The Creative Side

Four Tips for Living with “Creative Drain”

Tired Mia by AJ Schroetlin
[How I look after a long week of creativity]

For the last few days (edit: weeks), my website has contained a few faux-posts populated with my favorite dummy text, Hipster Ipsum. The original title of this post was, “Asymmetrical shabby chic Polaroid, post-ironic cardigan hella ennui roof party.”

Hella. Ennui.

And why was my professional website turned into this epic, weeks-long monument to organic-fat-free-PBR and all things hipster, you ask?

Because I got drain.

I’m a content strategist for a digital marketing agency, which is a position I love. I’m able to manage other writers, foster client relationships, use my half-decade’s worth of writing and editing skills, and develop exciting content strategies for my clients — and I get paid for it.

A large part of my job as strategist involves developing editorial calendars and social media posts — which means I’m creative on a daily basis. I tend to lean on my training in rhetoric to plan content, and a large part of my day is spent finding a balance between two halves of my personality: my project-managing, head-over-heels-for-research analytical side and my imaginative, easily-amused-by-puns creative side (see above: faux-posts).

Bottom line: I’m strategically creative at least five hours a day, five days a week. And while I love being creative, I have to admit: being “on” all the time drains me, making it harder for me to be creative outside of work.

It’s the Creative Drain

Creative drain, as I like to define it, is feeling like you’ve been drained dry of all your creativity. You believe you’ll never have the energy to come up with an original idea ever again. Creative drain isn’t writer’s block; generally speaking, the drain happens when you’ve been so creative recently that you’re just too tired to be creative for one. more. minute. — especially when it comes to a personal project that doesn’t have a deadline.

And it happened to me. When I started revamping my website, I was ambitious. I created a content calendar—because I am, after all, a professional—but then I lost the energy to create any of it. Not having the energy to devote to personal projects after work happens to everyone, and I don’t think it’s an unusual issue to face. I do know, however, that creative drain often happens to writers and creative types. I think this is a problem for me because my personal projects and my job are so closely aligned — I develop content for work, and I develop content for fun.

And when I have the creative drain, developing one. more. piece. of content for fun seems less, well, fun.

And, since this is a blog post and I am a professional…here are four tips for living with “creative drain.”

1. It’s Ok to Have Rough Patches

As I’ve gone through weeks of beating myself up over my lack of creative energy, I’ve learned that it’s okay to have rough patches. Not every idea is a winner, and I’m not going to want to write a blog post twice a week on top of my work schedule, personal life, and other personal projects. Creativity needs to be nurtured, and if you need two weeks to recoup before tackling your personal project, then that’s what you need. Give it time, and you’ll get back in the swing of things eventually.

2. Writing and Creativity Are Collaborative

Dr. Kenneth Bruffee, a writing center and learning theorist, argues that communication is an inherently collaborative act — we seek out an “audience” to communicate with — and that the input and feedback we receive from others actually helps us form better ideas. I wholeheartedly agree. If you have creative drain with your personal writing, try finding a fellow creative to bounce ideas around with and spitball. You might just find that it’s easier to be innovative when you have someone to talk to.

3. Carpe Decaf

Creativity is often connected to “the Muse,” and almost every fellow writer I’ve talked to will allude to the Muse in some way: waiting for inspiration to strike, looking for “the moment,” not feeling ready, etc. I’ve learned that it’s great to seize the moment when it comes to you, but try to be chill while you wait for it. Staring at a blank screen isn’t the way to invite the Muse, and you should avoid getting white knuckle syndrome as you mentally demand that an idea come to you. Try switching to decaf coffee for the morning, watching a relaxing movie, and being a little more chill. Those bolts of innovative genius can’t strike if you’re in a frenzy.

4. Let It Go, Let It Go. Can’t Hold It Back Anymore. 

Sometimes, you have to change your planned creativity and be a little flexible. This post wasn’t supposed to be about creative drain (or asymmetrical shabby chic Polaroids). According to my content calendar, this post was supposed to be about my background in rhetoric and the ways I see communication and marketing theory overlapping via my Master’s degree. But sometimes plans don’t work out. Maintaining a schedule is a great goal for personal projects, but consider the costs and benefits. Then, remind yourself that it’s a personal project, and grab a beer. Your boss’s boss isn’t watching you on this one.

At least, I hope not.



Featured image courtesy of AJ Schroetlin and used under Creative Commons Non-Commercial license. 

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