How to Identify and Overcome Creative Overwhelm

Morgan Danielle

(Photob by Thiébaud Faix/Unsplash)

Recently I was faced with a predicament. A creative predicament. Where once I’d been burnt out now I was feeling something quite different. My phrasing had turned from, “I’m burnt out.” to “I’m overwhelmed,” and I’d been saying it to myself for weeks.

I felt like a broken record.

That’s when it hit me. Frequently in the past, I had sat at my keyboard, hands poised to type, with no ounce of creative passion beneath my fingertips. These days I could barely hold myself back.

So what was the problem? I had ideas — more than enough ideas, in all honesty. I was inspired. I was creating. And I had a list longer than years left in my life of the work I wanted to accomplish (by tomorrow afternoon).

The problem was, now I had so many ideas I couldn’t simply focus on one. It was overwhelming. And I was on a hunt to see if I was the only one who felt this way.

What is Creative Overwhelm?

Creative overwhelm will sometimes masquerade with names like idea paralysis or analysis paralysis. But it all points back to the same core issue. Essentially, when you experience creative overwhelm you’re at no loss for ideas. In fact, you have ideas practically spewing from your brain full force at all hours of the day and night.

Creative overwhelm is the inability to focus on one idea. It’s the intense feeling you’ll never have enough time. This is followed by you wasting time thinking about the time you don’t have to do all the things you want to do. Can you see what the problem is?

You’re not baking in the kitchen of creativity because you’re too busy looking at all the other recipes.

You have the ingredients but you just can’t seem to bake. Not because your oven is broken or you can’t find a whisk. Nope. You’re not baking in the kitchen of creativity because you’re too busy looking at all the other recipes.

Creative overwhelm is essentially decision paralysis for creatives. You have a growing supply of ideas but you can’t focus on one because there are too many options. You become frustrated and procrastinate because you can’t seem to pick on one concept to focus on.

Creative Overwhelm Versus Creative Block

What’s your diagnosis? Now, I’m no doctor, but I know my way around the block of creative living.

Creative overwhelm is very much different from a creative block. If you can’t come up with ideas, don’t have characters chattering away at you, and altogether feel like you could turn your back on creating and be perfectly fine — you’ve got creative block (and maybe a hint of being burnout).

I hate to say it, but the prescription for creative overwhelm is nowhere near the same as for a creative block. If you’re feeling a bout of creative block you’ll want to approach it using a different set of guidelines.

How You Can Combat Creative Overwhelm

I’m assuming you’ve tracked this article down because you feel overwhelmed. Lucky for you, I’ve done some legwork for the both of us. Here are some strategies you can use to calm the overwhelm, slay your dragon, and climb back onto the creativity horse:

1. Spend Time with Your Ideas

List all your ideas out on paper where you can physically spend time with them. This sounds hokey, I know. Just trust me.

Once you can tangibly see your ideas next to one another, you’ll notice something peculiar.

One idea is going to be more enticing. You’re going to keep touching that index card or sticky note scribbled on with your idea. It’s okay to let it consume you. You’re honing in. You’re focusing.

2. Change Your Mindset

It’s a little bold of me to put that as a header. As if we all wouldn’t just change our mindset if it were that simple.

The point here is to shift your spiraling thought process from:

“I’ll never have enough time to do everything and I want to do everything and if I don’t do everything I’m worthless.”

To an alternative and much healthier mindset:

“I’m going to pick one idea and see it through. Once it’s complete, I’ll have plenty of time to move to the next.”

Try to remind yourself if you spend time worrying about lack of time those are the only moments when you’re actually wasting time.

3. Do the Little Things

Listen. I’m a lover of short books and short stories and tasks under ten minutes.

Why? Because I know if I have an overwhelming list of things to accomplish and I begin marking them off, I’ll fuel myself to get through the tough stuff.

It’s the same reason I put silly things like ‘take the trash down’ and ‘go to work’ on my general to-do lists. These are simple tasks that will be done anyway but that doesn’t take away from the little boost of accomplishment and motivation I get from marking them off.

Now it’s your turn: Add something little to your creative to-do list. It could be reorganizing your computer’s documents, updating a program you use for your creative work, or writing for just ten minutes. Make it small and watch how little goals propel you forward and out of your state of overwhelm.

Moving on from Creative Overwhelm

Now it’s time for you to move past the creative overwhelm. You shouldn’t turn your back on all the ideas your brain has been churning out like nobody’s business. It’s hard to focus on one, but by avoiding all work you only diminish your possibilities of creating a career-changing piece.

Begin laying the groundwork by tidying up the mess you’ve made during your creative storm and using exercises to hone in on one idea at a time. And be thankful — I’d take overwhelm over creative block any day.

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Entertainment & Lifestyle Writer | Writing about everything from animals to museums here in the sunshine state.

Orlando, FL

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