Inspiration The Creative Life

10 Ways to Get Out of a Creative Rut

Painting green plants

Feeling like you’re stuck in a creative rut?

As a creative, one of the most amazing states to be in is that of “flow”. Hours fly by as you’re working on a project that you enjoy. Seconds slow down as the perfect shot appears in your viewfinder, just as your finger hits the shutter button.

It’s a state where time goes by unnoticed. You are brimming with ideas and completely immersed in the process of creating. Yet many times, that ideal state of flow seems ever-elusive.

If you find yourself staring at the ceiling and feeling uninspired on a frequent basis, you might be stuck in a creative rut. Fortunately, there are many ways to get out of it. Here are a few ideas you could try, from other creatives who also know exactly what that feels like!

1. Just walk it off.

A founding shareholder of Saatchi & Saatchi, Sir John Hegarty has won practically every award the ad industry has to offer and was knighted for his services to the industry. His advice when you’re feeling stuck? “Go for a walk. I do my best thinking when I’m not thinking. Looking at a screen will never unblock your creativity. What I always say to creative people is, unplug the computer and have a conversation with somebody. Talk to them. You may find that they did something last night that’s really interesting—you might be able to use that. Get out there. Just walk it off.”


2. Instead of forcing yourself to be creative, try indulging yourself in some creativity for a change.

Billy Branch, a three-time Grammy Award Nominee, said: “After attending a great play, or great musical concert, I tend to become creatively inspired. After listening to someone like Stevie Wonder in concert for 2 hours, it’s kind of hard not to.”


3. …or, try depriving yourself.

Renowned chef Gray McNally of Tortoise Club says: “In order to come up with new dishes, I fast and go for long runs. Being very hungry brings clarity to exactly what I crave and want to eat. Refinements of these ideas often end up on my menus.”


4. When in a creative rut, be… unproductive?!?

Product designer D. Keith Robinson has a counter-intuitive approach to dealing with a creative rut: “Often, when I’m not sure where to start, or have a mountain of daunting tasks piling up, I begin by asking someone else if they need help with anything. To me it’s probably the single best motivational/productivity tip I can think of. Sure, it’s slightly counter-intuitive, as you’re potentially taking on work, but the rewards are mighty. I find that after I spend some time helping someone else get started (or finished), I’m refreshed and ready to get going on my own stuff.”


5. Take a break and recharge in nature or by playing with children or pets.

Melissa Veal, a make-up designer for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater says: “I believe creative ruts are often related to overtiredness and being overloaded. Rest, breath, laughter and nature for rejuvenation are my go-to solutions, and I often spend time with kids playing because it cleanses my mind and starts me at a free, playful, creative place. Taking quiet time with my animals also puts me in a place to start any creative process, and then I trust.” Taking time to nurture yourself, especially if you run your own business, is so important to prevent creative block and burnout.

Image via Unsplash

6. Just do it.

Art business consultant Maria Brophy says: “I remembered reading how Stephen King would begin each day by sitting down at the typewriter at the same time each morning and wouldn’t get up until noon.  He was committed to writing, even when he didn’t feel like it, even when he felt no inspiration.

“On the first day of this new commitment I sat down at 7 a.m. at my new, inspiring work space. I stared at the keys, feeling a complete lack of motivation and inspiration. Eventually I started writing, line by line, one at a time. The words came out wrong, the paragraphs unreadable. But I sat in that chair until 10 a.m. The next day, I sat at the computer at 7 a.m. again and picked up where I left off the day before. Day two was easier, but still clunky. By the third day, I was on a roll, the words were flowing and I had broken through the block!”


7. If you need a push to ‘just do it’, make public commitments to hold yourself accountable.

Ben Barry, graphic designer at Facebook, has a smart technique for making sure he gets work done, regardless of whether he is feeling inspired: “In the end, a deadline is always the best cure for creative block. I sometimes artificially induce this feeling of panic by making public commitments to people about presenting work on a particular day. It works reasonably well.”


8. Log all your ideas to save some of them for days you feel uninspired.

Writing instructor at the Poynter Institute Peter Clark prefers to go old school with this, storing his ideas in a notebook: “Ideas can be elusive — like fireflies at dusk. You will need a dozen story ideas for every one you eventually execute. You’ll need a place to store them. Use whatever suits you, including the notes mode on your mobile phone. I prefer to go old-school: a tiny notebook suitable for pocket or purse.” Shotopop designer Casper Franken encourages taking this a step further by writing down ideas that come to you in a semi-sleep state: “Strange things happen in a semi-sleep state, when your unconscious takes over. Wake up and write down whatever was happening before you forget it.”

Image via Unsplash

9. Clear the clutter.

Sometimes, just feeling like you are in a chaotic environment can turn off the creative tap. Facebook designer and creative strategist Ji Lee says: “When I have a creative block, I do a few different things: 1. Take long showers. Somehow I can think a little differently while I’m in the shower. It washes away my old thoughts and I feel renewed. 2. Clean my surroundings. I cannot think clearly when there’s a mess around me. 3. If it still doesn’t work, I go for a bike ride and I try not to think about the project at all. Somehow things always work out in the end.”


10. Get moving.

Designer and artist Mike Perry takes the train to a random destination to get things done: “Lately the thing that has been really good when I am in a rut is to take the Amtrak somewhere. I unfortunately don’t do it as often as I would like but I love the forced sitting that happens and unlike air travel the seats are very comfortable. There is something about moving through the world that makes you feel alive.”

Image via Unsplash

What other approaches do you take to getting unstuck? Hopefully, this list has given you some new ideas to try out the next time you feel trapped in a rut!

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