Creative Burnout – What’s the Cure?

by Lain Ehmann on September 14, 2010

I just read a fab post by Kayla Lamoreaux at on the topic of creative burnout. Kayla talked about how hard it can be to deal with the treadmill of trying to make money in a creative industry. Though her post dealt with scrapbooking burnout in particular, it could easily have applied to any field that require creative input and output.

Kayla’s eloquent post got me thinking about burnout, and when I tend to feel it. There are two times when it hits me hard: When I’m spent, and when I’m overwhelmed.

These are two very different circumstances, requiring two very different solutions. And while I obviously am a “professional” scrapbooker, I think the ideas I’m sharing here will apply to you whether you scrapbook for pay or for love (or a combination of the two).

When I am spent:

I feel all wrung out like a sponge after I’ve taught for a weekend at CKC, after I’ve completed a big project like my book with Stacy Julian, or when I’ve finished Layout A Day. I’m done. There is no more. Just as a marathon runner crosses the finish line at mile 26.2 and collapses into the arms of his or her support team, I’ve got nothing left; I left it all on the road.

When I’m burnt like this, the answer is simple — take a break. Just as that runner needs to take it easy for a few days after the big race, I need to lay low. Let the blood come back to my limbs. Give myself a chance to recover and refresh, and then I’ll slowly be ready to go at it again. My hand might be tired from punching out 365¬†patterned paper butterflies for a layout, and my brain might be tired from giving feedback, inspiration, and encouragement to the 150 LOADsters. It was a good run, but now it’s time for a nap. The well dun run dry, and the only solution is to let it fill up again.

Specific tasks I undertake to help fill the well include:

  • Reading junky mystery novels
  • Taking baths
  • Taking naps
  • Going for walks and runs outside
  • Reorganizing (my scrapbook stuff is typically a huge mess after a big project and needs some attention)
  • Watching CSI and The Office and How Clean Is Your House?
  • Read cookbooks and home decor magazines. I’ve been neglecting my family in favor of the big project, so now’s the time to get the home fires burning again.

Usually, I’ll find that within a week or so, I’ll want to doodle around or make a card or look at a scrapbook magazine again. Then I know I’m getting there.

When I’m overwhelmed:

Overwhelm, for me, comes when I’m in the middle of a learning process, or in the midst of creating something big. I might be planning a book, or planning Layout a Day, or transitioning from one season (summer) to another (fall with the kids in school). Basically, the systems aren’t in place to support my tasks and goals, and so I feel scattered, aimless, and ineffective.

This is overwhelm: I don’t know what I don’t know, and I don’t know how to prioritize what I do know.

Not fun. I am a closure-type person, and I hate feeling at loose ends or like I’m incompetent, and overwhelm for me is the very definition of incompetent! Basically, I’m not where I want to be, and I’m not necessarily sure where I want to be. I just know this ain’t it. It’s like being stranded in the middle of a giant garbage dump, buried up to my waste, with no clear idea of how to get out.

UGH. Even typing this makes my stomach hurt! I’d much rather be wrung dry (burnout type #1)¬†than stuck in a psychic pile of clutter that I need to sort through to make sense — and to make progress.

The solution? STOP THE INFLUX OF INFORMATION. Every blog post I read, every magazine clipping I add to my file, is one more item in that pile. (It’s like the old adage: If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!).

That means stay off the computer.

That means stop reading books on the topic.

This means stop listening to podcasts, going to webinars, and buying ebooks in hopes of finding “the answer.”

That means stop learning, researching, testing, tracking…


Make one small, tiny movement towards completion. Finish a title, a paragraph, a layout.

Choose the products or color theme.

Pick an album.


Then do something else.

And something else.

And something else.

Then, slowly but surely, I’ll figure out what I know and what I don’t know.

I’ll figure out what I need and what I don’t (usually I need less than I thought I did!).

I’ll find the path out — or I’ll blaze a trail all my own.

And then, after sifting and sorting and digging and choosing and ACTING, I’ll reach the end.

And then I’ll get that OTHER kind of burnout — the good, ache-in-your-legs kind.

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