|We’ve all had them: those stretches of days and even weeks when your insights dry up, your voice fails you, you lose your artistic eye, your drive to work disappears. Here’s ten ways to dig yourself out of a creative rut.
1. Read about a creative life lived in an entirely different medium to your own.
See what Keith Richards’ Life can teach you about music, or Patti Smith’s Just Kids and Tracey Emin’s Strangeland can teach you about art. If you’re an artist or musician, try living the life of a writer: F Scott Fitzgerald’s Short Autobiography; Sempre Susan, about Susan Sontag; Tete a Tete about Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre; Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee. If your canvas is the board meeting, try a creative take on leadership.
2. Make something by hand.
When you have a big project or a big dream, finishing it (or sometimes even beginning it) can seem impossibly insurmountable. Making something simple reminds you of the deep satisfaction inherent in completing a creative project. It’s also the perfect activity to do alone, and productive solitude makes you uniquely receptive to new insights and inspiration.
For the crafty: dreamcatchers | friendship bracelets | mending. For the handyman or woman: Make projects has hundreds of fascinating tutorials. In the kitchen: borscht | lemon cake | pickles | homemade Nutella.
3. Give a gift.
Being criticised hurts artists, and so does too self-criticism — however fair or unfair it is, it makes you doubt whether you’re meant to be on the path you’re on; whether you’re talented at all. It’s crippling to your output to doubt your own legitimacy as a creative person.
There’s no easy solution, but there is a nice one that almost always works: use your talents to make a surprise for someone you love. Write a letter or poem about them, paint their portait or take photos of something they care about; write them a song or make them a mixtape. Your only goal is to touch them — but their reaction could give you the encouragement you need to give your gifts to a wider audience.
4. Take a photo a day.
Jonathan Harris posted a photo a day online for a year with his Today project:
I wanted to find a way to be more in the moment, to be more in every day. To understand time more. To understand my own life more. To have more memories. Basically, to live more richly as a human life, not just as a work life.
It worked. And here’s a guide to the best photography apps to help you do it.
5. Take a tourist round your neighbourhood.
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
– T. S. Eliot, the Four Quartets. There’s nothing like showing your environment to someone new to see it as if for the first time — and when you’re in a rut, that’s exactly the kickstart you need. If you don’t have any visitors due soon, why not send a photo essay to someone far away? (It might help lure them over.)
6. Get some distance.
Taking holidays and travelling isn’t just for fun: it’s neurologically proven to help spark insights. As Jonah Lehrer wrote in “The Importance of Vacation,”
Too often, we fail to consider the ways in which our surroundings constrain our creativity. When we are always “close” to the problems of work, when we never silence our phones or stop responding to email, we get trapped into certain mental habits. We assume that there is no other way to think about things, that this is how it must always be done. It’s not until we’re napping by the pool with a pina colada in hand – when work seems a million miles away – that we suddenly find the answer we’ve needed all along.
7. Start a Tumblr.
Tumblelogs represent the early stirrings of late adolescent creativity, the melodrama formalized, put to music, friends found, band started, bingo. Thus there is always the sense of the achievable…the ever seductive notion that with enough hard work anything contained within it is attainable.
8. Be positive.
Never forget that magic is an elusive force. Sometimes exasperating in its creation, it is generated by confidence and certainty. It takes swagger, madness, absurdity; it requires encouragement, irreverence, and positivity. Magic doesn’t come about by menacing people.
– John Hegarty. When you’re an Eeyore who sees the world through cynical spectacles, you lose your energy and spark. Fight against negativity. On your commute, don’t be bored and cross — look for the uplifting moments. If someone you follow on Twitter complains relentlessly, unfollow them — and vow to make your own tweets only positive. If news and current affairs is overwhelming you, follow it more slowly; subscribe to a monthly magazine rather than chasing it at Twitter-speed. Guard your positivity and energy at all costs — you need it to create.
9. Remember the child you.
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
– Pablo Picasso. In primary school, did you feel shy making clay masks or dragons or wonder if your stories were good enough? No, and you shouldn’t now. That creative confidence is sucked out of everyone (admittedly at different speeds) but you can get it back. What did you love doing as a child? Playing, making a mess, telling stories, getting your hands dirty with no fear of failure are all hallmarks of childhood, and all are fundamental to creativity. Embrace your inner child.
10. Go easy on yourself.
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.
Storyteller and This American Life host Ira Glass. Watch this video, feel immediately better, and get back to work.
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