Emotional Strain and Creative Fatigue

by Mariah published on Sep 11, 2020 12 min read

"Hey there! Do you do art or make stuff? Like, a lot? Do you ever feel like maybe it's just too much? Like you need a break from just... everything? Do you feel like no matter how many games you play, days you take off, or distractions you create, just looking at your tablet or workspace makes you physically sick? Welcome to the world of emotional strain and creative fatigue. It sucks! But I have good news, there is always a way out."

The lovely girl to the right is Sylali, as depicted by my wonderful friend Kindred, and she is going to help me illustrate the power of emotional strain and creative fatigue for this article. Even if you're not an artist or a creator, I bet you have encountered at least one of these two things in your life. They tend to lurk and sneak up real slow, but unlike a Creeper in Minecraft there is no tell-tale hissing. When the explosion does happen, however, you can be left standing over an open mineshaft and it can be a long way down.

Art: @teaflavoredmutt | Character: @AnthroBrand

Just like gaming or watching a movie, creating, be it art or craft, is an emotional experience. Even in writing this article, I am putting a little bit of myself into these words. As an example of what I mean, I smiled when I wrote that silly Minecraft joke, and it was genuine! Everything we create as a community has several costs. It takes time and emotion to make all of the things we consume and enjoy. To form an analogy, imagine that each piece of art you create has a cost of 5 Emo's. Yup, each time you create something, you are costing yourself 5 Emo's.

To expand on this, imagine that each individual that creates has a bank of Emo's and they are all a different sizes. Luckily, my Emo bank is huge because I have been trained to create out of necessity. This was my job for a long time so I had to maintain a large bank because creating in volume was how I kept a roof over my head. Writing technical manuals, instructional design, curriculum development, I was creating all of that for my previous employer. I left thousands of Emo's there and at this point, you're probably wondering: "Mariah, where do Emo's come from?" To be honest, I have no idea. Creative energy is the most real example of magic I can think of and it's different for every person; but spending them is the same.

As you create you are depleting your bank of Emo's and the need to restock them is near constant. If you don't, you run the real risk of ending up bankrupt. Sadly, this is not the game show bankrupt where the host just politely escorts you off the stage. This is a potentially life-altering bankrupt that can derail you for weeks or even months at a time. But, it doesn't have to! Here are a few tips that I collected while creating at work to keep my bank stocked. I hope they help you on your journey as a creator and if you have more, please share them with this article!

  • Rest Is Important: If it's 3AM and you're still trying to get work done because you feel incredibly overburdened by your queue, it's time to stop. Your health should come first, always.
  • Celebrate Every Milestone: Did you just finish lining a massive illustration? Did you just finish sewing a long section of a full suit? Time to celebrate! Step away from your creative space, get something to eat and drink, and breathe. You are doing a great job and celebrating milestones is a great way to get a few of those Emos back.
  • Increment Large Projects: Use project management tools you know, or talk to a project manager, about ways to increment large projects so you have goals in place from the very beginning. Setting light deadlines will give you a defined finishing point for a period of time and help keep you motivated. "Okay, today's agenda is get through (insert goal here.) Then I can spend the evening celebrating with (insert fun here.)"
  • Share Your Progress: I know lots of artists and crafters don't like sharing their WIPs for many reasons like: Oh, it's too messy. No one wants to see this, it's just a sketch. This isn't even a thing yet, how will anyone know what it is? I only share completed work because nothing else I do is pretty. Well, by not sharing the project in progress, you are only depriving yourself of a celebration opportunity. Those who watch your work, want to see it in every stage and they will celebrate your progress with you. This can be a huge boost to your desire to work on it.
  • Share Your Feelings: Are you tired? Burned out? Do you need a break from a commission or craft project? Talk to your customer and share how you are feeling. It's okay to run low on Emos and sometimes it can't be helped. If you find yourself dealing with a bit of emotional strain when it comes to your work, then it's time to pull back and regroup. Communication is very important here.

Hopefully, the above tips are something that you can use to keep yourself going when it gets a little tough. Next, I want to talk about what to do in the event that you slip past emotional strain and into creative fatigue. This is a lot more common than you might think and not a single day goes by that I don't see someone talking about this in my feed.

Creative fatigue is a term that was originally coined in advertising. We also hear about it in marketing when it comes to things like campaign planning, budgeting, and how many ads you're going to run. In this circle, creative fatigue is defined as when an audience sees an advertisement too many times, tunes it out, and as a result that ad loses its effectiveness. This is not the same creative fatigue I'm talking about here.

In this instance, I'm using the term creative fatigue to describe the wall that we hit when the very thought of working on a project, or creating something in our normal fashion, manifests a negative physiological or emotional response. You may feel sick at your stomach, you may battle with anxiety, get jitters, or even just feel sad or angry at your work. If you've hit this point, don't worry, there are many things you can still do about it~

Firstly, and probably the best thing you can do, is take a step back from your creative work. Put everything on hold and take a hiatus. We called these "mental health days" at my previous job. Yes, these add to a project's overall timeline, but they are absolutely necessary and understood by everyone when a creator chooses to take them for the sake of their health. Take care of yourself first and this includes seeking professional help if you feel it's necessary. Stress is serious and if you are feeling overwhelmed, reach out! Talk to your friends, family, and then do a self-assessment to ensure your mental health is back on track before you start your return.

When you're ready to come back, there are many ways to deal with the project that put you out in the first place. You can start with the above tips like incrementing it, celebrating milestones, and sharing your progress and feelings. If it's just one project that's really trying, do your best to push through and learn from the experience. Taking on one project that is too much can be a great challenge, but be rewarding in the end. If you're facing a massive queue, multiple large projects, or are already months behind, then you may need to formulate another plan all together to get back on track. The first thing to do is take a deep breath and understand that it's okay. Things happen, life is messy, and everyone gets behind at one point or another.

Next, you should do your best to get organized. This is where talking to someone with project management experience or doing some research on getting organized on your own can really come in handy. There are many methods to use and you can choose the best one to suit your needs. Getting back on track will be difficult and time consuming, but you can do it. It will take dedication and you will be pulling long hours, but you will have many milestones to celebrate and everything you share will be a step in the right direction.

Lastly, you should keep communication in the forefront of your mind. Always communicate with your audience and your customers during the recovery process. In the beginning, this is going to be intimidating and you will go through a lot of emotions, but believe me when I say that most, if not all, of your customers will be very happy to hear from you. People in our community are often more understanding than you think and being honest while maintaining communication is the best policy when dealing with being behind and creative fatigue. As a side note: Issuing refunds is something you can also do, but I'm going to cover this extensively in a future article.

Emotional strain and creative fatigue are talked about almost constantly in our community. Everyone may have different names for them, but the symptoms are almost always the same. What we should all try to do is recognize the initial onset of emotional strain and do our best to avoid full-on creative fatigue. Art, in all it's forms, is an emotional endeavour. We create with feeling and put a little of ourselves into everything we do, which is truly wonderful! When we focus on keeping our creative minds healthy and our Emo bank full, we can all continue to happily create, share, and celebrate while we're at it~


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