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Blog Briefs: On Burnout, with Matthew Cheney

In which a bunch of authors & editors are invited to answer the question: How do you deal with creative exhaustion?

Matthew Cheney is, frankly, brilliant. And I would say that even if he didn’t peddle guns.

I stop being creative. I do the dishes, clean the house, grade students’ papers. The measure of how much creative work I am doing is how many messes surround me. Lots of messes, I’m getting creative work done. (This may not necessarily be a good thing. Sometimes, it’s helpful not to have to wear a hazmat suit to enter the kitchen.) What I find is that if I stop doing creative work, I eventually begin talking to myself. Because nonfiction is the one genre I seem to be unable to live sanely without, what happens is I inadvertently start babbling about connections between various things in life, creating stream-of-consciousness essays. I lecture my cats. I mumble tales of obscure literary figures. I annoy friends by insisting that we discuss camera angles in movies they’ve never even heard of. When this happens, I know it’s time to get back to writing, and usually the writing is less exhausted than it was when I fell into silence. Thus, for me, writing is a type of relief, an activity that is akin to going to the bathroom.

– Matthew Cheney is or has been a writer, editor, teacher, and arms dealer. He lives in the wilds of New Hampshire, USA.