Creative Focus and Avoiding Burnout

Many of us who engage in creative pursuits on top of having a day job and various social/family obligations can often find it frustrating trying to eek out enough free time to devote to our projects. When we do get free time, sometimes we struggle to utilize it. Unanticipated sickness can make concentration difficult as can uncomfortable weather. (Summer humidity is one such nuisance where I live, and because I don’t have air conditioning, it can sometimes render large files difficult for my computer to process in the heat. My previous computer kicked the bucket when it’s cooling fan finally gave up.) Other distractions can include work or family stresses, anticipation of upcoming events (like holidays or celebrations), and exhaustion. Creative blocks often come when we just don’t have the energy to focus on our creative goals.

But when the stars do manage to align and we have both the free time and the energy to create, we can fall into another problem. Sometimes we can become so immersed in our projects that we forget to take time for ourselves. This is why I like to work in bursts when I have time for writing or photo editing. I’ll spend 20 minutes to an hour working on a scene or a set of photos, and then I’ll stop to read for a bit (sometimes it’s research for the story I’m working on at the time!) or do chores or play with the dog. After 15-30 minutes of that, I’ll go back to my project.

This method of working has really helped me stay on track during my long holiday weekend. In between normal household chores and family time to celebrate Independence Day, I spent quite a bit of my time away from the office working on my Camp NaNoWriMo project. I even managed to get far enough in my plot that I decided to add another 8,000 words to my goal for the month.

Writing in short bursts helps me stay focused and avoid creative blocks, because I pause long enough between writing sessions to think about where I want to go and can usually avoid writing myself into a corner. When I return to my project, I take the time to read over the last paragraph or page that I’ve written to make sure all the details I intended to include are there and that they’re correct. Then I move forward.

This method of writing doesn’t always help me if I’m distracted by one of the issues I mentioned at the beginning of this post, but when I have the focus and the desire to write, it helps me maintain my forward momentum over the course of several days or weeks. During this long weekend, it helped me write over ten thousand words, twice as many as what I thought I’d have time for between holiday activities. This creative method helps me with other projects too, though reviewing the previous session’s work is not always necessary.

Whether this method helps you or not, please remember to take the time to care for yourself when you get locked onto a creative project in your free time. Stretch your legs, relax your eyes, wash some laundry or dishes, do whatever is necessary to keep your mind and body healthy during these times of creative achievement. Free time is precious and none of us want to waste any of it when we’re focused on our projects. But remember that big projects are like marathons; you’re not going to finish if you burn yourself out in the first kilometer. Pacing is the key to success.


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