Creative Burnout and You: Mental Health for the Aspiring Builder
Read time: 16 minutes
Hello everyone, this is Apollo, aka Gundam Workshop of GSquad. While my blog posts would usually be centered around “A Builder’s Journey”, a concept series highlighting my growth and development as an aspiring builder, we’re going to make today our first divergence from that theme. While in the future, side blogs such as this might focus around kit reviews or such topics, today is intended as a serious look at a topic that’s been plaguing me lately; with any luck, you’ll find something here that’ll be of use to you as well.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Creative Burnout
- Time Management
- Studio G
- Gundam Workshop
(Disclaimer: I’d usually put a fun little message here about my Affiliate Links here, but this isn’t really that kind of blog. Go buy yourself a cup of coffee, or support the content creator of your choice. Take care of yourself, friends.)
If you’ve been following the GSquad Community Blog for the last few months, you might’ve noticed that it’s been a while since my last post. The beginning of “A Builder’s Journey” also seemed to be the end of “A Builder’s Journey”. Some of that was poor planning on my part, some of that was more serious. Let’s start with the former:
My original intent was to finish my first blog about the HG RX-78-2 Gundam, my first attempt at customizing a kit, before flowing smoothly into a build of the PBandai MG Justice Gundam (Clear Color). While the Justice did get built, ultimately, I didn’t feel like it was worth a blog post at the time; my concept for “A Builder’s Journey” revolves around development, growth, and the kit just… didn’t really have much to offer in that regard; to customize a kit where the entire novelty revolves around how it’s different from other kits due to having clear parts would be to throw out the novelty factor entirely. I might bring it back for a review later, as I do have a lot to say about the kit itself, but for now, let’s focus on the outcome of that build: creative burnout.
Imagine that you’re staring at a wall, in your newly purchased home (or newly rented apartment, for those of us dealing with less accommodating housing markets). Your new home has lots of walls, and they all need a fresh coat of paint. The one in front of you is one of many; every one of those walls needs a coat of paint, and you even know exactly how you’d like to paint some of them. First, however, you need to paint this wall. You’re staring at the wall, you’re holding a brush, and… you have no idea where to start. You’ve painted walls before, so it’s not like this one is unique, but you’re stuck. Should it be tan? Maybe a light blue? Do you start from the top and work your way down? Will it fit the rest of your planned designs?
This, to me, is what creative burnout feels like. To some people, it’s a lack of ideas, of inspiration. To others, me included, it’s a failure to execute, a seemingly insurmountable gap between “idea” and “product”. It’s like watching a fruit that you’ve been nurturing wither on a vine. It’s doing everything right and still having the outcome feel wrong.
Coming out of my first blog, I was excited for my next build. At the end of that build, that excitement had dried up, died; I had a nice kit to photograph and display, but I was left creatively unfulfilled, and what was worse, I had nothing to say. That was fine though, at the time; the holidays were coming up, there were other things to focus on. I had time, and I had another build planned. I’d move on, I’d overcome my block, and we’d move on. The holidays started, and I took a break, fully intent on getting right back to work on January 2nd, bright-eyed and fresh-faced.
That didn’t happen. The holidays came and went and I found myself lethargic, unmotivated, and generally as close to dead as one can be while being in fine physical health. I’d wake up in the morning fully intent on getting in a full day’s work, and then fall asleep again, finally staggering out of bed in the early evening. My drive was dead. Mental health has always been a struggle for me, and when something hits, it hits hard. With university, and with a commuting job, it wasn’t so bad. Getting up in the morning was a process, a ritual. My mental state was a non-issue; no matter how I felt, I had things to do, I had places to be, and I was going to see it through. Working from home as a content creator, where I can make my own hours meant I was my own boss, I could give myself a break, some time off. This happened again… and again… and again. Two days turned into two weeks before I finally managed to break myself out of my funk and get back to work. I have a process that helped with that, but my experience isn’t representative of what everyone else might go through: to help shed some light on alternative solutions, I reached out to fellow content creators for some insight on how they deal with creative burnout, stay inspired, and handle their time.
- TIME MANAGEMENT
I think it’s important to have something that resembles a schedule when working on a project; even if you’re building for fun, this hobby can take an absurd amount of time. The process that got me out of bed (literally, in this case) involved taking a look at the issues I was having and making my schedule work around them. If I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, then I would work nights: currently, my filming schedule runs from roughly 2 in the morning until 7 or 8; being nocturnal isn’t my first choice, but it’s working. When I reached out to my fellow content creators with a survey, in search of professional insight, my questions involving time revolved around their work/life balance, their rough schedule, and what it takes for them to keep things fun.
