Dealing with creative burnout when pursuing a degree in the arts

As an English major and Argosy reporter, it would be safe to assume that I am a person who likes to write. Even between academic terms, I practice creative writing when I am feeling inspired. 

I have no strict schedule when it comes to writing. There are times when I will write for hours a day for a week straight, and there are times when I do not write for months on end. 

Creative writing is my hobby. I do not have deadlines or any other forms of outside pressure to motivate me when I am in a creative slump. I am frequently in awe of the work of Mt.A creative arts students and wonder how they stay consistently creative. 

That being said, I wanted to talk to people who are pursuing creative degrees and learn how creative slumps affect those who pursue their art full time. 

“I convince myself that I must be creative even when I’m feeling burnt out,” said Kiran Steele, a third year Music student. “Some of the pressure is self-imposed, such as when I tell myself to continue composing despite lacking fresh ideas. However, most of the pressure is due to the university demanding that we keep our creative output high.” 

Fourth year BFA student Maria Lutz said, “It’s difficult when your hobby is also your profession. Your creative output isn’t always something you’re happy with when it’s exploited for deadlines.”

One struggle that creative students deal with is: “Mount Allison being a liberal arts school over a fine arts one — all work needs to fit within so many predetermined systems, that are inapplicable, outdated, or prioritize efficiency and annual reports over genuine learning,” said an anonymous student in their fourth year pursuing a BFA.

This pressure to produce is not ideal, but a reality for many artists. 

“Being too aware of tuition and academic pressure can paralyze and keep you from engaging authentically with the world beyond campus, which is where inspiration comes from. It’s a delicate balance; one that’s parallel to control,” said the anonymous student.  

Many first year creative students might be overwhelmed with pressures on them. “I struggled with feeling inadequate as a musician in my first year. I felt like everyone else was better than me, and thus, I didn’t feel very creative,” said Steele.

“I would tell my first-year self that it’s okay to take breaks from art when in a creative slump. I would remind him that although he must be creative for school, he doesn’t have to burn himself out by trying to be creative in his spare time. I would also assert that music doesn’t have to be his whole life; he should feel free to pursue non-musical interests and hobbies,” he said. 

Steele has a schedule that helps to keep him creative: “For composing, I think about when during the day I can concentrate on making music. I set that time aside to compose and don’t think about it until it comes around.” He also has a set practice schedule: “I make a weekly schedule for myself and stick to it as best as I can. […] I practice every day, even when my mood is low and I don’t want to play the same pieces over again.” “Academic burnout usually fuels my creative burnout, but I try to persist through both,” Steele added.

The anonymous student shared that: “I spend most of my time thinking about art-making, but in terms of personal impact, I’m most inspired by friends in the program. There’s a unique experience of gratitude in witnessing their ambition and believing wholeheartedly in their paths forward.”  

“One of the most valuable aspects of this type of education is how ingrained collaborative environments are. When your work requires facilities that aren’t easily recreated at home, every member of the community becomes a caretaker of shared space,” they added.  

“Watching other people perform, compose, and discuss music motivates me to develop my musicianship,” said Steele. “In my first two years at Mount Allison, I met many intelligent and charismatic musicians. They’ve impressed me with their talents and given me many music recommendations.”

As any biology or psychology student would say, humans are social creatures. Identifying and sharing with peers helps you deal with burnout regardless of your field of study.

“Try to have fun with it while you’re here, don’t worry too much about quantity,” said Maria Lutz. “It’s important to remember that being in university is only a small part of your creative career.” 

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