‘Creative’ is a word so commonly thrown around. It’s a word that brings to mind a visionary vocation and a freeing feeling. Yet with a to-do list that tells me to draft articles, edit my digital portfolio and, yes, make time for journaling (this is an important one!), it’s easy for me to sense creative burnout on the horizon. Don’t get me wrong – like other social media specialists and content creators, I create because I love it. I write because I love it. But too much artistic overload can curb the joy I feel during those moments of innovation. At times, I feel like I want to drop my pencil (or close the Google Doc – hello 2020) and pause the writing of a great poem or story. And, the aesthetic exhaustion is not exclusive to journalists.
Social media influencers lose their vibrancy to piece together an Instagram post. YouTubers desire to ditch their DSLR cameras, needing a break from capturing every second of their daily routines. Painters want to drop their paintbrushes, pressured that their palette of colors and splatters on their canvases aren’t up to par.
You get the picture. Luckily, Katy Bellotte was there to diagnose symptoms that lead to creative burnout, including ways to avoid it from taking a toll on your artful pursuits. Although not a doctor, the NYC-based content creator (more specifically, graphic designer, calligrapher, video editor and social media entrepreneur) has the tried-and-tested prescription we, as creatives, need to take. She truly knows it all (and shares some secrets with her YouTube audience of nearly half a million subscribers), but Her Campus has the inside scoop, sharing what Bellotte has learned in hopes that we, as creatives, are out there creating what we were meant to create – effectively and stress-free.
Inspiration is great, comparison is not
If someone were to ask me right now, “Who or what inspires you?” my answer would be long enough to span about 101 podcast episodes (and that’s not *too* much of an exaggeration!). Creativity is everywhere, and that is such amazing news for creative-minded people who see the beauty in ordinary things, like the hustle and bustle of NYC, trees changing colors and children frolicking in a park. These are all happy forms of inspiration! But falling into the dreadful trap of comparison, especially in our world of social media, can hinder our ability to happily create what we feel compelled to give life to.
Luckily, Bellotte addresses the realism that perpetuates the ever-so-evil comparison game we play and how it can cause your creative castle to crash. “Comparison, I think, is the quickest accelerator to burnout,” she says. “Even if you’re feeling kind of okay about yourself and thinking, ‘Oh yeah, I love what I’m doing right now, I love what I’m creating’ and you look at another person in a similar genre of what you’re doing, that’s the quickest way to think, ‘Wow, I’m not happy with what I’m making.’”
Bellotte mentions how her YouTube career can spawn these feelings, especially being a creator of over 700 videos (can we get a ?). And, resorting to comparison can almost become inevitable once your creative work becomes your identity, Bellotte explains, being called “YouTube Katy” by peers during her time at college – an identity that she described as upping the pressure to “catch up” with fellow creatives.
“It’s a lot of pressure to always have ideas that are unique and that aren’t even remotely like someone else,” she explains. “In my creative journey and style, when I am forced to do something – or feel like I have to do it – it’s not going to turn out as great as if it organically came to me.”
It’s clear that creativity is not a 24/7 feeling. There are days when you want to fill up all your journal pages in one sitting but, to artistic dismay, those peak times are accompanied by seasons of visionary emptiness. Bellotte unfolds how creative burnout generally doesn’t only happen once. “I feel like I experience creative block all the time, and it’s not something that happens in one season or another,” she says. “I’ll have a really good week and then I’ll have a week where I’m like, ‘Hm, I don’t know what to create that’s different from what I’ve already done.’”
When a creative block sets in, Bellotte believes the most important thing is to rest, while still keeping those things that make you happy on your calendar. “You get to a point where I’ve said all I can say, I’ve done all I could do, for now, I need to take a step back – a lot of us find it hard to take a step back and do nothing,” she notes. “And that’s valid – you should be doing things to make you feel productive, doing things that you look forward to. What’s the point of getting out of bed each day if you’re not excited about what you’re about to do?”
Before Bellotte turned her passion project into a full-time profession, she worked as a Digital and Social Assistant Manager at L’Oréal in NYC (a time in which Bellotte had the most *aesthetically-pleasing* of videos spotlighting life in the Big Apple). She explains while hiring freelancers, she recognized how nobody, despite their background and level of experience, has it “all together.”
“I was seeing how there are all these people who have Master’s degrees and all these really fancy things – years and years of experience and 10 years on me in terms of age – sitting there with the same questions I have, the same insecurities I have,” she remembers. “That’s a big realization I’ve had creatively over the years; you have so much more potential than you think.”
