Why Creative Ruts Happen and What You Can Do About Them

woman standing in the middle of the forest
Photo by Lukasz Dziegel on Pexels.com

Falling into a creative rut can feel like the end of the world, like you’re stuck in a dense forest with no sign of water, food or life. When they happen, you can do one of two things: fight them to the death, or embrace them.

Ruts are not a bad thing, says author and freelance journalist Kristin Wong. They serve a useful purpose, prompting you to question your life goals and career aspirations. Ruts, she says, reminds you that you are human after all, not a machine.

Other creative types see ruts differently. Author Jane Porter suggests that it’s not a rut you are experiencing at all, but impatience. You want to see results right away. You want to see progress quickly, just the way you sketched it out ahead of time. You want to see proof that your hard work is paying off. But, Porter says, efficiency is not the same as creativity.

Do a Google search and you’ll find hundreds of articles with suggestions for dealing with ruts. But not many of them address why they happen in the first place. Wong says when she falls into ruts, they usually happen for one of three reasons:

* Information overload. The Internet provides a lot of information. Some good, others not so good. It’s easy to get lost in the world of information, and it’s even more fun to learn new ideas from people. It’s also easy to get distracted with non-essential ideas that don’t fit in with your own aspirations. When you feel lost, it’s easy to seek guidance from other people and forget that you even have a voice. You need to block out the distractions so you can hear your own voice and follow your own path.

* Burnout. Creative professionals often work on the same project for months or even years. But after looking at the same pages all the time, you can become bored. You begin to feel stagnant, and run out of ideas of how to fix your writing or artwork. Burnout is natural when you stare at a project for too long, says Wong. To counter burn out, it’s important to take breaks – lots of them. Self-care is as much a part of the creative process as the work you do. During those breaks, learn to do nothing, even if it’s just staring out the window. Breaks give you stamina and energy so you can keep going toward your goals.

* Uncertainty about your path. Sometimes you can be so engulfed in the process of creating that you lose sight of your overall vision. It can translate as boredom on the job. When you continue to do a job out of routine, and you’re unclear what the overall vision is for that job, it can throw you into a rut.

So now that you have a better understanding why ruts happen, what can you do about them? Ask any creative person and they will tell you how they deal with them. But their ways of dealing with ruts are as different as they are. Check out this Huffington Post article about how 29 artists break out of ruts. It’s important to find what works best for you. Here are a few ideas:

1. Take a break. Most creative people will tell you that frequent breaks are necessary for clearing your head. Go for a walk, take a weekend getaway, play with your pet, or take a nap. When you return to your desk, you may notice a solution you hadn’t seen before.

2. Work with your hands. Try gardening, playing in the sand, mold clay, juggle, or anything that requires you to use your hands rather than your head. Playing with something tangible like dirt, water or clay can be therapeutic and gives your brain a rest.

3. Take a bath or shower. Ever have an eureka moment while showering? There’s something about immersing yourself in water that releases creative energy. In astrology, water is often associated with creativity and artistry, so any activity involving water may help “flush out” new innovative ideas.

4. Try something different. Do something you’ve never done before, says Christine Mason Miller, author of Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World in a recent Psyche Central article. Sign up for a cooking class, visit a nearby town you’ve never been to before, or go horseback riding if you’ve never done it. The key is to open your mind up to doing something different. If you experience something out of the ordinary, that new experience can spawn new creative ideas.

5. Make small changes. Sometimes making small changes to your environment can help you look at the world differently. Miller says whenever she falls into a creative rut, she will repaint a room, rearrange the furniture, or buy new pillows. Bringing something new into your environment can spark creative ideas.

6. Allow yourself to be bored. Author Jane Porter says our brains are too occupied with information, data, news and other stuff. Our brains are too busy, and all that busyness can kill creativity. It’s okay to be bored every so often. Think of it as part of the creative process.

7. Surround yourself with beautiful things. Visit a museum, listen to classical music or read poetry. Enjoy the sources of beauty and creativity that surround you. Seeing it in nature or seeing it in the works of other creative types can inspire you.

8. Embrace your creative rut. Realize that feeling stuck is part of the creative process. Once you understand this, you can embrace it for what it truly is – a reason to keep creating.

Creative ruts are inevitable. They’re a natural part of the creative process. They’re red flags alerting you that something is out of sync. When you fall into one, don’t fret. Recognize it for what it is – a chance to recharge your creative spirit so you can produce your best work.

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