Tired? Burned out? Give yourself a break

The Examiner

Like many creative people, I sometimes get bored with my “art” and have to take a break. Stepping back can be a great way to unblock your creativity. I just did this and came back much stronger.

This process has also proved helpful to my writer and musician clients. Hopefully, it will be helpful to you in overcoming your own creative blocks. Doing this can work for almost anything you want to get better at.

Barton Goldsmith is a columnist for Tribune News Service. (Handout/TNS)

I started my writing career as a musician, a singer-songwriter, wanting to be the next Cat Stevens or James Taylor. Needless to say, that didn’t work out, but I still love music and play a lot and create in my spare time.

Recently, my music was not flowing, and I felt like I wasn’t growing creatively. I was getting frustrated, and I realized I should do something different. I can’t say I knew what would happen next, but I needed a change. The truth is getting stuck creatively is not a permanent roadblock; it’s just a bridge you have to figure out how to cross.

Anyway, I wasn’t growing, and I got bored, then angry, and I decided to quit and put my studio away. I took down all of my equipment, packed away everything, then closed the closet door so I wouldn’t see it. I also barely listened to music during this period, but strangely there was almost always a song in my head.

I even stopped looking at guitars online. I honestly thought this part of my life might be over. I’ve been working so much through the pandemic that I thought I might not ever have the time I needed to get better at my music – but I guess I never fully bought into that idea.

Last week was one of the busiest weeks I have had in years. There is so much emotional pain right now; people are telling me no therapists will take on new clients and are begging to be seen. Potential clients have actually burst into tears just because I was willing to listen to them on the phone.

We are all going through stuff, and if you don’t think that’s the case, you are in denial or defensive for the wrong reasons. I got mad at my music for all the wrong reasons, but then something healing happened.

I took out the guitars over the weekend, and I don’t know why. I put them in stands around me and just sat with them. At first, it was a bit of a staredown. I took photographs and so did my wife, more as a means of reintroduction than for posterity. I rearranged my guitars several times, and then I started playing one, then another, and then I began to sing. I went through several pieces I didn’t think I would remember, and the real kicker is I was markedly better than when I had stopped.

And that, my friends, is the great tool (or trick) to allow your creativity to return to you. Just put whatever you’re doing aside for a month, and see what happens. I believe you will come back on your own, and when you do, it will be better than it was before you stopped or got blocked.

We all have to put our energy somewhere, so if you need to take a break, try doing something different. For example, if you’re a writer, maybe take up a musical instrument. If you’re an actor, try writing. You get the idea. I poured myself and my creativity into my work, and that got better too, come to think of it.

I know I’m not the first to discover this, but not enough people do it. When you get blocked, learn to step away, not into nothingness but into another good avenue for your energy. When you return to your art or your work, chances are you will be better at it.

Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of "The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time." Follow his daily insights on Twitter at @BartonGoldsmith, or email him at Barton@bartongoldsmith.com.