Sometimes...I just get stuck. Does that ever happen to you? The creative juices stop flowing and I don’t know how to move forward. If you’ve been pursuing creative work for more than a week or so, I’m guessing you have experienced what I’m talking about. You have projects to work on and deadlines to hit, but your creativity has come to a halt. You’re in a creative rut.
A rut is a pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change. The analogy is drawn from the picture of a literal rut: a long deep track made by the repeated passage of the wheels of vehicles. This picture sheds some light on how we might have gotten stuck in the first place—we kept taking the same routes and found ourselves arriving at the same results. But creativity isn’t about doing more of the same; it’s about discovering something new.
So how do we get unstuck? What is our way out of the rut and back into our creative rhythm? Here are four things I have found that have helped me when I felt stuck.
1. Invest in Rest
Often the problem when I am running low on creativity is that I’ve just run out of steam. I have pushed myself to produce and I’m coming up against my limits. We hear a lot of talk about managing our time, but at least equally important is managing our energy. There are only so many hours in a day, and there is only so much creative energy in our tank. Sometimes the best thing you can do to boost your productivity is to get some rest. If you leave your work for a bit—even just for a few minutes—you may come back with a fresh perspective and a new idea. The amount of rest you need depends on the level of exhaustion you’re dealing with. A small dip in energy could be solved with a walk and a cup of coffee. A deeper depletion will require more time to refill. No matter what the degree, rest is more than just a break for now. It is an investment in your future. If you want to improve the quality of your work, improve the quality of your rest.
2. Break the Routine
Since a rut is literally a deep track created by repeatedly taking the same path, one of the best ways out is to look for a new path. In order to stay creative, we need to constantly find ways to break the routine. Don’t get me wrong, routines are powerful and necessary. Sometimes following a fixed set of steps is the best thing you can do to keep moving. But, at other times, your go-to method can be the very thing standing in your way. It can be tempting to take the tried-and-true path. But whatever led you somewhere interesting last time probably won’t take you anywhere new this time around. If you want to arrive at a new destination, you have to follow a new path. As Picasso once said, this is one of the dangers of success: “One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility.” The last thing I want is for what I make tomorrow to be a cheap imitation of what I made yesterday. If you want to be creative, you have to stay committed to trying something new.
3. Seek Inspiration
Rather than looking for something you can imitate, look for something that will inspire you. There is no shortage of inspiring things out there. But we have to take the time to allow these things to work on us. The Latin roots of the word “inspire” literally translate “to breathe into.” There is no escaping the biblical parallel here. When God created mankind, he breathed his life into us. But I don’t think that has to be a one-time thing. Each day, God is breathing new life into us. Just as he created us, he sustains us. As Paul quoted in his conversation with the Greek philosophers of his time, “in him we live and move and have our being.” We weren’t just created in God’s image; we are invited to live our daily lives in his presence. If you’re looking for inspiration, look no further than that. But a few great Pinterest boards and Instagram follows won’t hurt, either.
4. Pursue Passion
Lastly, one great route I’ve found out of a creative rut is to pursue my passion. If that sounds trite, let me explain a little. When I find myself at a creative standstill, I look for something that excites me, something that catches my eye and holds my attention. What is interesting to you right now? It may not be directly relevant to the task at hand, but pursuing it may lead you out of creative inertia and into creative momentum. The destination may be a design, but the avenue may be a song. The goal may be a video, but the inspiration may be a poem. Passion is difficult to quantify or justify. You may not be able to explain why you’re drawn to something, but passion is worth exploring. You never know where a hunch is going to take you but, if it keeps you moving, it’s worth pursuing.