You stare at your computer screen. You click random links and refresh Instagram and Pinterest. You look at your phone, maybe it has the answer. Check all the apps you’ve already looked at a minute ago on your desktop. You open a book, but your eyes just flick through the words, not making sense of anything. You put your shoes on and take a walk around the block, maybe this will help. An overwhelming sensation rushes through you - what’s happening? Where did my inspiration go? Where are all my ideas? Is it all gone forever?
Sounds familiar? We bet it does. We’ve all been there at one point or another during our creative lives, stuck in the infamous inspirational rut.
Our recent collaboration Design Threads with Porto Rocha—examining the current state of design—sheds a light on this experience and the reasons we all feel it, maybe even to extreme extents in recent years. As we look to the second thread in the report - Excess of everything - describes a reality in which designers are faced with a constant stream of stimulation, oversaturated, getting no rest or off-time for reflection, and ending up producing work with alarmingly similar aesthetics. There’s no wonder then that we all feel this mutual meltdown, drained and lacking an inspirational spirit.
But it’s not all doom and gloom! Here are five ways you can approach this creative drought, change your perception towards it, and maybe even sway its direction and get those creative juices flowing again.
1. Say Yes / Say No Creative blocks are often interchanged with burnout or exhaustion or could be the result of one. Identifying what’s really going on is crucial to know how to deal with it. Are you having a ‘too much’ moment? Maybe you’ve taken on too many commitments, you have too many great ideas, or you’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume of incoming demands and information. In this case, it’s time to exercise saying ‘no’. Even when offers might seem tempting, you should prioritize rest and downtime as means of restoring your creativity.
Or, it might be you’re experiencing something of the opposite. Perhaps you find yourself with too little work or guidance, therefore in a constant state of staring into a black canvas - whether real or metaphorical. If that resonated with you - it’s time to start saying ‘yes’. Yes to collaborations, Yes to invitations to go out and do something, Yes to trying a new hobby. Try and add new things to your agenda, that might spark that joy and creativity back into your life, and offer solace from the dread of the blank page.
2. Add movement One of the most common pieces of advice for basically any problem is “go out for a walk”. And it’s common for a reason: getting up, changing the scenery, moving your body - these are all modes of operation proven to dissolve our hardships, no matter their shape or form.
What we suggest is an adaptation to this rule of thumb, sticking to its key factor - movement. Being stuck in a rut is another way of saying we are in stagnation. And in order to release stagnation - you guessed it - you need to add movement to your life.
Adding movement doesn’t necessarily equate to going on a hike - though it most certainly can. Try and think about movement as a quality rather than a specific action. Movement can be the simple act of moving your thoughts from your mind to a piece of paper - writing them down for no specific goal or reason, just so they can flow, change and shift form. Movement can be physical of course, like dancing in your living room - again, for no specific reason - you might find shaking your limbs releases something within you. Or, movement can also be the simple act of talking to someone - turning vague ideas or troubles into tangible sounds with a receiving end.
3. The only way out is through
Time for some emotional support! This one is not really advice in a form of a call to action, but rather an internal prompt to keep handy. Going through a creative rut sucks. And as with all challenges in life - the best way to deal with them is to experience them fully. Don’t shy away from all the emotional dirt that surfaces as you question your artistic talent. It’s fine, it’s all part of the process and needs to be dealt with in order for you to be able to make it to the other side. There are many things you can—and should—do to help you during this process of overcoming the rut. But ultimately you are going to have to endure fear, pain, or other unpleasant emotions. So go ahead, go through this rut until you see the light at the end of the tunnel.
4. Question marks instead of exclamation points
While we’re on the subject of our internal emotional landscape, it might be time to consider introducing a new way of thinking. A creative block is often experienced as failure. After all, it is our job to be able to come up with new, exciting, inspiring ideas. When it becomes challenging to do so, a sense of failure can quickly rear its ugly head in the form of some very nasty inner dialogue and unhelpful thoughts. “I’m never gonna be able to make it!”; “I’m always getting stuck like that!; “This rut is gonna last forever!”.
You might think you just need to do the opposite and say nice things to yourself. But that’s easier said than done. Even the most trained, self-aware individual, can find it difficult to change the narrative completely.
Our suggestion is simpler: you may entertain the same thoughts, but instead of treating them as clear-cut facts, change their format to a question. Doubt yourself and those determined ideas you seem to have your creativity. Add some ‘what if’ rather than believing your mind already has the answers to everything.
5. Revisit your ‘Raison D’etre’
Lastly, it’s always good practice to remind yourself why you’re here. And no, we're not talking about life here on this planet (though feel free to ponder on that as well!). This is about your own personal ‘Raison D’etre’: your reason and justification for choosing to exist as a creative.
If you’re passionate about being creative, whether a photographer, illustrator, designer, or anything in between, you probably have a deeply rooted reason for it. This means that your passion for what you do is not a simple superficial reason such as money or fame, but instead something much more powerful than that. It could be your love for creating and the creative process, your passion for wanting to do good and change the world, or the joy you find in inspiring others.
Getting in touch with those inner motivations brings back a sense of gratitude towards your practice - and life - and it’s a guaranteed way to inject a new appreciation and inspiration for whatever it is you’re doing.