Last time, I wrote a very long post about online negativity as a lead up to this post about dealing with burnout. I asked around for advice, and the majority of the tips were related to taking a break from the internet and switching projects. I’ve got a different perspective on this, which I’ll share below. As all of my posts, please keep in mind that I am not a fan of OneTrueWayisms: I trust you that you will do what works for you. This is simply how I deal with it.
Fried to a Crisp
I feel being burnt out is a state of being. When I’m fried, it’s because there’s too much (words or data) coming in or too much going out. Often, but not always, that information can trigger a range of emotions which are not always healthy. A clickbait article that’s designed to get you so pissed off, you just have to comment on it or share it. A kerfluffle that involves something or someone you care about, that everyone continues to talk about–including you. One too many rejections, bad reviews or critiques, Real LifeTM events… All of these things can have an impact on productivity because, as a writer, the more words and emotions I absorb from other sources, the more I’ve found that impacts my original work or prevents me from being excited about writing for other properties.
When it’s related to the internet, that’s unwanted information and junk emotions I’m putting into my brain. When it’s not, the process for dealing with that information and those emotions may be different, but it’s still going to have an impact on my mental health. For me, dealing with Real LifeTM triggers is vastly different from online negativity, but I feel that there are some similarities to dealing with burnout once I’m at that point. That said, there is a specific lesson that all creative professionals are forced to learn when it comes to online criticism.
Creative Criticism Is Not About You
I am not, and I want to be very clear about this, dissing fans or fandom in this section. This is about the negativity of the words that are used which, in most cases, is all creative professionals have to go on. Whether it’s our own work or when we contribute to a licensed property, criticism and negative feedback related to what we produce is typically not about the quality of who we are as human beings because those comments are shared by total strangers.
Most fans do not understand all of the steps (or time) required to create a movie, TV show, game, novel, etc. nor are they aware of the legal, professional, or contractual obligations we have–and nor should they feel obligated to understand every nuance. No matter how much we talk about process, it’s hard to relate to producing creative works until you’ve actually done it yourself in the same way that person has. For years, the walls between creator and fan were extraordinarily thick, and now that they’re thin when a fan reacts negatively to a work the creator can be contacted or, in some cases, harassed. Even when a company clearly highlights those steps there’s often criticism because the fan or consumer isn’t working at that company and their emotions for the property, coupled with high demand for that product, outweigh their understanding of what needs to happen behind-the-scenes.
Typically, the more popular the property or the release, the more chances you’ll get negative feedback. It’s the law (and luck) of numbers. You could sell 1,000 copies and if 10% of people respond and leave reviews, that’s 100 people. Of those 100 people, some will simply rate it with a starred review and not leave any commentary. Others will write a review, and then you’ll get people throwing out feedback–for better or for worse–via social media. Often, and I see this happen a lot, there is absolutely no guarantee that that person has even seen or paid for the work, and they’re simply responding to an image or a comment someone else made. And don’t forget about click bait articles engineered to piss people off by slamming a work for eyeballs on the page!
This is simply how the internet works and, unfortunately, this part of the feedback cycle can take its toll on creative professionals. It is what it is and I highly doubt it will change. I rarely, if ever, see how works that do address controversial issues are lauded for what they’ve done right in addition to the nitpicks, and many satisfied fans don’t take the time to leave reviews for a variety of reasons. That is not their fault and I firmly believe that reviews aren’t an obligation. They are optional and they do help, sure, but I can’t make those kinds of demands on readers. Here’s my fear, though: too much negative feedback, especially for shows and movies that reach thousands and millions of viewers, will push creators into producing materials that are “safe” or downright boring for fear of causing waves–especially when there’s harassment attached to a specific subject as proven by what other creators are doing.
To me, that is dangerous because that leads to censoring what we work on in the brainstorming phase and the end result suffers. To prevent burnout, we need to be allowed to suck, even if we’re the only ones to see it, because that’s how we grow and improve and change as creative professionals. I know this lesson is a hard one to learn, but I do feel it’s one every creative professional eventually realizes in their own way. In most cases, negative feedback about a book/game/movie/piece of art is not saying YOU suck as a human being; it is saying that fans didn’t like the work or a part of what was done, and they’ve attributed that criticism to you–all of you–as the creator. That can be impossible to separate, and this is a big contributing factor to burnout in my humble opinion.
When Blacketh Is Thy Mood
First and foremost, I am not a believer in restraining your emotions and preventing yourself from feeling bad. If you need to feel something? You feel it. Yes, there is such a thing as too much emotion, especially if you’re feeling depressed for far too long or angry, but in healthy doses emotions are part of being human. What led to you having those emotions, like misinformation or what-have-you, can be the cause of feeling something you later realize you shouldn’t have but that, too, is normal.
