Creative Exhaustion

Working Through Creative Exhaustion

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Creative exhaustion might seem like just another term for “writer’s block”, but in fact it’s a bit different, and probably a bit more common. Writer’s block assumes that you’ve reached a stage where everything to try to write ends up unfinished because you feel creatively blocked.

But creative exhaustion is a more common condition, and not necessarily one that indicates any kind of longterm problem. The main difference between the two is time: exhaustion is usually temporary — a day or so — while writer’s block can last for many days, weeks, months, or even longer.

To be creatively exhausted simply means that you’re spent. You’ve got no more to give. It can feel alarming, particularly if you’ve got major songwriting projects on the go. But creative exhaustion often has a simple solution: stop trying to write.

To be creatively blocked is a condition that might be mild or medium in intensity, and the solutions might be a bit more complicated. Solutions often involve:

  1. Stopping for a short or long time.
  2. Changing focus to another creative task (like writing poetry, playing your instrument, learning to paint, etc.)
  3. Getting help (from a psychologist, for example) if the block is a particularly severe or long-lasting one.

But to be creatively exhausted is often no more alarming than being exhausted after running a long footrace. The best solution is often to simply stop for the day, get some rest, and have a go at it again the next day.

Jumping to Conclusions

Often when you feel that you can’t come up with songwriting that pleases you, you might jump to some apparently obvious conclusions, and assume that you’ve entered some stage of writer’s block.

That assumption then brings on a fear of failure, and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts: because you fear writer’s block, any form of creative difficulties gives us the fear that it’s something long-lasting and difficult to solve.

So when your songwriting ideas dry up, don’t jump to conclusions. It may just be creative exhaustion — infinitely better than a creative block! And going on that assumption, here’s what you do:

  1. Stop, leave your songwriting where it is, and turn your attention to other duties or activities you’ve got planned for your day.
  2. You may even want to avoid listening to music for a few hours, just to clear your head. Whoever said “A change is as good as a rest” got it right!
  3. Make the assumption that you’re just tired and you need a break. To assume you’re at the start of a bout of writer’s block can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  4. Get back into writing the very next day, but go slow. Give yourself little songwriting tasks before taking a small coffee break. Perhaps work on getting a line of lyric working, or perhaps work on modifying a chord progression. Think of it as a kind of warm-up before you launch back into larger, full-song activities.
  5. Have several songwriting projects on the go at any one time. That way, when you feel that ideas aren’t happening for one song, you’ve still got another one or two that you can move to, and that’s a great way to avoid feeling mired in the creative mud!

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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