I’m a writer. But not in a cool, poetic, romantic, or mysterious way.
I write viral clickbait- mostly about the British Royal Family, some about unfortunate celebrity mishaps, and every once in a while, I’ll chalk up a prescription drug recall.
For me, writing has always been very therapeutic. I quite enjoy the process of having an idea and seeing it develop into a narrative with characters, tensions, triumphs, and lessons. But somewhere between aspiring to be Maya Angelou’s protege and needing insurance, I’ve found myself in the day-to-day business of dissecting Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth’s disdain for Tupperware in Buckingham Palace.
Thankfully, I happen to find the Royal Family and pop culture fascinating. However, creating earnest and entertaining content for 40 hours a week is not an easy task. Many times, my mind wanders into the harmful space of feeling useless, irrelevant, unoriginal, and quite frankly, burnt out. And if I'm honest, the burn out doesn’t stop at the mental writer’s block; the energy to be creative is straight up draining.
If I’ve learned anything in the last few years of my writing career, it’s that the burnout is real and there has to be a way to overcome it. Here’s what I do to maintain my passion and clear mind while continually remaining at the top of Google Analytics (Because let’s face it- your affection towards your work and your mental health are just as important as your success).
1. Believe in yourself.
This rule is for everyone; writers, SAHMs, musicians, athletes, dog-walkers, doctors, and dishwashers - You matter. And you are more than capable of becoming excellent at whatever it is you decide to put your hand to. If you don’t believe me, reread that last sentence again- because it’s the truth.
I usually find myself listening to lies around 2:30 p.m. every afternoon; by that time, I’ve written about absolutely everything happening in the world; no one even cares about what I’m saying, and I am a total fraud (I’ll be the first to admit that clickbait is not highly acclaimed literature. However, it is my job, and I have a very real audience of people that I serve every day. More on this topic later). I want to say that by the time 3:15 rolls around, I’ve realized that I’ve wasted time listening to distracting thoughts and I’m just seconds away from finding the next compelling story that will change someone’s life. It doesn’t always work out that way, but knowing that I’m making myself available to partnering with something great is pretty powerful.
2. Where you create matters.
I’ve found that I am most creative between 6:30 and 9:00 a.m. and 8:00 and 11:30 p.m. Whether the sun is peeking through the blinds or the house is lit with candles, those are my favorite and most creative moments of every day - the moments where I am entirely content, excited, and expecting to be a part of something new and influential. Unfortunately for me, those moments are outside of my office hours.
If you work in an office space, then you may not have much control over the environment where your creative juices are expected to flow. Friends, I’ve got good news: that’s okay! You can upgrade your office space with the help of any one of these six must-haves:
- Music to drown out the sound of co-workers and help navigate your thoughts in an equally creative pattern (I prefer classical soundtracks or lo-fi hip-hop).
- A window view *if you can get it.
- Add a simple plant to your desk (Succulents are great for those of us who were not blessed with a green thumb. As are fake plants- we’re not here to judge).
- Your favorite mug from home (Warm drinks are a natural remedy for pretty much everything, and when you find that perfect mug, all is right in the world).
- A blanket for when the office AC suddenly decides it wants to freeze your body to the core.
- Snacks. Because the person who invented the phrase “Food for thought,” was right in more ways than one.
You can choose to implement one or all of these suggestions. When it comes to your creative space, your comfort takes a back seat. Give yourself some good tunes and some warmth and see what happens.
3. Never forget: You are serving people.
When I was 15, I accepted my first job serving ice cream at the most popular ice cream joint in the state. I never thought that I would find myself in my late 20s remembering how my boss first introduced me to the mission of “Customer Service.” My boss was so animated and so excited! He said, “When the customers come in, they will go crazy over the colors and the decorations and the exotic names of each ice cream! Let them try as many flavors as they want! Let them try the same flavor ten times! You work for them!” I remember thinking, “Wow. This man is crazy.” But now I realize that the man was a genius.
When you work as a creator, it’s very easy to become familiar with your work. You create the same thing every day. Many times, you are creating something that has been stuck inside your head for days, months, years even! But to a consumer - your audience - you are creating something new; something they have been searching for; something they are longing to be a part of. You can’t forget that or take it for granted.
My most viral stories have been about the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton and Princess Charlotte. I have spent countless hours writing about these two beloved Royals, and to be honest, I could probably write a story about them with my eyes shut. One time, my husband woke me up after he heard me repeating “Duchess” in my sleep. To say that they’re all I think about would be an understatement.
