Breaking Out of Your Creative Rut
For the first time in a while, I found myself in a creative rut. It started with feeling like one idea I had at work wasn’t strong enough and proceeded to spiral into what I can only describe as a brain continuum of self-hate. First manifesting itself as questions, the rut led me to pick apart everything I’ve ever worked on. Once that stage was over, I fell into stage two: exhaustion. The negative thoughts were quite literally weighing me down. I was doing what we all heavily suggest no one does: scrolling through Instagram and looking at other people’s work and wondering why I wasn’t measuring up. It led to restless sleep and an inability to focus clearly on the tasks and work in front of me. Stage three was a mix of venting to friends who were willing to listen and scrolling through Pinterest to find something I could cling to for motivation. All of this felt like a desperate attempt to light a fire that was on the brink of being extinguished.
I know I’m not alone when it comes to these experiences, so instead of talking friends ears off, I asked them (and the internet) what they do to get out of creative ruts. Read on for a combination of their answers, my answers, and your answers.
One strategist at RGA told me “I talk to people about what I'm working on. Go on walks. Drink coffee. Listen to music. Mostly talking to other people helps. The more perspectives the better.”
One of the content editors here at LFC suggested meditation. According to a study done by Harvard Business Review, 10 to 12 minutes of meditation a day are enough to boost creativity.
Brooklyn White, a freelance writer, says that taking a break usually helps her. “I found that stepping back from a piece or a project allows me to come back with fresh ideas.”
Similar to Brooklyn, two people I spoke to have created what they consider a “wheel of options” or a “toolbox” for combatting creative ruts.
Divine Philemond, a writer, said, “I’ve developed a wheel of options as to what to do when I’m in a creative rut. The first is to just step away from the project for a little while, either to use my phone to go on social media to look at other kinds of mediums that have absolutely nothing to do with writing. My favorite thing currently since I just got Movie Pass is to go to the movies and watch other stories unfold that I can’t control. Usually, that helps me figure out a problem. If that doesn’t help, because I live in Georgia, there’s a lot of long country roads to drive down. I’ll go on a drive without any music on and just talk to myself to try and figure out the problem. Sometimes I find that the issue isn’t even creative but rather there is something else that’s blocking me in my personal life that’s not allowing me the freedom to think creatively. Artists are sensitive people, and if you are not in the right emotional, physical, and mental space to create, you can only be patient with yourself until you are.”
Victoria Hoff, a writer and editor at Byrdie and The Thirty, has assembled a toolbox over the years. “When I’m stuck on wording or a tough intro or conclusion, I take a shower. It always helps me find clarity. I go for a hike or a walk if I just need to organize my thoughts or feel inspired. But the other thing I’ve learned is to never force it. If I’m feeling really stuck, it usually means that I’m feeling stagnant in other areas of my life and need to refresh and reboot. Adding the pressure to be creative doesn’t help, so instead, I focus on just *being* and spending time with my people. Ideally, unplugging and getting off the grid. I remember feeling super stuck and uninspired this past March, and I happened to be taking a weekend trip with some friends to Joshua Tree. Just spending 48 hours in the desert with my found family without cell service was perfect. I came back feeling totally refreshed and ready to write again.”
A makeup artist that I follow on Instagram and really admire, Katie Jane Hughes, happened to post something about how she gets out of a creative rut as I was writing this. She wrote “I get in a creative rut all the time… I can often pull myself out by starting with 1 product and sitting down at my makeup table and just playing… no expectations or ideas of what I’m gonna do I just drive and see what happens. This is my fave way to work on others too.”
Another suggested chocolate covered almonds (which I can’t confirm, but will be trying). According to research shared on Spoon University, “Flavanols, a nutrient found in chocolate, increases blood flow to the brain by dilating vessels. In addition, dark chocolate contains the perfect amount of caffeine and most importantly magnesium, which helps decrease stress and releases the “happy hormones,” such as serotonin and endorphins.”
A bunch of others, including Heartleigh Little, an Editorial Director at The Cools, suggested walks, which I do too. I find that being outside helps me feel grounded (get it?) and connected to Mother Nature herself, which is a mighty force to feel connected to.
So there you have it. That’s how I, along with dozens of other beings, worked through our creative ruts. I don’t think I’m fully out of mine, but writing this definitely helped. What I took away from this specific experience (inclusive of the advice from everyone above) is that my end goal needed to be a new perspective, and it came from pushing myself out of my comfort zone. It’s not easy. You may try a few of the above suggestions, maybe all of them, and still find yourself in a rut. Unfortunately, there’s no quick or guaranteed fix, though as I struggled, I definitely wished there was. But as I enter the tail-end of the experience, I’ve reconsidered and realized maybe I don’t actually wish that. My creative rut pushed me to write for LFC, something I haven’t done in over a year. It also inspired me to get involved with passion projects that friends are working on. I learned some new graphic design skills and realized I know how to cook nothing but tomatoes, onions, and garlic.
Now I’m interested to know… How do you get yourself out of a creative rut?
To learn more about Nora, you can follow her on Instagram.