It’s easy to fall into a difficult and even adversarial relationship with creativity. Even when you feel inspired, worrying about perfectionism trips up even the boldest of us. No matter where your creative rut is coming from, here are some thoughts on conquering it — and finding new troves of inspiration along the way.
Keep multiple irons in the fire
One of the easiest ways to hoist yourself with your own creative petard is to invest all your energies into a single project. We all know being creative and productive can feel like a thorny challenge, but it shouldn’t really feel punishing.
No matter what you’re into, you can do yourself a big favor by keeping multiple projects or creative pursuits going at once. It doesn’t mean killing yourself bouncing from one task to the next — all it means is that if you grow weary of doing one thing, or your creative spark has left you, you’ve got something else that interests you on the back burner. You might even find switching gears and pursuing something a little different brings some much-needed inspiration to one of your other projects.
Leave your familiar surroundings for a while
There’s lots of advice out there about building your perfect creative work nook somewhere in your house or apartment — but there’s a lot to be said for leaving the comfort of familiar surroundings, too. When we see the same sights and colors, and even smell the same smells all day, every day, it’s like a record player’s stylus getting stuck in a groove.
Taking a walk in nature or driving to an unfamiliar town is a well-observed way to refresh your creative batteries. According to psychology, familiarity breeds complacency. So break the spell and get out there.
Start keeping a journal, or revisit older entries
Tons of famously creative and productive people have diligently maintained journals to boost their memory, process emotions or chase down creativity whenever and wherever it strikes. Don’t think of journaling as a vanity project — it can deliver a noticeable improvement to your emotional health and put you in better touch with yourself as a thinking, feeling being.
But one of the other huge benefits is that it lets you create a repository for meaningful observations and fuel for your creative mind. When you see something remarkable in the world, write about it briefly. Tried a different food lately? Met somebody new? Gone someplace unusual? Journaling about your experiences, then revisiting your entries when your creativity has stalled, is an easy way to reignite your memories and light a creative fire.
Inspiration from our memories can bring some truly unexpected results, too. Filmmaker David Lynch was so taken aback by his memories of post-industrial Philadelphia that he wrote a spooky, inscrutable — and now very famous — film called Eraserhead to create an aural and visual representation of the emotions he associated with the city. What sorts of experiences have you had lately — and how can you leverage them in an unexpected way in your creative life?
Expose yourself to more culture
Good writers read a lot. Painters visit street fairs and art museums — or just wander in nature to get closer to the universe. Creatives of all types lose themselves in books and films and television shows. Even video games have come into their own as creative touchstones in some cases.
If you find yourself in a creative rut, there’s nothing wrong with involving yourself in somebody else’s contributions to culture. You’re probably doing it already anyway, but try to do it with an open mind and heart instead of with escapism in mind. Go see an opera or a play. Crack open a new book. Even watching live music is a great way to go people-watching and expose yourself to colorful personalities and new perspectives.
Remember that relentless productivity is practically impossible. So, when you’re feeling like your creative output isn’t what it should be, keep in mind there’s nothing wrong with taking it easy and investing yourself in somebody else’s creative works. You’re going to see, hear or read something that gets the gears turning. If you’d been the author of this book, what would you have done differently? Was there a better way to frame that shot? Where’d your favorite TV show jump the shark or fumble with the social commentary?
You should positively saturate your life with creative and artistic expression if you want to create with confidence.
Forget about time for a while
Yes, you’ll have cases where it just isn’t possible to ignore deadlines. But for everything else — all that’s not time-sensitive in life — remember, most of the limits and deadlines we set for ourselves are stifling. If you feel like your creativity hasn’t been there for you recently, take a mental inventory and see if you’ve been creating unnecessary anxiety for yourself by dwelling on how long the process takes, setting unreasonable goals or letting time pressures run roughshod over the delicate creative process.
Sure — life is short. But it’s long enough to allow you to enjoy what you do without an artificial sense of urgency. Time is worth taking if it lets you slowly explore new avenues for old interests. Who knows? When you do something for the love of it, instead of because you ought to be “accomplishing” something concrete, there’s no telling what you might discover about your interests — and about yourself.