It’s true that the more time you spend engaging with the music creation process, the better songwriter you’ll become. But if you’re the type of workaholic songwriter that goes weeks without leaving the studio to see the light of day, you’re missing something important. Breaks are crucial for your process no matter who you are and what kind of music you make. Spending every waking moment writing might sound good for your process, but there’s a point where doing this actually backfires and starts to hurt your music. If you’re burnt out and think you need a break, here are five signs to look out for:
You dread making music
It’s not realistic or helpful to think about music creation being 100% fun and rewarding every second you write. But if you dread showing up to the process and getting to work, it’s time to take a break. Making music can be thankless and just plain hard a lot of the time, but something in the process needs to feel rewarding for you to want to keep going. If the thought of writing your next song fills you with dread, take some time off.
You can’t seem to finish anything no matter how hard you try
Some songwriters are perfectionists and have trouble finishing any idea they come up with no matter how hard they try. But if you’re not this kind of writer and are still having problems wrapping up songs, you’re probably overdue for a break. Overworking saps your creative energy and ability to discern good ideas from bad ones, and this can make completing work much more difficult than it has to be.
You keep coming up with the same tired ideas
A chronic inability to come up with new ideas is a symptom of burnout for music creators. There comes a point when your brain just isn’t going to be able to meaningfully engage with the songwriting process because it’s exhausted or boring. So instead of expending energy, it doesn’t have on cranking out something new, it combs the archives and produces something old and predictable instead. Creating music might be fun and even relaxing for you to some degree, but there is a huge amount of labor involved. You can force yourself to keep going and going, but in the end, your creativity and the quality of your ideas will suffer.
You know exactly how each writing session will go before you start
For real creative exploration to happen during your writing sessions, it’s important to leave space for your curiosity to thrive. This can’t happen if your process looks the same song after song. When predictability and boredom plague your writing process, they’re often symptoms of bigger issues, like being overworked and uninspired. Breaks, whether they’re a couple of days or a couple of months, are important for helping you to emotionally and intellectually recharge before your writing sessions. You’ll get the best musical results by following your ideas wherever they lead you, not by doing the same things over and over again because you’re too tired to give it your best effort.
Your happiness and relationships have started to suffer
To write your best music, you need to live a deep and meaningful life. But many of us who love making music is often too fixated on creating the perfect album or track to see the world around us. Your relationships are important. Your happiness and fulfillment as a human being are important. Living a good life and making your best music is often a delicate balancing act. Sometimes you’ll struggle with not giving your music the attention it deserves, and other times your relationships and personal life might suffer because of your music. If you find yourself in the latter situation, consider stepping back from music and focusing on your life for a bit. We often wonder why we’re not inspired creatively when the truth is that opportunities for inspiration are all around us if we decide to show up to life and pay attention.
Remember, breaks aren’t forever. Some songwriters will benefit from taking a couple days off a week, while others need much longer breaks to come back to the game refreshed and ready to create. It all depends on your goals and identity as a creator. But no matter who you are, if you’re making music seriously, you’re going to need to step away from your work from time to time.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.