It was in this moment when Bellotte discovered how everyone is, for better or worse, riding the same wave of entrepreneurial ups and downs, teaching her the importance of cutting out your work solely from your own cloth (side note: she has a full podcast episode on this topic of “imposter syndrome” that you definitely want to listen to).
“What I’ve been doing more often, as a creator in the zone – designing a print or sketching something – I try very, very hard not to pull up someone else’s work and try to make something similar to them,” she explains. “Even taking certain elements is copying and you’ve gotta be careful there.” This not only is a disservice to the artist (after all, creative work takes time!) but it also does yourself a disservice by limiting your potential to create. So inspiration is fine and dandy, but ditch the comparison if you want to attract joy and not tension.
Trust in your timing in all that you do
Wherever your passion project lies, recognize that you can do anything but not everything (one of Katy’s favorite sayings). As someone who wears many hats, she recognizes that good work takes time and taking a step back from those big dreams every now and then is essential. “Even as the extreme multitasker that I am, I know when it’s time to dial back one part of me and work on the other part,” she admits. “Creatives have moments when they can’t sleep and feel work is part of your identity so setting realistic deadlines and realistic goals is important.”
And, because comparison certainly comes into play here, giving yourself humility and grace are two virtues Bellotte stands by – “wake up call” feelings of sorts to understand how your limits can be vastly different than other creatives.
“I was catching myself, comparing myself, to this calligrapher who has been doing this for fifteen years, and I’ve only started calligraphy just now,” she says. “There are people who have been creating in the same realm as you for longer than you – longer than you’ve been alive. Of course, shoot for the stars but don’t get upset if you don’t reach it right away. Creativity is a process and we’re all on unique journeys.” And, to bring in another one of Katy’s favorite says, don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Have faith that your timing will come perfectly when it is meant to.
Embark on a creative project out of your comfort zone
As a writer, I sometimes feel all I do is start new paragraphs and have the thesaurus tab open (as I am currently doing, in hopes I don’t burnout by using the word “creative” too many times). It’s easier said than done, but taking a break from your forté and trying something new will lower the odds of restlessness. “If I feel burned out in one area of my creative life, I turn to another one,” Bellotte says. “Video editing is my thing and I haven’t posted a YouTube video in a month, and that’s okay; I didn’t force myself.”
Taking a break from the software-editing norm allowed Bellotte to concentrate on other inquiries of imagination, including calligraphy and even lino-cutting – a trade she picked up in a mandatory high school art course. “Find something completely different from what your ‘thing’ is, something that ‘makes you feel some type of way,’” she advises. “I’ve learned that I don’t have to create something every single day of my life and nobody is going to forget your talent while you’re taking a much-needed break.”
Pictured above, lino-cutting from Katy’s Instagram story, @katybellotte.
Invest in personal creativity
You have definitely heard of Moleskine journals (unless you’ve been living under a rock) and they’ve been all the talk recently. But aside from the pretty palette of journal colors to choose from, journaling allows for time to explore your creativity in a more personal way, something Bellotte adopts into her free-time flow. “Treat your journal not as a perfect work of art but something where, transparently and in a very raw fashion, write down how you’re feeling and draw how you’re feeling,” she says. “Your future self will thank you for that.”
Journaling was her first piece of advice in avoiding burnout, without hesitation. She indulges in “junk” journaling (literally what it sounds like: cutouts of book pages, glossy tape and writing everywhere) and encourages her audience to experiment with bullet and scrapbook-styles as well. Sprinkling a time of reflection into your day to day routine, according to Bellotte, is a staple to channel our inner emotions.
“We feel burnout because we don’t know what to confront and how to feel what we confront,” she informs. “Journaling really unlocks that and, once we get past what that big elephant in the room is, we can really create freely.”
Although journaling is a sacred time for Katy (and you can tell – just look at how beautiful the pages of hers are), she still posts photos of her pages every now and then to her social accounts – but not all. She finds something stunning and quite scandalous in having secrets in her constantly-sharing lifestyle.
“I love the quote, ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it, did it even fall?,’’’ she shares. “It did fall – that’s a fact – and just because someone wasn’t there to see it doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful.” And, what better way to boost your resume? Bellotte believes that employers can seek out content that was created out of sheer passion in an instant (your “stand-out factor”).
“Make time to create things that have no agenda — no rhyme or reason,” Bellotte shares. “Create things because it feels right, because you want to, because it’s fun.”