The life of a writer can be difficult, characterized by periods of inspiration and long stretches of frustration. When we write about the things that inspire us, the words flow smoothly and fast. Yet when the writing is arbitrary or commissioned, that creativity can wane. This is what happened to me when I took up full-time freelancing in 2014, and it’s called freelance burnout.
I struggled to maintain my creativity, especially when I wasn’t writing for myself. This is a difficult challenge to face. I know I found my enthusiasm quickly drained when I wrote about things I had no interest in, and if you aren’t careful it shows.
The important thing to keep in mind is that when you are a freelance writer, you are your own boss and your happiness is your responsibility. You must take the steps to actively cultivate your own creativity and enjoyment, because it is the lifeblood of all of your future writing and work. Unless you are actively engaged in your writing, you won’t be producing your best work. Worst of all, you won’t be happy.
It takes a lot of trial and error to find what works for each of us. These are the best ways I have found to overcome writing burnout by cultivating creativity.
Remember to Read
This might seem like a simple suggestion, and it is. Research shows that even reading for thirty minutes a day can help your brain relax and allow the creative process to thrive again. This is particularly useful to me, and it’s a great way to take a break and escape. Most importantly, it can help you reconnect to your passion by spending time immersing yourself in your interests and hobbies. Magazines and novels are both great for this, but generally try to stay away from anything that requires too much concentration. We are looking for relaxation with the purpose of reconnecting and to your creative self by lowering stress.
According to Sydney Lines, “When I engage with literature, I gain a more complex, concrete understanding of what it is to be human–both negatively and positively.”
Reading is transformative, and that’s why I spend a lot of time at my local library. It’s a convenient and quiet place to work and relax, and it provides a great change of pace from my home office. Depending on where you live, there are a lot of innovative libraries that provide a twist on this - for example, the Contra Costa County Library has a book vending machine. Neighborhood lending libraries are popular where I live, and they have helped me find new material and inspiration from books I might not otherwise have considered.
Try Writing Exercises
There are a multitude of creative writing exercises that you can employ to get your imagination engaged and prose flowing again.
One of my favorite ways to begin thinking outside the box is by using a little writing game called Rory’s Story Cubes. Each of the nine cubes features symbols on each side. You roll all the dice, then tell a story from start to finish using the face-up symbol from each cube. The symbols feature everything from boiling cauldrons to submarines. The sheer variety of possible rolls results in some very humorous stories and situations, especially if you play the game with friends. On one occasion I used these to create a short story writing prompt. It’s a great way to have fun and get out of a writing block.
There are many ways to eliminate stress. Some forms of stress you can’t easily avoid - especially if you live in one of the most stressed out states. Focus on what you can change, and take it one step at a time.
One experience that every freelance writer eventually faces is a trouble client or project. This is the point where you have to decide if you should fix it or flush it. Can the relationship or project be saved? If you think it can, I would recommend approaching the project from a different state of mind.
Take more time for yourself if at all possible. Go for a quick walk around the block. Change your screensaver. Write in a different room. Change the scenery and pace however you can to help brew those creative juices. One particular way I do this is by using a voice recorder and going for a walk. That way I can enjoy nature, get a little exercise, and just speak. It might look strange to anyone you pass on the sidewalk, but I promise that the results are worth it.
Another favorite is to go to a busy location like a big bus stop or mall, sit down, and people watch. Write a single sentence about each person you see, and describe where you think they’re going and why. If you struggle with this particular exercise, you might be a cynical jerk. Employ your empathy and engage your imagination. Try to imagine the possibilities and think of things differently than you normally would.
The most important thing to remember is that you have to take time for yourself. Don’t overburden, limit, or doubt yourself. Taking the time to cultivate your creativity will make a difference.