There’s no shame in this. Maybe you tried a different genre and it’s just not working for you. I, for example, love reading historical fiction. I do not love writing it. That does not mean that I am a bad writer. It just means that I have a genre that I’m good at writing, and several genres that I am not good at writing.

Of course, there are other reasons a story might not work. It’s hard for me to tell you how to spot this problem because it’s a personal problem. But deep down, we as creators know when our creation just isn’t working out. 

It’s okay to know when to quit. Just so long as you can truly say that you’ve given it your best try. 

Creative burnout when the world is on fire

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I’d already planned to write this post today before the train wreck in North Palestine Ohio. It’s one of those coincidences that doesn’t feel coincidental. 

I’m not in Ohio, but I am in the dangerous range. We could smell the chemicals in our little town. My throat burned when I went outside. Thank God, we weren’t downriver. But we were downwind. 

The people who are living in North Palestine are living in poisoned land. They are hurting, they are suffering, and they are livid. They should be. 

I am living in tainted land. And I am pissed about it. 

I’m so pissed, that it’s been kind of hard to write. 

This isn’t the first time. I don’t need to tell you what I’ve been struggling with, because you’re struggling with it, too. Flint Michigan still doesn’t have clean water. Cops are continuing to murder innocent black people with little to no repercussions. Living is becoming increasingly unaffordable. Oh, and last year half of us lost the right to make medical decisions about our own bodies. 

And what am I doing? I’m writing my little stories about ghosts, dragons, and spaceships.

When the world is burning around us, it is easy to feel like creating art is worse than pointless. In the years since 2020, I have actively felt like I was almost mocking the world by writing and publishing stories. What did my work matter, with everything going on? What does any of our work matter? Thoughts like that are enough to still any pen. 

But stories do matter. Stories about the dark and dismal parts of our lives matter. And we have seen this in both classic and modern literature. Stories can tell truths about our world in ways that make them easier to handle. They can shine light into deep shadows we can’t, or won’t, see into. They can give us a glimpse into other people’s lives, so we can understand their world better. So we can empathize with people who live far different lives than we do. 

If you don’t think this is powerful, ask yourself this. Why are politicians working so hard to ban books? 

That being said, a lot of what I write doesn’t have a damn thing to do with current world events. My last book was about a haunted apartment building. So, am I still wasting my time if I’m not writing serious literature about the horrors we’re facing? 

Well, let me ask you something. What did you do the last time you were overwhelmed by the world?

Did you read a book? Watch tv or a movie? Listen to music? 

I did. Hell, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t do all three of those things. Stories get me through the worst of times. And I’m willing to bet they do the same for you.

So, why wouldn’t we put out stories for other people? If I can write a little ghost story that helps someone through a hard time, why not do it? That sure doesn’t sound like a waste of time to me. 

Thoughts like that are enough to get my pen moving. I hope they do the same for you.

And check out last week’s post, when we talked about creative burnout caused by trying to survive.

Creative burnout, surviving is hard

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I sat down today, planning to write a blog post about creative burn out. I wanted to talk about the reasons why you might be feeling burned out creatively, and what you can do about it. As I started writing, though, I realized that this wasn’t going to fit in one post. It wasn’t going to fit in two, either. In order to say everything I feel needs to be said, this is going to be a whole series.

The reason is simple. Creative burnout comes in all sorts of noxious flavors. And just like you can’t care for a headache the same as a stomach bug, you need to care for different creative burnouts in different ways. 

Today, I want to talk about the most common form of Creative Burnout. Good old fashioned life burn out. 

We’re all busy. I work over 40 hours a week in my day job. I work for Haunted MTL, writing reviews and co-running our social media. I have a home to care for, a family to care for, and a me to care for. And I would like to be involved in politics at least a little, because we should all do that.

Then, I also write books and podcasts. You know, in my free time. 

I am not unique. The things we need to do in a day usually take more time than the day holds. We know this, and yet we keep right on trying to shove thirty-eight hours of activities into twenty-four. Surprise, this leads to burnout. 

The easiest way to deal with burn out is to avoid it in the first place. This starts by making sure that your needs are met first. Get enough sleep, eat good food, drink water. Move your body a little every day, even if it’s just a quick dance break in your kitchen. Make and keep doctor’s appointments. It’s a lot harder to get burned out if you’re well rested, full of veggies and hydrated. 

The next thing I do to avoid burn out is to plan my life. You all know I’m a big fan of planning, and this is why. Take at least one day off a week. Celebrate days that matter to you by putting as much of your work away as you can. As a witch, I honor Full and New Moons, Sabbats, and the feast days of my two favorite saints. These, along with the more well known holidays, are built in breaks from work that we all need. 

Of course, you don’t have to honor the same days as everyone else. It’s just important that you’re taking regularly scheduled breaks, and putting them into your planner first. 

Last year, I treated myself to a course from Lisa Jacobs called the Fast Track Toolkit. This isn’t sponsored, I just really got a lot out of the course. And one of the biggest thing I learned is that I was trying to do too much at one time. I was writing huge to do lists every day, which wore on me emotionally. Even though there was no way I was going to get it all done, each item on that list was a weight on me all day. And when I consistently didn’t get the list done, I felt like I’d failed. When I really paired down all of my projects, and focused on just a few items at a time, I found that I was less stressed and got more done. If you can do this course, I suggest it. 

