How to Keep Creating When You Want to Quit
Yes, creating is hard. But, living a creative life, and turning it into a sustainable business, is ridiculously hard. The world around us doesn’t always support our artistic endeavors. And, while it can feel amazing to get flashes of inspiration and work through the weekend to write the perfect ending to your book, finish the perfect yoga how-to video series, or complete your latest compilation of best YouTube videos, that doesn’t necessarily translate to stability — either with grocery money or with our emotional landscape.
Sometimes we burn out, yes. But sometimes it’s more than burnout — sometimes it’s actually wanting to quit completely, and move on to something else.
So when the desire to quit rises, what do you do?
1. Take a Deep Breath
When burnout becomes chronic, it can be so overwhelming that we creators start rethinking our entire lives, and not just the parts that are obviously related to our creative endeavors. We start to ask: why do I even live in this city? What if I moved somewhere else? Should I start working out more, maybe the endorphins would help? Perhaps it’s time to go back to school for some marketable skill. And on and on our brains can go, spinning out, questioning everything.
The first thing to do is be still. Calm the spinning. Get back into the center. Being flung around by the spin isn’t a good place to make any decision, and before you can get control over your chronic burnout you’ll want to get objective and get perspective on your thoughts.
2. Reach Out
We know it doesn’t feel like it all the time, but you’re not alone in your feelings. Reach out to your creator friends. Not sure where to find them? Reach out on Twitter. Reach out to people you’ve never talked to before but admire. And, of course, reach out to your community on Patreon.
Billy Procida, creator of the Manwhore Podcast, knows the benefit of this first-hand. Running his 18+ Patreon program has allowed him to connect with his biggest fans on a personal level, and it has had a profound impact on his patrons and Billy, himself. In his own words,“[What] keeps me going is the positive feedback from my listeners and my patrons … People in parts of the country and world who can’t express themselves honestly for fear of professional backlash, slutshaming, or judgment from friends have found a home in my private sex-positive discussion groups for patrons only. One patron came up to my dad at my last live podcast and said, “Your son’s show saved my marriage.” That’s fucking cool.”
When it doubt, lean into your community. They can help you realize and remember what value your work has made in the world, and for them.
3. Examine Your Why
Even when you have your community reminding you that what you create is valuable, you might still want to quit. That’s when it’s time to get introspective, and ask yourself some questions.
Consider why you want to quit:
- Are you losing money on your creative endeavors? (We know for many creators the why is often in the money.)
- Have you changed your creations to be what you think your fans want, rather than what is inspiring to you?
Maybe it’s time to course correct. What if you stopped saying yes to any gigs that were “for exposure” and didn’t pay? What if you let go of building e-courses and content that’s only for lead generation and focused on your anime, your zentangle drawings, your ASMR recordings?What if you went back to what originally inspired you to create and your fans to support you in the first place?
4. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
What’s the one thing at the core of what you do? What would it be like if you focused, and let go of everything else that wasn’t absolutely necessary?
Zaunis (aka Jared Smith), creator of the Canada Jones Series, says: “The want to quit usually comes from the sheer amount of what we have to do as artists to stay in the minds of people. We are our own advertisers, writers, editors, line artists, colorists, storyboarders, coders, public face and voice to communicate with the audiences we build, etc.”
If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed with the amount of duties you take on each day, it might be time to delegate (here’s a great guide on hiring for your creative business).
5. Do Other Things
When we turn our creative endeavors into our businesses, what used to bring us the most delight often looses its luster. Although creating is a huge part of how we spend our days, it doesn’t have to be everything.
What other hobbies do you have that bring you joy? What kind of things do you do that make you laugh until you practically pee yourself? Re-discover them, or challenge yourself and be willing to be a beginner at something new.
6. Consider What It Would Be Like to Really Quit
Every creator we know, in every imaginable discipline has considered quitting. Sometimes, it’s the right call. In 2002, Annie Sprinkle and Norma Jean Almodovar made a (NSFW) poster called How to Cure Sex Worker Burnout, and the last of the steps included “get the hell out of the business.”
Maybe you really do need a change.
Do a thought experiment: What would it be like to really quit? What would you do? Picture yourself pursuing something else. How do you feel in that future vision? Is that a relief? Is that disappointing?
Making quitting feel real may remind you why you’ve decided to keep going in the first place.
7. Make A Plan, and Reassess
When you figure out the kinds of things you can do to restructure and give yourself some room to get out from under the overwhelm, make a plan: Will you take a month off from social media? Hire an assistant? Cancel all the things that don’t pay you adequately? Create a revised business plan?
Plan to reassess your situation in three or six or twelve months, and see if you still want to quit. And don’t feel bad if there’s potentially an end in sight, remember that it’s really is okay if it’s time to do something new.
Then, hopefully, the part of your brain that is taken up with wanting to quit can go back to managing your creator world, and focusing on your hobbies and communities and the things that bring you joy. Maybe you’ll still want to quit in six months, but maybe not. Maybe you’ll have adjusted to a new, more sustainable creative endeavor.