June 3, 2024

How to beat burnout: the culture killer

Emily Aberg

Senior Copywriter

I got into copywriting because I loved to write and I wanted to get paid. After I got my first job in advertising, it didn’t take long for me to fall out of love with it. I think this is a universal experience for creatives and anyone else who was told to “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” 

Creative burnout happens when the fun, rewarding part of the job (“I’m getting paid to use my imagination!”) is less than the effort or energy reserves that we have to put in (“There’s not enough money in the world that can make me write this 500th headline.”). When you can’t recover from burnout, it can get emotionally heavy. But before you get to that point, it helps to think of it as a ratio that’s just out of whack. The good news is, rebalancing the fun:effort ratio is itself a creative problem.

I’m not a C-suite citizen, but I think the best CMOs and creative team managers understand what motivates their people, and meaningfully encourage them to find creative restoration not just at work, but outside as well. Imagine if, during a rare slow week at work, your CMO said something like, “Hey, are you still doing X as a hobby outside of work? Take some PTO this week and go do that. It’s good for you.” 

I found some relief from burnout in the same place a lot of copywriters do: in their local comedy scene. I’d done improv for years at Dallas Comedy Club, but in January 2023 I started writing and directing sketches. I did this because I knew it was going to suck, and because it was a non-advertising-related way to get more comfortable with everything that was so hard about my job at the time: coming up with a lot of ideas, being unattached to any of them, and embracing the never-ending rewrite process.

I’ll spoil the ending: there are no “100 easy steps” to fall back in love with your creative day job. There’s just your bandwidth. That is, your willingness to figure out how you think, how your team thinks, and what you’re willing to try. And if it takes trying 100 things, or 1,000 things, then that’s just what it takes, so you might as well grab a snack and schedule a walk or two. 

All I really know is, putting on a silly show every month helped me fall back in love with my day job, and (hopefully my CDs will agree) made me a better writer. 

Here’s what comedy taught me about copywriting (or, here’s what not doing my job taught me about my job):

  1. Being a copywriter is a lot more like being a mechanic than it is like being an artist. This is less depressing than it sounds! When you find the logic of the brief and start writing to it, it feels less personal, and more like a game. 
  2. When you’re writing, just assume it’ll take you eight or nine rewrites before it’s done. You’ll be “surprised and delighted” whenever it takes less. 
  3. In comedy, the game is “Make the most people laugh the fastest”. Same thing for advertising, just replace “laugh” with “buy the product”. 
  4. Jumping off that last point, it takes a lot of work to say or write something that everyone understands. Someone who writes pop music once asked me if I knew “how hard it is to write a song that everybody likes?” If you can write something novel that a lot of people immediately understand AND like, then you have just threaded a very tricky needle. 
  5. When you’re writing, your words exist only to you, and you’re in your own little world. But when you’re writing scripts and pre-pro docs, your writing is part of a big process. Keep the big picture in mind when you’re writing alone in your own little world. 
  6. Don’t be afraid of ChatGPT. Calculators didn’t ruin math, and AI won’t ruin writing. 
  7. An ego is the enemy of feedback. My ego surprises me all the time, with all the little hills it wants me to die on. 
  8. 99% of everything can be written better: your favorite joke, your fifteen-second script, and this blog post, for example. 
  9. If it can’t be written better, that means one of two things: either it’s done, or it needs to be killed. You’ll know when you know. 
  10. When your ideas get cut, figure out what you want to do next. In comedy, this could be helping with costumes and props, getting the sound cues set up, or some other backstage prep work. It helps you understand the process of putting on the show from start to finish, which absolutely helps you be a better writer. 

Creative leaders, you should care about creative burnout. An empathy can start with asking your team the last time they had fun. Ask them early, and often. Because there’s nothing like filling your creative cup and bringing it back to work. Because when a creative’s cup is full – the ideas only get more dangerous.

You're in! No secret handshake required.
Oops! Something went wrong.

Feel that? That’s curiosity.

Let’s solve something together.