London Chronicles: Max Dempster

Each month, different members of our Tampa-based Dunn&Co. team work from our London office. Copywriter Max Dempster was the latest to venture across the Atlantic. Read what he had to say about his time there.

Creative burnout is a weird and terrible thing.

I’ll try to describe it.

It’s sitting silently, ashamed and thoughtless in a brainstorm even though your brain is churning at overdrive.

It’s feeling like an impostor version of yourself when you revisit the good things you “used to” write.

It’s the lead blanket sleepiness that depression brings with it when you’ve got things to do and places to be.

It’s setting out to craft something beautiful, concise, but then you write and you write and it all comes out stilted and long and too wrong, bad and also not good, redundant, and you wonder if you even have words inside, if a Speak & Spell or maybe some monkeys with Speak & Spells could do your job for you (since you’re inevitably going to be fired and monkey labor’s gotta be cheaper than what you’re charging) because surely they can at least wrap up a simple point, wrap up an introductory sentence in less words, better words than you seem to be able to, and given as much time as you’ve taken to simply start your blog they’d have already been able to accidentally suss out the sentence “burnout makes creating so hard” and moved on to the fact that it makes you feel very incapable and alone, messes with your home life, your personal life, your interior life.

It’s forgetting what you’ve written and writing it again.

Burnout messes with your home life, your personal life. It gets at the center of you.

It’s waking up in the middle of the night and seeing the flashing green ECG lights of the FitBit on your desk. They’re blinking ceaselessly, desperately searching for your heartbeat, and you couldn’t show it where your heart is even if you wanted to, even if you put the thing back on. Your heart’s been side-of-the-milk-carton MIA along with all your words and ideas.

It’s thinking you’re fine until you realize you are very profoundly not fine.

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Big advertising mood

It’s also something that every professional in our industry is at risk of experiencing at one point or another.

As I’m writing this I am in the Dunn&Co. London office, and I don’t feel burnt out. Part of that might have to do with the fact that my employer is insane. By insane, I mean that they have an office in London and that they voluntarily paid to send me there for the month of November.

The other part is I’ve been miserably burnt out before, but I’m getting better at avoiding it. And so, since part of the deal with this whole London visit is that I owe a blog post, I’m going to tell you my (hopefully not too trite) tricks for avoiding burnout and how I practiced them during my trip abroad.

Keep A Daily Journal

Go buy a journal. It can be as cheap or fancy as you want. Write in it every single day as a self check-in. Don’t think about what you’re going to write, just start writing. You’ll be amazed what you tell yourself about your emotional state, workload, anxieties, creative output, self-talk, etc. Don’t make it a big deal, either. Write one sentence or one hundred. In London I journaled in pubs while I worked my way through one-too-many pints of beer. I also journaled in Richmond Park, where I found a nice tree trunk to take in the cold morning views from.

Culture Thyself

Burnout comes from repetition of work just as much as quantity of work. To keep your mind fresh and inspired, go gobble up some media that you wouldn’t normally consume (due to taste or circumstance). Go out and be disappointed by an amateur improv show. Have friends over for a heartwarming viewing of Eraserhead.

In London I cultured myself by seeing Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe and almost weeping over the sheer artistry of it. I also visited a cigarette advertising museum and a mental health museum inside of a Shutter Island-looking asylum in Ghent, Belgium


Give Therapy A Try

Last time I was wallowing in the stygian depths of burnout-induced depression, I started seeing a therapist. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. No matter where you’re at in life, consider treating yoself with some therapy. In London I called my therapist when I was having a very difficult night. Afterwards I felt better enough to go see the London Eye while sipping mulled wine with bourbon.

Take A Damn Vacation

My first three years in advertising I didn’t use more than a handful of PTO days. Maybe five total. Pretty stupid, huh? Not carving out time to recharge and reset will eventually drive you insane. So burn all your PTO to go somewhere that you’ve always wanted.

I used all my PTO to take a trip to Norway at the end of my time in London.


Meditation is great. It’s a mental reset that helps you get in touch with exactly how you’re feeling. It helps you make an honest appraisal of your mental state so you can appropriately manage your workload and feelings. I’ve used the Headspace app for years and think it’s a great way to start meditating.

In Norway I took a quick couple of minutes to meditate in the snow while I waited for the northern lights.

Those are my tips and that’s my blog. Take care of yourselves out there.