Twitch Streamer and friend, Gambitbjj (or just Jay), is relatively new to the hobby; he started building around April/May of 2020, and says that “building has never seemed like a job”, admitting that he’s lucky in that regard. He does most of his building on stream, and says that the community aspect of having a live audience and constant social interaction keeps things fun. His content creation is scheduled around his wife’s work schedule; when she works, he works, and when they’re off, they spend time together; to me, that sounds like a strong, and effective work/life balance, with clear lines of division. He also says that if she has the day off, he outlines the time that he needs to carve out for his work, stressing that communication is key. Jay says that he builds on stream twice a week, for roughly 4 to 5 hours.
In order to combat creative burnout, Jay says that sometimes, he’ll just take a break. If he can’t perform at the standard that he holds himself to, he’ll take a step back - generally for less than a week - and enjoy life, before going back with more creativity and a higher drive. He says that he finds inspiration in consuming content, even if it’s a subject he’s not really interested in, as anything can be inspiration. Video games are his current destressor of choice, as the current pandemic has affected his ability to practice jiu-jitsu.
Hailing from GSquad, themightyjoe says that he builds three days out of every week, from 5pm to 11pm; on Fridays, if he’s inspired, he says he’ll work even longer. Joe says that he doesn’t set deadlines for his builds, as he feels that it can detriment the end results; if he feels uninspired, or tired, he’ll pause the build, and start it up again when he’s in the proper mood and mindset, emphasizing that building should be fun and creative, not a chore. As both father and husband, Joe says that he has a set schedule that his family has agreed on, which provides time to enjoy the building process, but also to spend time with his loved ones throughout the weekend/weekdays; weekends in particular are strictly for family time.
Joe avoids burnout by adhering to a promise he made himself to try something new every build, which has also helped him learn new techniques, and enjoy the learning process. This, in turn, makes every build a fun experience. He finds inspiration in the work of other creatives outside of gunpla, such as plamo or model cars, or other forms of media such as music, or movies, and enjoys seeing the execution of a theme, and how it can come to life. His destressor of choice is his morning workout, especially since it helps combat the long hours of remaining seated that a gunpla hobby often involves, which he says has been the most stressful part of the process.
Also coming from GSquad, LeoNelBuilds is in a similar position to Joe, with a wife and children. While not quite shying away from deadlines like Joe, Leo says that he sets realistic goals, allowing for unexpected delays, in order to set time aside for family and church. Leo works with a generous, sliding schedule that lets him start a project with enough leeway to avoid building/filming for an entire week, gradually ramping into a 3 times per week project with 4 to 6 hour sessions, before culminating in shorter, daily sessions of 2 to 4 hours. He says his goal is to be efficient, and to dedicate half of his days off to spending time with his family and other activities, while the other half goes to the hobby, and content creation, stressing that his family’s needs come first. His focus on realistic goals is in order to combat stress and burnout, saying that he’s been burned out before, and that the fallout left him uninterested in something that he used to enjoy.
Leo doesn’t experience creative burnout as much because, he says, he has multiple creative outlets. If one area leads to a dead end, he’ll swap to another creative interest like music, or photography, while also stating that if he’s in a creative rut, watching tutorials for things he wants to learn can help him re-engage with a fresh mind. He finds inspiration in art books, filmmaking and photography tutorials, and art related channels on YouTube. Leo destresses by cooking, and spending time with his kids, or his parents, saying that he has a very strong support system so he spends time with his extended family at least once a week, religiously.
Next up, let’s hear from the man himself, Justin from Studio G. As you might expect from someone with such a can’t-stop-won’t-stop schedule, he’s got a very different way of looking at things. Justin insists that passion is the key, whether it comes to keeping yourself motivated, combating burnout, or just keeping things fun on a day to day basis. To quote, “When you’re having fun and you’re passionate, you’re not really working. It’s all passion. The passion shows in my videos, builds, in how I craft my messages, how I collect feedback to improve. If you have passion, you have the drive to learn and be really good at something. When you’re good at something, success will follow, no matter what you do. When you’re good at something, people want to hire you. Even if you’re only sweeping floors, if you have passion for cleanliness, you’re gonna do the best job you can.”
Justin grew up in a traditional Chinese/Asian family, and says that he was raised to pursue money, not passion; dreams weren’t a thing. He went to engineering school but left because he had no passion for engineering or math. Selling cars, real estate, nothing worked because he wasn’t passionate about the work. He decided to do the exact opposite, to follow passion if following status wouldn’t work. He took a month away from real estate to teach himself Photoshop, ect, and to build a portfolio, sent out 139 resumes, and was hired by two companies, and repeatedly promoted within a month, six months, a year, two years. Justin’s passion, and the will to work himself as hard as he could in pursuit of it, lead to success. Regarding his current schedule, Justin says that he communicates with his family, and that they know he’s not a very celebratory person; even on holidays, he’ll spend some time with his family before getting right back to work. His schedule involves working for roughly 16 hours per day, with eight hour work cycles bookended by family time and 2 hour naps timed to REM sleep to wake up fresh faced and ready to go. His drive, from what he told me, is fueled by a different view of work life balance: if he works as hard as he can during his early life, he can retire extremely early and do whatever he wants from his mid-30s onward.
