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UNTETHERED: Burning Out and Treading Water


UNTETHERED: Burning Out and Treading Water

Creators seem always to ask what it takes to avoid burning out in the small press/indie comic creation universe. They may not like my answer.

I get asked time and time again what I do doing my seasons of burnout when it comes to creativity and writing. Typically, I shrug it off and give some sort of off-putting joke that lightens the mood. Earlier today, as I sat down to lay out my agenda for the day’s comic-related tasks, I had to lean back and take a deep breath. I put so much stuff on my “short-list” that I gave myself the sinking, anxiety-laden, and utterly useless feeling of insignificance. It is a feeling that, if left unchecked, can demolish productivity and progress. 

Unfortunately, the first thing to be discussed here is the creator’s mindset. It is the most difficult part for anyone to overcome because it is different for each of us. Some of us thrive under pressure, while others recoil into hiding. 

Chasing down and conquering our inner demons is the only way to get past that block and into a creative space. The benefit of doing this? Well, it opens up a realm of struggle that can often reflect much more powerfully in storytelling. Creators should never be afraid to fight their mindsets, even when it is less than comfortable to do so. Often, our time spent in our valleys and mountaintops brings about the greatest work. 

I never talk too much about challenging one’s mindset. This is because I am not a psychologist, and I never want to steer people in the wrong direction. However, I can speak from my own experience to say that facing myself down to get the productivity I desire. There are still times when I battle the drive to get the work done, but I try to remind myself that I am the thing holding me back, not others. 

So, it is true, I do not struggle with writer’s block. Where I lack in that, I battle elsewhere. For myself, I constantly want to do more, take on more, and can often overexert myself without even realizing it. The decision to take on more work means that there has to be a concession elsewhere. Recognizing your faults and weaknesses helps curb the burnout that can occur when this is done. Even still, the entire reason I ended up writing on this topic was out of a therapeutic mindset. I had sat down last weekend and made a list of everything I needed to get done within the confines of the next week, and by the time I was finished filling out the agenda, I was ready to throw my phone. I never let it discourage me (we just talked about mindsets), but I often talk myself into a place of procrastination if I do not keep a constant check on what I am working on. 

How do I curb the stress that comes with an ever-growing list of things to do? Find the joy in it. If you are not enjoying life in the comic book creative world (or anything you are putting time into the outside of the necessities) then quit. Even if just for a while, it might give you the distance you need to see a bit more clearly. I organize my tasks by difficulty, and I go ahead and knock out a few items that take under an hour to complete. This gives the endorphin rush for a sense of accomplishment and can drive you into wanting to step up to one of the bigger tasks. I also save some of those little tasks for the end, as a cool-down period. Treat it like work out, you stretch and work yourself up to the harder tasks, then you cool down after those are done. 

Then, take a shower… for God’s sake, take a shower.

I hope this helps somebody or at least encourages you to put your best foot forward and tackle those tasks. Do not worry about how high the water is getting, just remember where the drain is when you need to unplug it. Keep your mental state in check, and let your experiences flow through your work. As always, #DoBetterBeBetter.

Aaron Dowen is a comic book writer, ICD News Editor, and owner of Catalyst Comics Studio LLC

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