Behind the scenes: navigating burnout as a creative (1/?)

Behind the scenes: navigating burnout as a creative (1/?)

March 2023. 

As part of the Diploma of Small Business and Project Management I'm working on, I have to do a presentation about a project I've undertaken within my business. Being a writer first and foremost, my project was researching, developing the over-arching plot and drafting the first book in a new series.

I didn't complete my project within my allotted time. Despite all my planning, I started my draft, scrapped it and started over--only to scrap that draft and start over a third time. In my presentation, I talked about the fact that the wheels seemed to have come off my process. For a while now, I'd struggled to complete drafts, often starting and restarting projects. One of my classmates asked me why. What had happened to upset my creative process? 

I had no answer. 


April 2023. 

I have the sudden realisation that I am unhappy—very unhappy. I'm overloaded, stressed, unable to write. No wonder my creative processes are out of whack!

I take stock of my life, stepping back from some responsibilities. As I take a close look at my physical and mental health, I recognise that the exhaustion I feel isn't normal tiredness. I'm in the early stages of burnout.

This isn't my first brush with burnout. In 2020, the combination of a demanding job, lockdown and the pandemic took a massive toll on me. I wound up on medical leave for two weeks, so exhausted and depleted that answering a single email was a mammoth task. My mind was constantly foggy, and even after spending two weeks resting and recovering, I was constantly tired. I vowed it would never happen again. 

Three years later, almost to the day—here we are again. How?

  • Although I'd removed a major source of stress—the demanding job—I continued to overload myself. 
  • Writing was a source of creative joy in my life—but it was now my main source of income. This created a lot of pressure and pressure and creativity are not always a good match.
  • I took two business courses: the certificate and diploma of small business and project management. The courses were great. I learned so much and met some awesome people. On the flip side however, was the amount of work involved. Studying and completing assignments put even more pressure on my time.
  • As I struggled to juggle my various commitments with my study and writing, one piece of advice was constantly repeated again and again: I need to put myself first.

Putting myself first.

This is something I've struggled with for a very long time. I am a people pleaser by nature (though I'm working on this) and often say yes even when I know I should say no. I also score very highly for responsibility on the Clifton Strengths Test, which means that once I commit to something, I will do everything in my power to make it happen—even when that goes against what is best for me. 

I've tried counselling and while understanding that boundaries will help me protect my time and enable me to succeed, there seems to be a disconnect between knowing this and actually putting this knowledge into action. 

Understanding what makes me tick.

Mid-2022, I began exploring the enneagram, Clifton Strengths and other tools for understanding how my brain is wired. Although my interest in this area began with the desire to know how to overcome my weaknesses, I quickly found myself inspired by the idea underlying the Clifton Strengths: that by identifying what I'm best at and doing more of that, I can progress faster. As an example, I scored highly as a learner which means that learning new things gives me energy. This matches my life experience: my most prolific writing period was while attending University, and every time I have take a course or training, I have had a burst of new ideas and creative energy. 

Opportunity for a Life Reset.

Having brought myself back from the edge of burnout and upheaved my life in the process, I wanted to make this count. I did not want to go through all of this, only to find myself falling back into the same bad habits, and winding up tired and burned out again. 

How do I do this? Good question! 

As I write this, I am still navigating the best way forward. So far theses are the two things I am concentrating on:

1) Give myself working/living conditions that I thrive in

2) Ensure that I make purposeful decisions to ensure that I don't end up back on the path to burnout. 

Easier said than done, right? 

While I figure the how part of the above out, I have one last thought that I've been mulling over. 


At one point in my life, I thought of my tendency to worry as a good thing. It meant that I was always organised as I tended to over-prepare for the things that made me worried or have a back up plan. 

Somewhere along the way, however, I realised that I tended to get into worry spirals. At least once a year, I would end up in tears, worried because of something that wasn't even that big of deal but that I'd worked myself up over. When I was diagnosed with anxiety, that confirmed it for me: my anxiety was something that needed to be fixed.

A lot of different counsellors pointed out that anxiety is a tool that humanity evolved that made us sensitive to threats in our environment. I really resisted seeing it in this way. Instead I put a lot of effort into overcoming my anxiety or avoiding situations that give me uncertainty. 

I don't think that avoiding or trying to stifle things that make me anxious is a good idea--but I do not want to go back to living with worry. I think that I need to find a way to accept and manage my anxiety somewhere between these two poles. And perhaps, I need to do the same with my current situation too. Instead of rushing to fix it, maybe I need to sit with this discomfort a bit, explore it, accept it--find out what this is teaching me. 

Gillian knows what they're talking about!

 Gillian St. Kevern

Gillian (she/they) has an in-depth knowledge of story gained through over a decade of study and practical experience working within the publishing industry. They have published over thirty stories in a variety of genres. Readers praise Gillian’s unique characters, atmospheric world-building and twisty plots, revelling in the fact that no two books are ever the same.


Gillian believes strongly in authentic representation in fiction, writing empowering queer fantasy that empowers their readers to embrace their truths. Gillian launched Plot Wholes in 2023 out of a desire to support fellow queer writers on their writing journeys, and now offers their services as a consultation to genre fiction writers at any stage of their journey.

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