The pandemic forced a long overdue conversation about work in the public sphere that we’re all still navigating. From the Great Resignation to navigating work-life balance while working from home, the issue of “burnout” has remained a trendy topic. I have a perhaps controversial—and for sure counter-intuitive—method for combating creativity burnout: add more projects.
I was reading a piece that went rather viral on Twitter about “quiet Quitting”—or just phoning in your job to combat burnout. While I understand the advice about not pushing yourself to extremes and I fully support the idea that there is no real benefit to doing many of the extra unpaid jobs that exploit workers, when it comes to creative fields and keeping things fresh, my experience has been something that may feel like the opposite of “quite quitting” and doing less—working on multiple projects at once (rather than doing less) helps me to recharge.
I know this sounds like horrible advice. In a world where people have “side hustles” just to barely keep a roof over their heads, trying to “do more” can seem impossible. So let me begin by saying, the job you have should absolutely be enough to support yourself and your family—and should have decent medical insurance. I’m a millennial who knows that, for most of us, that “should” is pure fantasy, not just for my own generation, but also most Gen Xers and probably all of Gen Z. So how can we do all of that and not burn out?
I am a freelance author, screenwriter, and comic book writer. As a creative, I am currently working for 11 different companies on 11 different projects right now. This is partially—as I just said—for practical survival: shows get canceled, book advances get caught up in months of paperwork, residuals can be few and far between. Sometimes it takes weeks or months to get notes back from a publisher, editor, or producer and during that time, I’m not getting paid.
That is part of why my advice to other writers is always to have enough going on that you aren’t just obsessing on the one thing after you submit it; but the reason I recommend this goes so far beyond the practicality of bills that need to be paid.
If you are in a creative field especially, you need to keep life and work exciting and stimulating, giving your brain what it needs. My best advice, therefore, for your creative work also happens to be the exact opposite of good relationship advice: have a mistress. Hell, have several. It will keep you passionate and excited about all of it. What I mean here is: have other projects that are creatively fueling and exciting you while you are working on the project at hand.
Here is the key: you have to make sure each project is in a different stage. If you are outlining something, have something else in the concept stage. If you are revising something, have something else in a first draft. This way, when you hit a moment where you feel stuck on one, you can jump into something different and new to stimulate your creative brain in another way. Often our best ideas come when something is tickling the back of our brains versus when we’re just trying to pound our way through it. I know my best solutions often come when I am taking a shower.
I’m aware this is not always possible. Sometimes all my deadlines come at once and I have to frantically write like my life depends on it, but more often juggling multiple projects keeps me from writer’s block or existential dread. This is something I learned when I was writing on a daily show, and something had to be ready to tape each day. Writer’s block is often bullshit. If you have to have something ready to air, you will. And a great way to keep yourself from drowning in the minutia of perfectionism is to be excited about the next thing.
That said, you should still care about what you’re creating. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself to the point that you aren’t able to do your best work, but when it is ready, when you do have a draft, you can turn it in instead of obsessing over it, since you have another project to jump into that demands your attention. Your mistress is waiting. It also can keep you from dealing with anxiety or harassing producers/editors/project managers for feedback too soon, because you have something else to distract you.
A writer I know was once really stressing out because the executive producer hadn’t gotten back to her with notes. I was also waiting for feedback, and she didn’t understand why I wasn’t as stressed. Was I so confident that I was sure my stuff was great? Well, I’ve been doing this for a long time; I do have some confidence in my ability. I’m also still a writer, which means I will feel like a fraud until I die. The real answer is that my self-worth isn’t tied up in any one thing I am working on because I also have eight to ten other things to think about. Some of that is my real-life stuff: being a mom and a wife and a friend, etc. But a lot of it is that when one of my projects moves to the notes process, I can mentally set it aside until I get said notes back, and can instead start working on pitching, outlining, or revising something else that is in a different part of the process. It keeps my mind stimulated; it keeps my skills fresh, and it keeps me from falling into a rut of routine. I thrive on a bit of thrilling chaos.
I don’t know if this will work for everyone, but I do know it has kept me far saner in a creative field than I probably should be. So, I’m passing my personal life-hack along in case it helps you. If you currently have a creative project that is stressing you out and overwhelming you… the answer may be to do more, not less. Distract yourself with a sexy side piece in the one way it’s socially acceptable to do.