After recognizing I’m in a foul mood or I’m burnt out from feeling too much negativity, I do limit my internet connectivity, exercise the block button, and watch my caffeine intake, but I also have a list of other actions I take. I have no time for hate. None. I hope these steps are helpful for you!
- Step 1: Identify Trigger(s) – Knowing what pisses me off or what led to my burnout is really important to prevent it from happening again. Here, I also recognize what type of burnout it is. Either too much coming in, or too much going out.
- Step 2: Sensory Deprivation – I have a pair of noise-canceling headphones I use to listen to… Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I sometimes use meditation as well, but I find the noise-canceling headphones work great for me. Then, I can hear very clearly how loud everything is and work to quiet it down.
- Step 3: Throwing Out the Trash – If there’s too much coming in, and my head is overloaded, then I need to get rid of it. I do not use a computer (e.g. conductor) for this step. It’s good old-fashioned pen-to-paper freewriting, and I do as much or as little as I need to. If there’s too much going out, then I do the same thing, but I focus on identifying where my emotional leaks are. Sometimes, I need to use this step to clearly identify who or what is bugging me and affecting my productivity.
- Step 4: Formulate a Plan – I make lists of everything I’m doing and rank those tasks/items by my priorities and set deadlines. Then, I cut off what I don’t need to do. Simplify, simplify, simplify. This list includes everything from what shows I watch to the errands that I run. K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid. The less flotsam and jetsam I have to worry about, the better. This also serves as a reminder, by the way, about what is important to steer me back toward the center.
- Step 5: Do Something Nice – Here I take a break and do something for myself, my loved ones, or for other people. At my worst, I write fan letters to other creative professionals. I design jewelry and give those away as gifts to my friends or, if I’m feeling like I need some TLC, I do something great for myself. If I can afford it, I’ll give to charity. Technically, I am doing something to counteract the negativity that is not focused on work. It is focused on something that makes me feel good, which serves as a jumping off point.
- Step 6: Cleansing and Positive Space – Work out. Do yoga. Take a shower. Dress up. Clean the house. Declutter. This almost always has a positive impact on me, because cleaning and looking like a slob can be a sign of Writer’s Avoidance Behavior. When it’s done, there is no excuse–and it has a profound psychological impact on my mood. If my burnout is really bad, I will change my environment by redecorating or shifting work spaces.
- Step 7: Revisit my Goals – After all this is done, then I take the plan from Step 4 and I revise it. 90% of the time, my first draft will incorporate unrealistic goals because I’m feeling anxious. This time I opt for honesty in terms of what I can get done instead of what I want to get done. While forgiving oneself is definitely key, I feel that knowing how I work and what my typical output is like is the absolute best way to reach achievable goals. I know that first to-do list? Never gonna happen. Realistic goals sometimes take work to figure out.
- Step 8: Transferring Plan – I transfer the plan a second or third time to a different medium. I have an elaborate spreadsheet set up. Even if I don’t revisit that spreadsheet for some time, by processing the information into that format I am solidifying my goals and reinforcing that yes, these are serious milestones.
- Step 9: Plan for Happiness and Breaks – The zoo. A coffee shop. Seeing friends. Museum. Whatever it is, I plan it (usually on the cheap) because just focusing on the work is going to kill me considering I am attempting to fix being burnt out. I have to plan breaks, otherwise I’ll go nuts! This way, I’m not living to work, even though I love it. Heck yes, I’m an entrepreneur and I love my job, but I have to plan downtime because otherwise I’ll just get burnt out again. Sometimes, too I’ll plan to see a funny movie or listen to a beloved audiobook. Even if I don’t write it down, I am choosing what makes me happy to replace what made me sad.
- Step 10: Sleep. Get Dressed. – Once all that is done, I get up the next morning and get dressed–YES THAT MEANS PANTS–as if I’m heading into the office. If I want to take my job seriously, then I need to take me seriously. Then? I start small and go, go, go…
Well, that’s all the time I have today. I hope this is helpful and gets you thinking about what works (and what doesn’t) for you. Burnout is something all of us can experience, and I feel this, in particular, is something we need to help each other out on.
- Mood: Proud and determined, dammit.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: WOO! One cup!
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Post-con haze.
In My Ears: The almighty dryer.
Game Last Played: Kingdoms of Amalur: Age of Reckoning
Book Last Read: Commedia della Morte by Chelsea Quinn Yarbo
Movie Last Viewed: Clueless
Latest Artistic Project: Chainmaille!
Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last
Latest Game Release: Gothic Icons and Smuggler’s Guide to the Rim
What I’m Working On: Read my latest project update.