On a similar note, I’ve all but stopped multitasking. It’s a hard habit to break, but absolutely necessary. I don’t know if I need to go into a lot of detail here, because we all know that multitasking is a bad idea by this time. Multitasking is the Millenial’s version of smoking, just in case you haven’t heard. Focusing on one task at a time is going to help you get that task done better, and with less stress. 

All this being said, most people are just not going to be able to avoid burn out all the time. I absolutely understand that not everyone can do any or all the things in this post because I cannot do all the things on this post. Deadlines sneak up on us, emergencies happen. Life finds away to mess itself up. And of course, just taking care of your needs is literally impossible sometimes. Frankly, inflation is eating us all alive right now, and we have to make some hard decisions. We don’t always have the ability to have good food in the house, and are going to have to rely on cheap, fast food. We don’t all have the luxury to take a personal day from our day job. Many of us are working multiple jobs just to, you know, not starve or be homeless. 

Sometimes, burnout is impossible to avoid in today’s world. And if you are burned out, it’s important to remember two things. One, it’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. And two, you are sick. You may not be physically ill yet, but you are still sick. So you need to treat yourself like you’re sick.

Sleep as much as you can. Take long showers. Eat food that fills you, physically and emotionally. Drink tea with lots of honey. Say no to literally everything you can say no to. Do this until you feel better. No matter how long that takes. Just like when you’re physically sick, if you keep pushing yourself it’s going to get worse to the point that you cannot push through. Then, it’s going to take even longer to heal.

If you ever do.

TLDR: Burn out is real, and prevention is the best medicine. If you cannot prevent it, remember that you’re sick and you need to give yourself time and care to heal. 

I don’t just watch tv, tips for writing reviews part two

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Last week we talked about my job as a horror critic for Haunted MTL. And it turned out that I had more to say about the topic than one post alone could hold. So I’m back today with more advice for any aspiring critics. 

Whereas last week we talked about the writing of reviews themselves, today I want to talk about building a career as a critic. Because there are things to consider that I never thought of before I started writing reviews. Some are pretty common sense. Some, I wish I’d understood sooner. 

What are you going to write about?

When writing reviews, what you write about is as important as how you write about it. I can write the best review you ever read in your life, complete with witty quips, background information, and a detailed explanation of the content. And it doesn’t matter at all if it’s for a story nobody gave a damn about in the first place.

I find it’s worked well for me to specialize, but not strictly. I review just about all of the works of Ryan Murphy, for example. This allows me to compare and contrast his work, with a greater understanding of his career as a whole. Sometimes that means I’m hit with a massive load of work at once, like late in 2022 when The Watcher, American Horror Story, Dahmer, and Mr. Harrington’s phone all came out at once. Sometimes I have nothing Murphy-related to review, though. So I have a few sub-specialties. I review horror podcasts and true crime content.

However, this doesn’t stop me from reviewing other work. It’s based on what is trending, what is coming out soon, and what I think people might be interested in. 

(By the way, if you are a horror writer and you have a book you’d like me to review, hit me up. I am currently accepting arcs.)

Keeping a professional relationship with creators

In the last post, I talked about reviewing bad works. I mean, really bad. And yes, it is my job as a critic to talk about bad work. It’s my job to explain why it’s bad. It is not my job, nor is it a good idea, to tell the creator that their work was bad.

Occasionally, I am sent arcs and screeners for upcoming works. These are always met with a heartfelt thank you. I do not care if the work is bad. I am happy they thought enough of my reviews to send their work to me. And, as a creator myself, I always want to treat them as I’d want to be treated. 

If I don’t have the time, I’ll respectfully decline and suggest another critic from the site. If I do accept their work to review, I always make sure to send a follow-up email after the review is posted, thanking them again and providing them a link. 

I never give a creator unsolicited notes on their work. I certainly would never tell them that their work was bad. That is rude, unprofessional, and frankly uncalled for.

You’ll notice that I’m also not badmouthing any of the work here. That’s just in poor taste. I did my review, I don’t need to drag a piece all over the internet. 

The point is that I’m a professional. It’s important to keep a professional relationship with creators. 

Creating trust with your readers

More important than my relationship with creators is my relationship with my readers. People who read reviews are doing so for one reason. They want to know if a book, movie, tv show, or podcast is any good. Is it worth their time? Should they read or watch or listen to this one over another one? And I always want to give the most honest answer I can for that.

This is why I am upfront when I get an arc or screener. This doesn’t impact whether or not I like something, of course. And I’ll never lie and say I like a show that I don’t. 

I want people to know that I’m going to be honest with them. Even if I love a creator, I’m going to say if their work is trash. There have been some shining examples of bad work from good creators. There has been some work that I wanted to like, that I just didn’t. I am always honest about that. Integrity is essential for a critic. If you lose that, you lose your career.

I also don’t get into arguments online with people about content. Art is subjective as hell. Just because I liked something, even though I have very good reasons to like it, doesn’t mean everyone is going to. Just because I thought something was hot garbage, and I sure have very good reasons for that too, doesn’t mean someone’s wrong for liking it. Again, I am a professional. I need to act like one. Besides, arguing about art online is like getting into a shit-ball fight. No one has fun, no one wins, and everyone stinks. 

If you have any questions about critic work, please feel free to ask them below. I’ll be happy to answer them as best as I can. 

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