Thursday 18 March 2010

If You're Going To Burn Out, Do It Conciously!

It occurred to me this morning; in the midst of creative burn out, that I have two options. I can struggle to write, force ideas, and beat myself up for not getting anywhere. Or I can have a sandwich, spend time with friends, and have a nice cup of tea. Either way; I'm not writing or creating anything useful, so I may as well accept it and be happy with what the burn out is telling me.

I have written a feature this year, I've put a short out, I've written a blog on a daily basis; and by and large have been very happy with the quality of the output. I have also taken on other projects in the past few months; filming and editing videos every week for a charity organization, doing filming work with psychotherapists - and many other things. I can conclude that, yes, I've been busy.

As soon as I wrote a feature screenplay a couple of months ago, I immediately set the task of creating a new one. Being that the one I wrote wasn't a comedy, and I'm most comfortable in comedy, I felt pressed to begin another screenplay. Hence I've had a month of trying to force it out when there's not, really, anything to force out. It's like going to the bathroom; you can do it when you're ready or you can force it out early and cause yourself a lot of damage.

The burn out is a message, either I've done enough work for now or I have nothing to say at this moment in time. The problem with us creative fools is that we feel major guilt and anger when we don't create. But years from now, when we look back at our successful careers - whether we created or didn't create on this particular Thursday and Friday will hold little relevance.

A factor in this is external pressure, or perceived external pressure. Everyone I know tends to see me as creative, always doing something. I've often found myself playing up to that role. When people ask 'Kid, what are you working on?' I feel a pressure to name six things and have an excited look on my face. It gets harder and harder to say "I have nothing on the go right now, maybe I'll make a ham salad sandwich."

It can be really crippling to be asked what you're working on; because the question can often be an attack. The attack is "I work 9-5 in a hard underpaid job, supporting my family and paying my bills. So Mr Filmmaker, what have you been doing?"

This is crippling because you feel a victim of their judgement. Personal growth, or psychological growth (whatever you want to call it) has allowed me to not be oppressed by the question; I take it on board and say; "I'm working on a sandwich today. Ham salad."

More often than not though; nobody is attacking me or pressuring me, I'm doing it to myself. And that, in essence, creates burn out, or is at least a large factor. Not only do I create, I also do it when resting; I am constantly on the look out for ideas. I was watching 'Ally McBeal' the other night; and I recognized that when I watched it ten years ago, I was completely involved-- but this time I was half involved, half thinking about starting a script, wondering what I had to say; and considering blogging about it. And this is NOT 'Kid In The Front Row' behaviour. I want to be passionately involved in watching things I love and passionately involved in creativity; but I want them to be separate.

And therein lies the lesson of this particular burnout. It has enabled me to regain that rested, happy child who wants to hide out in his room and watch 'Ally McBeal.' I am thankful for that!

Care to share?


  1. What a great post! That's so true, thanks!

  2. Well “maybe I'll make a ham salad sandwich” is not a bad answer. But we have to give indeed each thing its own right, but sometimes we panic, we throw all to chaos, get caught up in our own shackles and of course we are getting tired then. Good post & good luck with your creativity.

  3. Great post! Regaining that happy child is key I think!

  4. I definitely hear you on this one. I do the blog on the weekly basis, but I have been taking a writing course where we have been working on a 1400 word piece every week and that has really been draining me, I have definitely noticed some difficulty in cranking out pieces the last couple weeks, and they are often finished at like the last minute, plus I have been working on a video (I know my life is soooo hollywood blah blah blah) but my point is, I agree with you. I love love creating, but if thats all your doing, its kind of tough to get water from the empty well. But good work on accomplishing all you have done. keep kicking arse!

  5. Thank you for a wonderful post. Great that the happy child is still in you and I love Ally McBeal too, it is not too long ago but they do not make shows like that anymore.

  6. Excellent post. I'm not nearly as involved as you are, yet I find myself feeling the same way, so often. And it really makes me wonder why it is so difficult to simply do the things that I love doing? How hard is it to sit down and watch a film that one has been meaning to watch for a while, yet instead, I find myself coming home from work, dealing with the dinner thing and then being so mentally blanked out that I could literally stare at a white wall for three hours. Yet, there are piles of movies, stacks of books and dozens of projects I would love to get to.

    It takes a lot of self-examination to figure out one's motivations, and while I'm not quite there yet, it's refreshing to see someone who's working on it.


  7. Yep to the ham sandwich-- And playtime with friends. A lie-down's good, too.

    And, dear Kid in the Front Row, if you don't blog for a week or two, we'll still be here when you start up again. You can take a rest while we re-read all those other posts you've given us. So much to enjoy on this blog!