Have you ever found yourself at a loss for words? Or maybe you lose interest, or even passion, for something you’re working on. Maybe you’re just exhausted from everyday life and you can’t muster the creative energy to keep going. Whatever the reason, we all hit a creative rut from time to time.
Powering through just isn’t for everybody, especially us creatives. While we have a lot of good qualities, forcing ourselves to do something that we just aren’t feeling isn’t something we can stand. So, it seems the solution would be to figure out how to make ourselves actually want to keep moving forward with a piece or project.
If you’re stuck in a creative rut, consider trying these innovative solutions for innovative people.
Boost Your Self-Confidence
Whether or not your creative blockage has to do with your self-confidence, taking some steps to boost it can definitely turn the tables. High self-esteem is linked to higher productivity, so the better you feel about yourself, the better you’re able to create.
One quick way to boost your self confidence is to call or visit a supportive friend or family member. Talk to them about your endeavors, and they are sure to beam with pride and exude confidence in you and your abilities. Hearing how much others believe in you will definitely help you believe in yourself.
But you know what boosts self-esteem even more than hearing people say nice things about you?
Saying nice things about others, and even better, doing kind things for them. Goodwill toward the world is the best way to organically boost your self image. If you truly do something good for someone else, it will create positive emotions that can’t be hampered easily. Maybe send off some unsolicited text or instant messages of praise and encouragement, or sign up for that volunteer opportunity you’ve been meaning to forever. Smile at strangers and make a conscious effort to be warm toward everyone you come in contact with.
You’ll be feeling great about yourself (and your abilities) in no time.
Do Some Extreme Research
If your creative rut is truly caused by hitting a wall in your research or knowledge of a subject, it’s time to delve deeper into it. But I’m not talking Google or the library; while both are handy tools, they’re a bit too boring to solve this issue. You want to do what I call “peripheral research.”
Peripheral research is where you kind of look into something that only kind of relates to your subject. Your goal isn’t to learn any new, solid facts or gain a better understanding: your goal is to open yourself up to new ways of looking at things.
The best way to do this is find an extreme example of anything that relates to your project. You can find a documentary or biography of an unbelievable person that can tie back, or even watch an intense film that relates. One of my favorites is to find online articles pertaining to my subject and then dig through the comments for those awful internet haters who always have mean or extreme things to say about a subject. It’s not that they’ll give you anything useful to say, it’s more that they will reignite your passion and get you fired up to argue their ridiculousness. Then, instead of arguing, you can channel that energy back into your work.
One of my favorite ways to get started is to look for an extreme reality series that somehow relates to your subject matter. There are a whole ton of them right now, so it’s not difficult. For example: I was writing about unconventional ways to save money, and I hit a wall. I looked up “extreme examples of frugality” and found the reality television shows “Extreme Cheapskates” and “Extreme Couponing.”
I spent the afternoon mining youtube for highlights, and I learned a lot. I was intrigued and impressed by these individuals’ savvy and unwillingness to pay full price for anything. I never knew that there were so many free things offered online, or that coupons could save you almost 90% of your bill. These were no doubt extreme examples, and in the end I walked away with a fresh perspective on the difference between reality and reality TV when it comes to saving money.
Oh wow, that sounds super cheesy, right? I imagine some motivational-speaker-type saying, “Now close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine the finished produ…”
Ahem. Let me just stop you there: no thanks. That’s not really for us. I mean, we’ve imagined the finished product a million times, that’s why we’re working on it in the first place. The biggest struggle any type of artist has is getting the finalized piece we have in our minds to come out exactly as we imagined on paper, or canvas, or in song or movement. The last thing we need to do is visualize our own vision one more time.
So try this: picture whatever makes you feel good, even if it seems a little sleazy. So you finish this particular piece of art and it gets picked up by a snazzy gallery where your ex sees it and re-examines all the wrongs he/she did you. This piece of writing you’ve got gets published in a top-tier literary magazine that pays handsomely, and even sweeter than the money is the fact that you can finally show your parents that your liberal arts degree is earning you such.
Or, you know, go crazy with your imagination… you finally finish what you’re working on and that leads to awesomeness but something else transpires, therefore this, but that, and eventually you find yourself living at the international space station.
We’ve all been there.
Either way, playing with your imagination in terms of the finished work instead of dwelling on the process of completing it can be a great motivator. It just might change your mind about staying on the couch and watching another season of “The Wire.”
Do Something Drastic
If you’re really, really struggling and nothing else is working, it might be time to take serious measures. Do you have a free day or two? Take an impromptu road trip and bring your work. Whether you camp out by a lake or rent a cabin in the woods, a change of scenery can definitely refresh your outlook. When you get to your destination, explore, relax, breathe. Don’t think about your work right away unless it’s already on your mind. After having some time to yourself, you might be inspired to climb right up out of your rut.
Don’t really have time to take off? Maybe consider fasting (I know, I know, but the heading does say “Do Something Drastic.”)
There are so many benefits to occasional fasting, including heightened senses and more efficient brain function. Fasting has been used for centuries to help with creative endeavors, and even reach spiritual enlightenment. After a day or two many report euphoria, crisper thought processes, and yes, creative inspiration.
Just remember to be careful. Don’t go more than a few days without following a program that ensures you still get the electrolytes your heart needs to keep beating.
I say that with the best of intentions, because I know, it’s hard sometimes. Creativity is delightful and rewarding, but it’s also draining in ways that aren’t always relatable. If you happen to have found yourself in a hole with all of the life sucked out of you, I hope these tips can be a little CPR for your inventive nature.
AJ Earley is a personal chef, freelance writer, and root beer float enthusiast from Boise, Idaho.