What to do When You’re in a Creative Rut
Creativity is a funny thing. You might be the most talented person in the world, but if you’re not channeling that talent, you can get stuck in a creative rut. Sometimes that means waiting for inspiration, but other times it means taking action in spite of your lack of creative energy. I know this because I have spent years and years trying to find ways to boost my creativity levels—through art classes, writing prompts, meditation apps… basically anything that could help me get past my own mental blocks and create something great. And while this hasn’t resulted in any one-hit wonders (yet), it has led me down some interesting paths and taught me a few things about myself along the way.
Step 1. Take a break from the project
The first thing to do when you’re in a creative rut is take a break from your project. Don’t beat yourself up about it, and don’t feel guilty or ashamed that you need to step away for awhile. It’s important not to force yourself through this period, which can be difficult when there are deadlines looming over your head. Instead of trying so hard to get out of your rut that you burn out entirely (or worse: start hating on all things related) take some time off and do something else entirely unrelated to work or anything else stressful in your life right now.
Step 2. Talk to others about your work
When you’re sick of thinking to yourself then it’s time to reach out to others. Talk to people who have a different perspective than you:
- Talk to someone who has more experience than you in your field. Ask them for advice on how they got through a creative rut and what they do when they’re feeling stuck.
- Talk to someone who has less experience than you in your field—they may have fresh ideas that could help break through some barriers for you.
- Talk to people outside of your work life—friends and family members are usually willing to give an honest opinion or two (especially if they know something about what you do). They might even be able to bring up ideas that no one else has thought of before!
Step 3. Change your location
Changing your location can also help. If you’re in a rut, try going on a walk, to the library, or the park. Go to a coffee shop and get some work done while drinking an iced chai latte (they’re not as gross as they sound). Or visit somewhere that’s different from where you usually spend time: maybe a museum or an art gallery? Or if you can just go somewhere totally out of town – maybe there is a city that you could take a day trip or weekend trip to! I know that’s not always an option, but I like to daydream about it.
Step 4. Make time for side projects
If you’re stuck with a creative rut, one of the best ways to get out of it is to start a side project. Side projects don’t need to be related to your main project at all—in fact, they shouldn’t be. It can be anything from making origami fish for the aquarium in your office (hey, I said it could be anything!) or writing a short story about how much you love pandas and hate bananas. I like my side projects to be things that I do with my hands because my work is so digital. So recently I made raised garden beds.
Side projects are great because they allow us some freedom from our usual responsibilities and expectations as artists/writers/filmmakers/designers etc., allowing us an opportunity for exploration outside what we normally do on a daily basis; this kind of exploration often helps us gain new perspectives into our own work or even just find enjoyment through doing something different than what we typically do every day at home or work.
Step 5. Use constraints as a creative tool
I did best in school because I had a deadline, sometimes that helps me now.
- Use constraints to focus your creativity
- Use constraints to help you explore different ideas
You can use constraints as a creative tool. For example, if there is an hourglass on your desk and you want to write something new, set the time limit of one minute per page.
Another example: If there are only 10 pieces of paper in front of you, how would they best be used? Would each piece represent a different idea? Or perhaps each piece represents a different genre (such as poetry or prose)? The options are endless here!
Step 6. Find inspiration in other creative fields
- Look at art, design, and other creative fields.
- Look at other creative people’s work.
- Look at other creative people’s lives—do they have something in common with you? How do they differ from you? What can you learn from them?
- Look at other creative people’s stories—what is their origin story? What are their strengths and weaknesses as a person/artist/designer/etc.?
- Look at other creative people’s struggles. what obstacles did they face that were similar to yours and how did they overcome them (or not)
Takeaway: Creativity takes time, effort, and compassion for yourself when creative blocks occur.
Creativity takes time, effort, and compassion for yourself when creative blocks occur. It’s a process that can take days or even months to come to fruition. But if you keep at it, your confidence will grow and you will find yourself creating more freely than ever before.
Creativity is a journey — not an endpoint!
If you’re stuck in a creative rut, try these six tips. Remember that creativity is a process and doesn’t happen overnight. It might take time for these strategies to help you get unstuck. But if you keep at it, one day soon your creative light will shine brightly again!