But guess what. My particular audience adores them! Any article about Kate or Charlotte is gold to our readers; they love seeing their outfits, learning that Princess Charlotte has a nickname for Queen Elizabeth (It’s Gan-Gan, in case you were interested), and more than anything, they love seeing Kate and Charlotte interact together.
As I mentioned above, I genuinely enjoy learning about the Royals. But writing about them for nearly 40 hours a week can, very quickly, become very dull and frustrating.
So, how do I get over myself and continue to create content that my audience loves? I pull up my Google Analytics. After I've posted a story that I find offensive to my unique creative process, I pull up my site’s live analytics and watch as my story rises in views; from 5 people, to 250 people, to 860 people, to 4,550 people to 14,000 people! Seeing the reaction to my “common work” is so fulfilling! After I see a couple of hundred people on my story, I jump over to the comment section where I can read my audience’s thoughts on my work. Seeing how happy they are to learn more about their favorite Royals is so pivotal in my day. It’s also very humbling.
Every time burnout moves in, I try to remember my very first boss: I work for the customer. Getting over myself and creating something in a lacking mental space is hard, but I work to serve others. And there is nothing better than serving them well.
4. Are you laughing? You should be laughing.
Here’s the thing: the creative slump is freakishly powerful. One moment you’re taking a little bit longer to finish up a project and the next you’re struggling to find any self-worth whatsoever and contemplating giving up entirely. Don’t listen to that pesky little lie called fear. It’s a waste of your life anyway and “ain’t nobody got time for that.”
One of the things that I have to make time for regularly is laughing. When you’re teetering on the edge of burnout and break down, put down your project - and YouTube “Hey Jimmy Kimmel, I Told My Kids I Ate All Their Halloween Candy.” You’ll be laughing and holding back tears for the entire 3 minutes and 55 seconds, and maybe even longer if you’re like me and decide to watch even more parents punk their kids, per Jimmy Kimmel’s request.
Laughter is the magical medicine that, 100% of the time, will renew your mind. The older I get, the more I realize that seeking out joy is our pleasure, not our privilege. We have to make intentional time for it. I’ve talked with many creatives who believe that the burnout period is essential to their process, but I choose to live as a glass-half-full kind of gal; the burnout period will come, but joy is the force that pulls me out and allows me to produce freely, boldly, and more uniquely.
My rule of thumb: invite yourself to laugh every single day. You’ll be amazing at what can come from a place of joy.
5. Schedules are your friends.
As an ENFJ, I am continually boycotting schedules in my mind. Flexibility is essential to me and, rather than feeling constrained to a task, I prefer operating freely. The plan for my work was originally laid out like this: 35 stories in seven days. That’s it. In my mind, those stories could have been written anytime over 168 hours. So when I accepted my 9-5 office hours, I was not too thrilled about my 168-hour creative flextime narrowing down into a 40-hour work week.
At first, I dreaded the thought of office hours. However, the schedule was proven to be incredibly helpful for me. I knew that every day, I had eight hours to write six original pieces of content. I have my first story of every weekday scheduled for 10:05 am. I come in, say hello to my colleagues, and immediately begin writing. It’s not necessarily easy (especially for this Chatty Cathy), but having a deadline keeps me from searching for “the perfect topic” and overthinking every word I write.
Sometimes I feel pressure and resentment towards my 10:05 am deadline. Whether it’s the 9 am procrastination bug, the afternoon slump, or the end-of-the-week creative drought, I try to focus on my schedule. I don’t have time to get lost in a world of Jimmy Kimmel videos, I don’t have time to listen to a shame-monster telling me that I’m a fraud, and I sure as heck don’t have time to walk away from my audience. My schedule allows me to zero in on a topic and go— the distractions that I could listen to don’t have a place in my schedule. And, all of a sudden, I’ve just created something epic for my audience.
Friends, the burnout will come. But it will also go. Creative burnout is not infinite. When it happens, embrace it. As creatives, we are likely working our dream jobs, even though, sometimes, it can feel more like a nightmare. When the inevitable burnout comes in and takes up mental real estate, give yourself a very well-deserved pep talk, take the time to spruce up your physical and mental space, remember that you are a servant of others who adore your efforts, and then hone in on your goal. Before you know it, you’ll be creating with freedom - from a new and rich mental space.
Everyone’s burnout remedy is unique to them; feel free to take these ideas and create with them! And if you have other tools for navigating mental droughts, share them with us! We are creators; encouraging each other is vital in our line of work.
I’ve got this. You’ve got this. We’ve got this.
Written by: Anjel Murphy