What Do You Do When You're in a Creative Rut?
Working as a creative certainly has its perks. You get to have a certain level of flexibility, get to do something you love, and you get to create something—an illustration, a script, a design, a painting, a video. But like any line of work, creative pursuits come with challenges.
Flexible working hours can mean not working 9 to 5, but burning the midnight oil even on weekends. And no amount of passion or love for what you do will make you immune from burnout. The creative process often also needs inspiration and as any creative professional knows, it’s not always going to be there when you need it. There will be times when you might feel stuck and devoid of ideas.
When you’re in a creative rut—whether due to burnout, fear of failure, or a repetitive routine—we don’t necessarily have the luxury to just wait for inspiration to hit. So, what can you do to get "unstuck” or remove the block? How do you push forward when it seems the well’s run dry? Some of Common Room’s artists and makers share what has worked for them when they find themselves in a creative rut.
Do something else.
For both Elly Ang and Louise Ramos, when they find themselves in a creative rut, they do other things unrelated to their work. Danger in Design maker and designer Elly heads to the kitchen to bake with her sister. For her, it still gets her creative juices flowing. “It’s a break from doing illustrations and conceptualizing, and you get a little treat in the end!”
Artist Louise Ramos swears by stepping away from work during a creative rut. “Stirring myself away has often worked for me. I never like what I'm able to come up with during a creative rut so I just don't.” She gets into, what she calls her other obsessions: video games, K-pop, books and YA novels. “Being away from art makes me miss it enough to want to do it again. It'll come back.”
Go back to the basics.
When Cat Limson, the maker behind Bedazzled Accessories and three other retail businesses, is “not inspired to create or make something new,” she sticks to the basics. For a creative entrepreneur this means she doesn’t force herself to come up with new designs when she’s not up to it. “This will just stress me out.”
She knows that working on her staples, the products that she needs to stock up on for her partner shops, are equally important for her business. “So in times when I don’t feel like making something new, it’s okay, because we still have a lot of other designs to produce.”
If you can, consider stepping away from your desk or your screen. “Going to museums and galleries helps, just to soak in the art and culture,” suggests Elly. “Instead of being cooped up at your desk, go out for some fresh air…a change of scenery helps.”
It’s the same for Louise. “I like to take long walks and on some days, just bask in doing nothing. Sometimes, it takes a few days. Other [times], much, much longer. But I've always believed in seasons. There's a time to bloom and a time to just take in the rain.”
For any creative, this sentiment rings true—there are times when you get into the flow of creating so easily, other times, it’s like pulling teeth. And if you often work with a deadline, you have to carry on with or without inspiration.
So even before burnout or creative blocks come knocking at the door, artist Cheryl Owen has made it a habit to get out and hit the outdoors as much as possible. “Waiting for the motivation or inspiration to come isn't sustainable in the long run,” she says. When her schedule allows it, she runs outdoors and goes on hikes during weekends. “This resets my mind and keeps my creative juices flowing.”
Kimberly Tiam-Lee, the designer behind Pulseras by Kim has ADHD, which she says makes her predisposed to impulsivity. For her as a maker, this means “having spur-of-the-moment ideas on how pieces can be made or designed is how I usually operate.” She’s never found herself forcing ideas or inspiration.
Her creative block is not being able to focus. “With so many things going through my head, I actually need to take time to meditate and calm myself down in order to focus on working on one thing at a time,” she says.
Meditation and other mindfulness practices have been known to enhance creativity. According to Harvard Business Review, many studies have already shown its positive effects on reducing stress and how it opens our mind to new ideas.
Give yourself time.
It will be different for each of us. It can just be taking yourself out on a coffee date for an hour, diligently cleaning all your shelves for the entire afternoon, or going on a quick walk around your office building because you have to turn in something by EOD.
Cat, who has to create designs for bracelets and other accessories, Hallyu-inspired items (for her brand, K-Bang), and journaling and paper products (for another brand, Stories for Sepi) gives herself time “to take in everything first and gain more confidence to actually do it.”
She explains, “Me time is very important. I make sure that I have a clear headspace before I start a project. I research, make mood boards. I am more motivated to work when I’m sure of what I’m doing.”
Be kind to yourself.
Hey, we’ve all been there. Getting stuck or overwhelmed with what we need to illustrate, design, write, shoot, paint, and not knowing where to start or how to begin again.
Hannah Armada of Studio Haebi shares in a previous interview about rebranding her business, that when she was afraid of making and releasing her new collection, she had to deal with her fears first. It took her a year. “You have to be patient with yourself… You have to allow yourself—even if it’s a gruesome wait, even if it takes you such a long time—to get over it, you have to allow yourself that process.”
Cat admits she finds herself in a creative rut right now as she hasn’t made anything new for the past month. She’s been fulfilling bulk orders since the start of the year and she hasn’t found the time to make something new. “But I’m being kinder to myself by letting myself rest, relax, and heal.” She’s taking it one day at a time.
There are many different things we can do to get out of a creative rut. When they don’t always work, show yourself a little compassion. Elly reminds us, “No matter how long it takes, art will always welcome you home.”