Shop Talk: On Being Burnt Out

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I was going to talk about writing books today—I actually had a post about 80% finished—but then I decided to instead address something that’s going on with me right now: I’m kind of burnt out. The second half of 2013 was so intense with projects, travel, and our move to Chicago, that I had to scrounge up energy from reserves that I didn’t really have, and now I’m paying the price a bit this January. I haven’t melted into a depressive puddle on my couch (although I do happen to be on my couch right now), but I am lacking some of the excitement and creative energy that I rely on to keep going.

This kind of feeling used to make me panic (what if I never want to make something again? Do I have to give up and just get a real job??), but getting burnt out is not the end of the world. It happens to me about once a year after finishing a major project like a manuscript or an art show, this feeling that I’m not terribly excited about much, and the thought of big projects makes me want to get back in bed. It’s not a good feeling, and it FEELS like the kind of feeling that won’t go away, but it always does. It just takes time, and that’s the frustrating part: you can’t force inspiration or excitement.

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When I was a senior in college, I was accepted into a Fulbright program to study in Japan for the following year. Unlike most Fulbright grants, this one wasn’t for research toward a graduate degree, but just a year of free academic study. (How great is that?!) Because I’d changed majors halfway through college, I was working on my thesis right up through August, and the program started in September. I recall turning in my thesis and feeling giddy about going to Japan. Then when I got to Japan and we were having our orientation for the coming year of study, I realized that I had zero interest in 12 more months in libraries reading about and watching Japanese wartime films. (That was my chosen area for some reason.) We were going around the room talking about what we planned to do with our year, and when it was my turn, I decided to be honest and say that I had just turned in a thesis two weeks before, and I wasn’t really feeling terribly academic right now. To my relief, the program director reassured me that it was common to feel sapped after such a big project and I shouldn’t worry about it—I should just relax and let myself recover. To my surprise, he then said that it could take months, or maybe even a FULL YEAR, to feel inspired again, and that that was OK. (Seriously, how great was this program?!) So I took him at his word and signed up for flower arrangement classes. And eventually I was motivated to write a big paper about leftist filmmaking in the 1920s, or something.

Academia turned out not to be my life’s passion, but I know that I’m passionate about making things with my hands and creating characters and stories. I’ve been doing this long enough that I no longer question whether I’m cut out for the job that I do, and it’s OK to just let myself enjoy other things for a bit. I stayed a little longer than usual in my pottery class the other day, and I’m planning to go in for some extra studio time soon. This is also a good time for me to catch up on some of the more mindless tasks that come with my job: winding yarn for kits, updating my mailing list, etc. I am also continuing to work on designs (I’m looking at YOU, unnamed arcade toy), but maybe I don’t have to write an entire book chapter this week if it makes my head hurt to think about.

My aim with this post is not to complain, but to get my thoughts down so that I can eventually move on. And I also think that, while the creative parts of the internet can be inspiring, they can also make us feel like if we’re not being inspired every second of our lives, there’s something wrong with us. Not true! Downtime is part of the creative process. Let it be. Maybe go to a museum, or take up flower arrangement.

Previous posts in this series:

Self-Publishing Patterns

How I got Started

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17 thoughts on “Shop Talk: On Being Burnt Out

  1. We all feel like this every now and then and it really, truly sucks. However, I’ve noticed over the years that some of my best ideas come after a period of being burned out. It’s as if after taking a break from what I love, I go back to it and see it in a whole new way. Like there had been so much crap floating around in my head about the subject that nothing seemed any good, but after a break was suddenly organized and beautiful.

    You take all the time you need, because in a couple of months we all know you’ll be going non-stop again. There will be something that stops you in your tracks and makes you think, “I really want to knit this,” and you’ll be back and better than ever. :)

  2. Taking time to love yourself, take care of yourself and cocoon yourself for a bit, is perfectly acceptable! Give yourself 10-14 days (like a vacation) to just be. Take walks, eat your favorite foods, drink hot tea… just enjoy the simple things. In time, I’m sure things will come together… sending gentle hugs.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing! It’s really great to hear other bloggers talk about this. I get into the funk of “just not feelin it” and it can really be a bummer. But I’m learning that if I try and force things or just power through it, then I spend MORE time recovering then if I just let myself relax.

