Running a Creative Business: What To Do When the Romance Fades

by Sabrina Smelko


A big part of your job when you run a creative business is remaining excited and passionate about what you do while trying to avoid the pitfalls of bitterness, growing stale, or the myriad other unpalatable possibilities. Some career paths allow you to grunt through your job, but when you’re self-employed by your personal taste, style or hand, grunting through it typically leads to a poor final. And a poor final could lose you a client — eek! It can be a lot of pressure at times. In creative industries, your work is your leg to stand on, so staying fresh, inspired and challenged — and waking up wanting to make something better — is extremely important. But waking up like this every day is nearly impossible. You will be grumpy some mornings; you may wish you could call in sick (which you can’t); you might be uninspired and defeated before you even begin a project.

Creative blocks happen to the best of us, but what happens more than blocks is the mundane — the ugly, less dramatic cousin of burnout. The romance can fade at many stages in your career. I know because I’ve been there, and I’m only 24.

When I first graduated from Sheridan’s four-year Illustration program, I entered the workforce immediately (as in, the Monday following my last day of school) and took a job in advertising. It was challenging in a new way, and between freelancing on nights to pay rent, being thrust into a career I wasn’t quite educated for, and having just come out of an intensive four-year program without a breather, I quickly burned out. So I quit. Realizing that I was headed down a road to bitterness, I veered off and took a new path pursuing freelancing full-time as an and, now . Although I was reinvigorated by this change in being my own boss, I’ve experienced a few moments of boredom and staleness — which isn’t quite the same as burnout, but can be just as dangerous. So today I thought I’d share my tips for when the honeymoon stage fades in your career, no matter what field you’re in. —


Don’t work for clients you feel icky about.

There comes a time in almost every person’s career where you have to take a job that you’re not passionate about to make ends meet. You won’t always have the luxury of saying no to work, especially if you’re just starting out, but as a general rule of thumb, it’s best to turn down a job you get a bad feeling from. It allows for room for a new, better job to come along that you can be available for, and will save you the stress and potential bitterness that can arise from the task. In my experience, my gut has been right exactly 100% of the time whether I listened to it or not. If a client is rubbing you the wrong way or leaves you with a bad feeling, trust that. If you’re wrong, you’ll likely do a poor job because you’re on the defense, and if you’re right, then you’re in for a not-so-fun ride. Working for enough clients you don’t mesh with can lead you to resent your career, and that’s never a good thing (but if you’re already in a situation with a client from hell, ). There is plenty of work out there, so don’t take too many jobs that don’t line up with your skills, wants, needs or beliefs; you’ll only grow to hate your job.



Start a personal project.

There is an overwhelming amount of possibilities that exist for creatives: you can work in many different fields, doing just about anything from lettering for storefronts to making illustrated GIFs for Twitter. And a lot of the time, you might not even know what you’re best at or most passionate about unless you try it first. That’s why I believe in giving yourself permission to play by assigning yourself with personal projects. You can only go so far experimenting with your style, technique or medium with paying jobs, so challenging yourself to do something different with your down-time and staying busy are both important to keeping fresh, inspired and confident. In my own experience, a led to building new skills which led to a boat-load of work that I would have otherwise had little or no access to.



Take a break, revisit old inspiration.

Whenever I find the romance fading in my career, I take a break. For me, taking time off to do nothing usually leads me to work harder when I do get back to work. I find I experience a mild feeling of guilt for taking time off, and whether that’s healthy or not, I usually come back to my desk swinging and eager to kick butt. It’s important that when you do take time off, you really check out. Use this time to watch documentaries or movies that inspire you, read a good book, revisit an album you loved growing up, or visit a gallery — whatever toots your horn! Rediscovering old inspiration and unearthing new inspiration is always great motivation to get your heart back into your work. But don’t wait too long: I find inspiration grows stale quickly, so take advantage of the time when you’re jazzed up and maybe start that personal project. Not tomorrow, or later today, but .



Change your surroundings, shake it up, get uncomfortable.

It doesn’t sound pleasant, but discomfort can be a very powerful tool. It builds character and confidence, opens doors for personal growth, and can lead to finding what you don’t like, which is just as important as discovering what you do like. Getting out of your comfort zone can be as simple as setting your alarm a few hours earlier or working in a coffee shop for the day, or more involved activities such as going to an event you would normally shy away from, or reaching out to get coffee with a leader in the industry whom you look up to. Boredom usually leads to laziness, which isn’t any way to find happiness or success. As John F. Kennedy once said, “Nothing worthwhile has ever been accomplished with a guarantee of success.” Being happy is one thing, but being content isn’t necessarily a good thing. Some excitement and change of scenery can do wonders.

Overall, it’s unrealistic to love what you do at all times. Burnout, creative blocks and a loss of romance happen to the best of us, but you can help it! I hope my tips prove to be useful at some step in your career; I’m always sharing creative business advice on , so don’t be a stranger! This community is only made better by dialogue, so please share in the comments below what you do to combat a faded romance in your career.

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  • I love this post. I am working in a bunch of different ways – writing for blogs, trying to build up my candle line on etsy, and writing screenplays by night. It can be exhausting and part of me wants to “give up”…but then I remember the situation I was in. It was very similar to yours, where I was in a full time job that was not creatively rewarding right after school and I became burnt out very quickly. Thanks for the much needed boost.


  • Thank you for this excellent article! I’ve been in the “doldrums” for a little while due to personal circumstances and have tried to keep working with great difficulty effecting my creative productivity. Now I’m settled I will keep reading it when I get one of those dark moments and will pass it on to creative friends.
    Thank you!

  • This was an incredibly helpful article, thank you very much. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one that deals with waves of being un-inspired! Your tactics seem like really sound way’s to handle it, thanks again. :)

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