Justin admits to having some struggles with creative burnout, largely because of the sheer volume of his workload, saying that while commenters might joke about how he’s built “another dark color scheme”, people overlook that he’s pushed out more than 40 kits in the past year, and there’s only so much variation you can get. He combats burnout by taking walks to the market and buying fresh ingredients, since he likes cooking a lot. He also says that when he has a block, he’ll take a shower; when you submerge yourself in water, or splash your head, it calms you down, and slows your heartbeat. He says he comes back with fresh ideas, after that process. He finds inspiration in everything except gunpla, saying that if you look at the industry, it’s a lot of the same design. Instead, he turns towards interior design, gardening shows, landscaping shows, and even car modification programs. He likes to look at how wall colours pair with furniture and harmonize. While they’re all unrelated to gunpla, all of the aspects of design still hold. In order to destress or relax, Justin tends to the mini-garden on his balcony; he has a herb garden with basil and cilantro, and is proud of the cocoons that are turning into butterflies.
In my own life, I struggle with time management skills; my solution was to face my issues head on, accept them for what they were, and to work around them. Working from home makes it very hard for me to get up in the morning, so instead, I work at nights, before bed. On average, I try to work Sunday - Thursday nights, from roughly 2 in the morning until somewhere from 7 to 9; I take Friday and Saturday nights off to relax, spend time with my girlfriend, and generally look back over the prior week and see where I can improve. As I’m still starting out and optimizing my workflow, I feel like I need to put in the extra days, and extra hours, in order to keep up; if a two hour task is going to end up taking me four hours, personally, I feel it’s better to set aside six hours just in case.
Keeping things “fun” can be a struggle for me; I love the hobby, but the early learning curve can feel brutal, at times. Seeing a paint job fall apart at the last possible moment, seeing clean panel lines turn into a nightmare during cleanup that calls for a restart, or seeing a promising kit fail to deliver in the final steps: these are all issues I’ve dealt with in the past few months, and every one of them is a harsh blow. I think the way I find the fun in things is to force myself to step away and take a breather. It doesn’t matter if I’m 20 minutes into what should be a 5 hour work night, if I get frustrated and my work is suffering, I’ll walk away and drink some cold water, or crack open a book. This also plays into how I try to combat creative burnout; I strive to break larger projects down into smaller steps, even if it’s something as simple as getting out of bed and starting work. If a task feels daunting, no matter how simple that task is to begin with, there’s always room to adjust, to limit. If I’m sick and tired and don’t want to get out of bed to go work, I’ll adjust the goal: get out of bed, move to the couch. Curl up with a book for a little bit. Read a chapter, then get up and get a drink, or make a snack. Relocate to my work space, clean my area, adjust my lighting. Eventually, the one step process of “go work” becomes a twelve step mission, but I will get down to business, and in a much better mood.
I try to combat burnout by distracting myself anytime I get frustrated, or things start to feel too much like work; this process is something that Justin recommended when we were discussing masking, and how time consuming and monotonous it can be. If a task starts to lose its appeal, I’ll set a goal, and a reward: mask X amount of parts in an hour, and then I can take a short break to go stretch my legs, read a chapter of a web novel, ect. I’ve been trialing this process for a week, so far, and I feel like it’s helped with a lot of the stress I’ve been feeling. In order to destress, I play games, or hang out with my girlfriend; I raid in an MMO two nights a week, in addition to a DND group, which helps keep me socialized even during the pandemic. Inspiration is something that I struggle with, as I’m still growing as a custom builder; a lot of my builds revolve around improving upon existing color schemes, but I’m striving to branch out with inspired builds that are a delight to look at.
Creative hobbies, and creative outlets in general, can be very time consuming. It’s important that when the hours stretch on, and the sun sets - or rises - we remember one important thing: hobbies are supposed to be fun. Mixing a fun pastime with something that we consider to be work can run the risk of causing burnout, so it’s important to remain aware of your process, and your own mental health. If you drive yourself to hate your hobby, then you’ve lost a source of fun, of creativity, and something that helps make you you. If that hobby doubles as your job, then you’ve lost your livelihood. Take care of yourself, and remain aware of yourself. Look at the things that stress you out, and think about how you can make them work for you instead. How can you change your approach to overcome a weakness, or turn that weakness into a strength? How can you trick yourself into making that one thing you don’t want to do, into a simple stepping stone on the path to a reward?
If you’d like to keep up with future - less stressful - builds, and see a WIP timeline of my process, feel free to check out my Instagram. I’m currently filming content for YouTube, so you can expect that sometime in the near future. Twitch will be coming along eventually, but with my current housing setup, I wouldn’t expect that until Fall at the earliest.
Thanks for reading. This is Apollo from Gundam Workshop, signing off.