Creative Burnout: What to do when the ideas tap runs dry

Creative Review asked four creative leaders about their personal experience of burnout, and what they do to keep it at bay

The creative industry is a breeding ground for burnout, thanks to its long hours, looming clients, and the pressure of coming up with ideas on command. Confronting the blank page or empty screen when mentally or physically exhausted is challenging and becomes even more so in a work culture that often discourages creatives from asking for help.

Learning to identify the signs is crucial, as is having coping mechanisms for those moments when the creative spark has gone. Here, Grey London Chief Creative Officer Vicki Maguire, artist Ian Stevenson, Stink Studios Creative Director LA Ronayne and Universal Everything founder Matt Pyke discuss how to recognise and avoid creative exhaustion, and what to do when it strikes.

Creative Review: Have you experienced burnout before, and if so what did it feel like?
LA Ronayne: I’ve never been all the way wiped out, but I am wary of the sliding scale. The lowest moments in my repertoire came when efforts and project progress didn’t balance out. It’s a sort of deep-level annoyance that feels like horseracing with no stirrups, on a course designed by bastards.

Matt Pyke: Definitely. I’ve been running my studio for 15 years now, so it does accumulate over time. I think a lot of it comes down to a habit of saying yes to too many things. When I first started in 2004, we felt like we had to make hay while the sun shone. It was a combination of saying yes to too many things, and I wasn’t planning to take on employees or get into the management of people, so I was doing all the work myself.

It got to a point where I was working so many hours, and trying to make every project the best possible outcome, that I was beginning to feel I was compromising on certain things. Projects weren’t turning out as well as they could, and I was spreading myself too thin. Since then I’ve become more aware of it and say no to a lot more work now.

Ian Stevenson: Mine was a complete nightmare. I was working in a successful graphic design company, and I’d been there four and a half years. I was doing that but also working in the evenings on club visuals and stuff, and going out as well. I just ran out of all energy and completely stopped. I had a complete breakdown and burnout and was written off work; I thought I’d never go back to doing anything creative again.