We’ve all been there before. You care deeply about the creative work your doing, but you just can’t get things flowing. Whether it’s because you can’t think of new ideas or you can’t find motivation, this creative rut is an awful place to be in.
This rut could’ve been dug by creative burnout, meaning that you can’t get the energy to summon your creativity, or it could just be the creative well running dry. Either way, it can cause some serious self-doubt and anxiety, especially if it’s your job to produce creative output.
But I’ve found that trying to push against the grain of this creative rut often leads to more burnout, less productivity and poorer quality. So instead of just trying to move as if you’re not in this rut, there are plenty of ways to actively combat it.
First things first
The first is to acknowledge that this happens to everyone, and it’s not indicative of your creative ability. Often one of the things that causes this rut to persist is the self-fulfilling prophecy of it all. You can’t produce, so you think you suck, so you can’t produce even more, so you think you suck even more. Recognizing that this is a natural part of every process is crucial to taking the first step to getting back into your groove.
So what do you do after that first step?
There are probably a million things out there that you can do, but I’m gonna tell you some of my favorites. As someone who is a content marketer for a living, a blogger/interior designer on the side, and a creative writer for fun, I’m no stranger to the evil creative rut. So I’ve picked up some tips along the way that genuinely get me back into my creative mojo.
Take a break. But actually do
This is simultaneously one of the easiest and one of the hardest things to do. While physically it’s easy to disconnect and do nothing, mentally it’s a bigger feat.
Especially if you’re in the middle of a big, important project, or even if it’s a personal project that you just really want to get done, it seems near impossible to give yourself permission to take a break. But I promise you, you’ll be better off if you just give it a rest, even for a little while. Pushing through these moments could end up costing you a lot more time and energy in the long run.
Case in point: if you’re a longtime homey homie, you may have noticed that I’ve been a little MIA from posting for a while. It’s because I hit this wall where conjuring creative ideas and the energy to write for the blog was like trying to squeeze water from a hardly even damp towel. Sure, I could maybe get a few drops out, but all I was doing was stretching out the towel when it was really just asking for some more water.
The water, if it’s not clear, was a break. So that’s what I did until I felt compelled to return.
And that’s what I’d recommend you do. If your creativity is a hobby, try to disconnect from it for as long as it takes to really miss it and have tons of creative energy ready to burst out of you.
For career creatives, give yourself as much time as you reasonably can. If that’s a few days, great. If you can push a deadline to ensure that you’re only delivering the highest quality work, even better.
Often, if you take a few days off and come back at something fresh, you can get it done in a fraction of the time than it would’ve taken if you pushed through the creative rut. So you will likely be able to make back that time you took off.
Find other sources of inspiration
If you’re a designer, sometimes you get so caught up in design that things all begin to blend together at times and you can’t as easily see that creative spark. And this goes for all creative practices.
The best piece of advice that I have for creative people in general is to seek out multiple sources of inspiration so that you can form your own unique style and point of view, but this is especially helpful when you find yourself in a creative rut.
This rut can often be caused by a lack of creative ideas, and looking to other sources can give you the ammo to look at the task at hand from a different angle.
And when I say different sources of inspiration, I’m talking broad. You could look to other semi-unrelated creative mediums, like books, movies, crafts, art museums. But you could also look to more unexpected moments of inspiration, like a walk or run through nature, playing video games, doing a spa treatment, or listening to a (non-creative) educational podcast.
All of these places help to give you a different sensory experience that can potentially provide you with new creative ideas or put you in a different headspace to generate them yourself.
Whenever I’m feeling in a particularly tough creative rut, I love to go to the gym and do an intense workout. I get the natural endorphins that make me feel better and sometimes a great idea can just come to me. (Plus, if you’ve read the book Spark, you’ll know that exercise literally wires your brain to learn better and faster).
Connect with your creative community
There’s a reason that creative communities are so strong. They give you the opportunity to lean on each other and learn from each other. When you’re in a creative rut is the best time to tap into this community.
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Use this time (ideally during your break from your creative work) to set up a time to go to coffee, a happy hour, or a walk in the park with one of your creative contacts. Or connect with someone new!
Pick their brains to see how they’ve dealt with similar issues and what advice they have to give. But also ask them about the creative projects they have going on. These types of conversations create synergy. You can potentially generate some new ideas and get some encouragement from seeing one of your creative contacts thrive.
This doesn’t have to be someone in the same creative field as you, even. Creative people are creative people, no matter what their chosen discipline is. And people with a different skill than you may even be able to provide a perspective that you maybe didn’t think of before.
If you don’t have a creative community to go, take this as your sign to start building one. It will benefits you in good times, in bad times, and in your everyday life.
Do some mundane tasks
If you shuddered at the idea of taking a break earlier, welcome to my brain. But also, I have a workaround for you.
Even the most creative people have a long list of monotonous tasks that they need to check off on a daily basis. Replying to emails, doing reporting, submitting invoices, finding graphics for blog posts, you name it. While these can be annoying sometimes, when you find yourself in a creative rut, they’re actually a great way to step away from your creative work.
If you’re in a phase where you still really need to get things done but you can’t seem to muster any artistic flow, these tasks give you an alternative plan. These tasks still need to get done, so why not use them as a creative break?
I like to put in some headphones and listen to a podcast, or put on a good mindless show, and give myself an afternoon, or even a whole day, to check off some of these things that have been on my list for a while.
The benefits are threefold.
- You’re still able to get some things done to move your creative practice forward
- You give the creative part of your brain a nice break
- And you’ll get a nice confidence boost by being able to reframe this time from one that’s a slump to one that you got shit done.
Visit your creative stockpile
Creativity needs to constantly be nurtured in order to evolve with you. Part of the process of nurturing involves actually practicing your craft. But part of it involves soaking up creativity from other places.
I recommended in one of the tips above to find other sources of inspiration. But if you set this one up, it can give you inspiration at your fingertips at a moment’s notice.
You can choose whatever medium you want – Google drive, your iphone notes – but I like to use Notion.
Anytime I come across something that’s inspiring – that could be a movie, videos, photos, songs, podcasts – I file it away in my little creative stockpile. Not only does this become a fun process that encourages me to continuously seek out inspiration around me, but it also gives me a great hub to refer to when I need to conjure a little creative magic.
Good luck digging yourself out of your creative rut. You got this!
Hey my name’s Hannah Michelle Lambert, the voice behind homey homies. I’m an LA-based blogger and interior designer. I’m passionate about fun, adaptive, and affordable design that is filled with personality. And I’m a huge believer in a good DIY. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you find the inspiration you’re looking for – and maybe a little extra 😉