Getting out of a Creative Rut
I’ve been thinking about his topic lately, because Fall is the season where I feel most inspired. This is the time when I am creatively at my best. To say that I’m feeling inspired right now is a major understatement.
Now that I’m in that glorious phase of inspiration, I’ve been reflecting on the nasty creative rut I experienced this summer. It lasted almost a month. These ruts are the worst. While I’ve come to expect them by now, it never gets any easier. The question I’ve been asking myself lately is how do we get out of these ruts? Are they preventable?
Let’s start with the idea of a creative rut. I believe there are two kinds of ruts. There is the type of rut that lasts for years - let’s call this a creative “drought.” Then there is the type of rut that can last anywhere from a few days to a few months. This is a regular old creative rut.
Which type of rut are you in?
The creative drought stems from the fear of creating. If you are in a creative drought, you used to be creative years ago, but lost it along the way. You wish you could create more, but you just can’t seem to take the first step. Common excuses are that you don’t have enough time or that you are in a particularly difficult phase in life.
The good news is that the creative drought has a cure. The antidote is to start focusing on quantity over quality. It doesn’t matter what you are creating or how you are creating it. All that matters is the number of hours you spend creating.
Think of creativity as being similar to watering a plant. It doesn’t matter how carefully you water the plant, or in what way you water the plant. What really matters is consistency, and how often you water the plant.
In order to increase the number of hours you spend creating, find a way to hold yourself accountable to creating. This will insure that you keep showing up, even when you feel that judgement creeping in.
Here are some ideas for holding yourself accountable.
Create an instagram account for sharing your creations. Announce in your profile that you will be sharing your work daily or weekly. Then follow a bunch of people, so you feel like you are being monitored.
Take a class. This will make sure you show up at the same times every week. Book another class before your current one is over.
Use a habit tracker and make a commitment to create for 30 days in a row.
Ask a friend or family member to hold you accountable. Tell them to check in with you to make sure you are creating.
Block off time on your calendar. Book your creative time after something else you do on a regular basis. It’s easier to make a new habit when it’s attached to an existing habit.
Reward yourself for creating. Buy yourself a small treat every time you show up for yourself. Buy yourself a bigger reward if you manage to create for 30 days in a row.
Buy the right supplies. Make sure you have all the things you need to do your work. The importance of a good start is key.
Designate a space. Spend some money to create a nice space for creating in your home. It might be a spare bedroom, or a nook in your basement. What better to invest in than yourself? Seeing that space every day will make it hard to walk away from your art.
Once you’ve gotten in the habit of showing up, you will suddenly feel more confident in your work. Your feelings of dread and comparison will dwindle and creating will start to feel a lot easier.
Now let’s talk about a true creative rut. The kind that comes on suddenly and happens to all creatives alike, no matter how practiced they may be.
Unfortunately, there is no instant cure for a creative rut. However, there is a way to make them less painless, and pass more quickly.
Think of creativity as a well. The water in the well is our inspiration. When our inspiration runs dry, we can no longer create. The way to get out of a creative rut is to replenish the water in the well. In order to do this, we need to stop trying to get water out.
To replenish our inspiration, we need to put our supplies down and go have some new experiences. The bigger your rut feels, the more drastic your actions will need to be. Here are some ideas:
Travel. Visit a new place you’ve never been before. Immerse yourself in the culture and take lots and lots of pictures.
Try new things in your community. Just going outside your typical routine can be surprisingly helpful.
Ask some fellow creatives to meet up. Learn about what inspires them. Just hearing a new perspective could be all you need.
Study creatives from history. Pick one whose work inspires you most, and immerse yourself in learning about their life, habits, and work for a week.
Buy some new supplies. The art store never fails to inspire me.
Try a new hobby or learn a new skill. Just creating some new pathways in the brain can be all we need.
The sooner you embrace your rut, stop creating, and go have some fun, the more quickly this will pass. Don’t worry about how long the rut will last, or whether you will ever get out of it. Once you’ve been through enough ruts, you will discover that they ALWAYS pass.
A creative drought, on the other hand, will not pass unless you take action. You should know which type of rut you are in based on whether you feel paralyzed and fearful (drought), or anxious and fidgety (rut). The energy around each type feels very different. Also the length of time should be an indicator. As someone who’s been through both, it’s easy to tell the difference.
The good news is both of these ruts instrumental in the creative process. We can’t just keep producing great work without replenishing our sources. The important thing is to stop beating yourself up. Ruts can leave you feeling depressed and powerless. Be especially nice to yourself throughout these times. Buy yourself treats, and do things to cheer yourself up. Don’t think of them as your fault, but just the price you have to pay to create great work. All creatives must experience ruts, so you are not alone. Once a rut passes, you always be better for it. That’s when we all tend to produce our best work.