  4. Thanks for sharing! It’s comforting to know that this feeling of ‘blah’ happens even to the best of us :) I’m feeling this way right now, too… but moreso, wanting to do many crafty things but life and work have exhausted me out that I end up not doing anything. I’m planning to try to make a goal to do at least 15-30 minutes of something fun every day just to stay fresh. This is why I like dabbling in different crafts, too – I can rotate them around to keep things fresh so I don’t burn out as much. My main problem sometimes is just doing, rather than thinking about doing. Hoping to really give myself a push this weekend since there are quite a few projects I want (and need) to get started. (Thinking about making 2 huge and huggable squids for my cousin’s twin boys that are due in June haha.) I hope you find your inspiration and motivation again soon! You are an amazing storyteller and designer who brings a lot of cute and happy into people’s lives :)

  5. Anna, January and February are also perfect months to cocoon inside and wallow on the couch. I always feel low around this time of year. I’m so glad that Fulbright director encouraged you to rest. He sounds like a wise guy. Enjoy your couch time with Soupy and Nipsey!

    BTW my mom was excited to see you featured in the Knitpicks magazine. And I was totally pumped seeing your commercials on Nickelodeon at a restaurant the other day. :) You have been VERY busy this past year. You deserve to chill and let your mind and body have a break.

  6. Anna,
    The weather is just an indicator of reminding you to hibernate. Restore yourself and your creative zest. You will be happier in the end than pushing yourself then your actions will feel like drudgery. We, your fans, will be here waiting and you’ll STILL be Top of Your Game= sweet knitting ideas and books and creatures. Enjoy !

  7. We all need time to regroup and recover. Whether it is from academics or work. Sometimes we just need a “Me” day.

    I love your cute projects, the teeny tiny ones are my favorite. I have knit many of them with worsted weight yarn to make into Christmas tree ornaments. They are very well loved by all who receive them.

  8. This was a great post and I wish you all the best for the upcoming year! Your designs are amazing (very well written and super cute) and your story (how you started Mochimochiland) is inspirational. As a recent college grad transitioning to full-time work, your knitted designs help me to decompress after a crazy day at the office. Thanks much!!

  9. I love the raw honesty in this post. THANK YOU for that!

    I’ve had my blog for about three years now and recently, I’ve shifted focus. During that transition time, I felt so burned out on knitting. It stopped being fun and exciting for me. (Kinda like what you went through as a Fulbright!)
    I sometimes see our minds like a great big field. After a harvest (or a thesis!) we need to let the ground lay fallow for a season. When we return and plant again, the harvest is even better.

  10. Thank you for posting this! This couldn’t have come at a better time, really…I’m not in the business yet, but I’ve been thinking I’d like to be someday, so I’m really enjoying these Shop Talks, and this one is really hitting home right now. I finally finished all my Christmas gift making, and had been looking forward for some “just me” knitting time. But suddenly I kind of felt like I’d hit a wall. This had me questioning whether or not I could really handle knitting and making patterns for a living someday. But after reading this post, I feel much better! Now I think all I need is a little breather. So thank you very much!

  11. That’s great about being honest with your instructor and telling him that you were just pooped and tired. The truth always wakes people up though it offends many too. I write about one poem every five years because it takes that long for it to work up through my brain. Luckily I don’t have to make a living through creativity. Take your time. Your best stuff is yet to come. Love, Dad

  12. Thank you, everyone, for your empathetic and encouraging comments. They have certainly brightened this very cold and windy winter day for me. I’m not planning to take much of a hiatus from my work, but I just felt the need to share my current state of mind. Just putting it out there has helped!

  13. Thank you for your honest and non-dramatic way of sharing this. Ebb-time can be difficult to handle yet it can be so crucial. Take your break, we’ll wait :)

  14. Well, moving is one of life’s most stressful life activities. And I am sure it is hard to get motivated in the dead of one of the most recent cold spells.

    Ever designed a moving van, a packing box?

  15. Thank you for this honest post! The first thing I thought was, isn’t it ironic? I often think about how I could start my own small business and do something creative (at least part-time) to fight the burn out I feel in my job, And then you, creative, successful small business owner, write about burn out! But it makes so much sense! After reading in your previous posts about all the things you do! Again and again, life teaches me that it is always about balance, no matter what it is we do. It’s such a good reminder that the grass will always seem greener over there (but it never is)!

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