After recently finishing a major creative project (read: PhD), I launched straight into new work without blinking an eye, and was surprised when a month in, I started to burn out. Not in a spectacular way, but in small ways like getting stuck on minor details or putting my shirt on inside out.
The burnout rate for creatives can be quite high and I believe it's largely because we don't give ourselves the right kind of rest. I'm a writer by trade and have trained myself (somewhat successfully) to produce content on demand, daily, for my job. I, like many others, often struggle with the concept of 'down time' because I've learned not to value rest as highly as productivity (thanks, capitalism).
I can't just sit without the urge to do something rising and taking over my body. I can read a book for pleasure, sure, but it doesn't give my body the chance to relax in the right way. And as we know, the body needs rest to repair itself, so for a long time I have been very, very tired.
This was until I discovered the magic of the side project. A side project is anything you do in addition to your main job. And I've learned over the past year that it can be exactly the elixir your exhausted brain has been searching for. If you write, start to draw or sing. If you design, why not write or craft?
I know it's hard. There's so much going on all the time. FOMO is everywhere, but it's mostly in your head. For this reason, create something that you don't want to miss out on. For me, that was drawing a small illustration of what I did each day for a year in a notebook. For you that might mean learning to play the guitar or knitting a scarf. It doesn't matter what it is so long as it's creative.
Why? Because creativity begets creativity.
The more you use, the more you have, and using different parts of your brain every day will strengthen those neural pathways that let ideas flow. If one type of creative media is tapping out your internal resources it may be worthwhile to explore alternatives. If you're tired, by all means sleep, but, if you're blocked, switch gears.
My arts-based PhD explored the relationship between creativity and posttraumatic growth (PTG) — an emotionally and creatively-taxing endeavor. I strongly believe that the creative process can rescue us from even the most traumatic upheavals but its power lies in the smaller details, the moments of creation we allow for each and every day.
During my research, I knew I couldn't just put the TV on and tune out, so I started drawing to give my brain something else to focus on. While you're working on something else, your brain is still working. That marvelous machine upstairs is creative in ways that we aren't aware of and by distracting it with your side project, you can free up some space for the right answers — or artwork — to arrive.
Marion Piper is an artist, writer and yogi from Melbourne, Australia, currently copywriting in San Diego. She just completed a PhD project that unraveled the mother-daughter dyad through the lens of creativity. You'll find her on the mat, in the café or out on an adventure. You can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.
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