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Ways to Get Out of a Creative Rut

Creative ruts are an inevitable part of creating. I used to become so frustrated with myself, but through the years I’ve better learned my rhythms and what I need to do. I’ve also learned that creativity is a discipline. We may think that being an artist means an endless flow of inspiration and constantly being “in the zone,” but that is just not the case. The truth is, as artists and makers, we are not going to “feel like” creating all the time, but it’s like a muscle- the more we flex our creativity, the better we get! I believe creating work that we are proud of comes at the intersection of honing your skills through lots of practice, training our minds to have a wonder and curiosity that the work can flow from, and learning to enjoy the process more than the end result.

I drew this illustration with a few things that help me during the “down” times, but I thought I’d dive a little deeper into a few of these points.

Ways to Get Out of a Creative Rut - Hand Lettered Art Print for your Studio or Office

Take a social media break:

If I’m feeling down creatively, one of the first things I ask myself is “am I spending a healthy amount of time on social media?”In the past, to justify all of my scrolling, I would have said “It’s a great source of inspiration.” This can certainly be true. However, I have found my moments of deep, authentic inspiration have occurred outside of the scroll, and in the course of participating in life.

Don’t get me wrong, a beautiful image that I see on Instagram can stir something inside of me that is exciting and wonderful, but I find there is a trade-off that isn’t so helpful. Things like distraction, comparison, and fear of missing out. Often my mind wanders to how I can keep up and I wind up overwhelmed. It’s almost like too much inspiring input into my brain and it starts short-circuiting.

Juxtapose this with the slow, quiet, distraction-free moments where my brain can gleefully think and wonder and pause. I find the latter to be much more conducive to spurring creativity that flows from a heart of JOY and not a distracted heart of overwhelm. Some things that work for me are taking a walk, listening to music on a drive, or wandering around an antique store. The point is to be present and open to noticing the smallest of details. It’s impossible to be present when caught up in scrolling.

A few years ago, I took a social media detox and I went more in depth about my experience here.

The next thing I will ask myself is “how am I feeling physically?” If I’m tired, mentally burn out, or feeling overall blah, then I know I need to fix that first. Moving my body by doing yoga at home or barre classes makes a huge difference in how I feel physically and how I can then perform creatively.

Ways to Get Out of a Creative Rut

Recall Happy Memories:

I’ll admit I tend to be a nostalgic person by nature. Most of my designs have a connection to the past or my childhood. I realize not everyone feels this way, but I do think the act of looking into the past is a wonderful way to guide our creative soul. Often it is happy childhood memories that remind us of “who we were before the world got ahold of us.” This is the deepest part of us, how we were made and wired.

When I give myself time and space to look within to my past experiences, often I think of a mundane moment and at times the memory stops me in my tracks because I hadn’t thought of that particular memory before. I see my Grandma contentedly sitting on her porch swing smiling as I played in the yard with my siblings. Who was that little girl dancing in the grass making wildflower chains? What made her happy? What were her dreams? Why did my mind go to this simple memory? These are things I ask myself and just let the feelings wash over me whatever they may be.

It doesn’t have to be simply childhood memories either. In the winter, for example, I can think about the heat of a summertime picnic or remember past travels….times that I felt inspired and alive. There’s something about tapping into these memories that will give you a different view and a view that is yours and yours alone.

And to one of my other points, maybe take out your journal and record the feelings that come up. Write the story of that memory. Feeling frustrated? Journal those things too! Thoughts are way more manageable when they are out of your head and onto paper.

Ways to Get Out of a Creative Rut

Set The Mood

There’s a subtle mindset shift that has made all the difference in the world for me – holding the experience and process of creating above the end result. When I focused on the end result, I felt immense amounts of pressure and a deep sense of disappointment when I had an unsuccessful day in the studio.

Instead, I’ve decided to make my studio my sanctuary. A place where I can be surrounded by things that uplift me. This space is sacred… only good vibes here! I have a ritual of sorts before creating. I light a candle, listen to a specific playlist and always have a cup of hot tea or coffee by my side.

Creating is hard work and it takes hours and hours of practice to hone your craft. We definitely won’t feel all the warm and fuzzies for each one of those hours. Sometimes it truly just is practice and working hard, but when I create an environment that speaks to me, then it feels pleasurable regardless of the outcome of what I’ve produced.

Ways to Get Out of a Creative Rut

Set a timer and create quickly.

Starting is the hardest part. If I’m feeling pressure about a project or feeling intimidated staring at a blank slate, I play a game with myself. “Just 10 minutes” and I’ll be done. Usually, I don’t stop because the flow of creating takes over once I get past the intimidation. Or, I will say “this is just a practice, how quickly can I create a painting?” It doesn’t matter if it’s bad or not because it’s just practice! These are a few mind tricks that may sound silly, but it works to help me shake off that self-inflicted pressure and get going.

Fine Art Soft Pastel Paintings by Valerie McKeehan

Try Something New

Novel experiences are so beneficial for a creative! First, it allows you to completely remove the pressure! There’s something freeing about being a beginner without any expectation. Secondly, it gives your brain new material to work with! You may start making new connections that will inspire and invigorate you. Maybe the new experience is a completely different form of creativity altogether like gardening or a new sport. Notice how you feel. Most importantly, have FUN!

Fine Art Soft Pastel Paintings by Valerie McKeehan

Thanks to those of you who reached out about this drawing, I’ve decided to make it available as a print! You can find it in the shop here. I hope seeing it will help serve as a reminder when you are feeling down.

Ways to Get Out of a Creative Rut - Hand Lettered Art Print for your Studio or Office
Ways to Get Out of a Creative Rut - Hand Lettered Art Print for your Studio or Office

What helps you get out of a creative rut? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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