How to Dig Yourself Out of a Creative Slump

It’s an awful, crappy (insert additional expletives) feeling when you’re in a creative slump, no matter what you’re working on, whether its writing, painting, or a new business proposal. Everyone goes through it — and yet it manages to be a terribly isolated feeling, like you’re trapped inside a dank, dark cave with no sign of rescue on the horizon.

Here are some things you can to do to help pull yourself out of the mire. Or, rather, I should say, here are a few things I’m currently doing to try to dig myself out of my own current slump. As with most bits of advice, your mileage may vary.

Seek Community Engagement

Go out and find fellow artists, writers, creators with which to interact. You can do this online, but if you’re really stuck, I recommend seeking a face-to-face experience. It provides a different level of osmosis. On a really good day, you can feel their excitement, their creativity energy coming off them. I don’t think of this as stealing, so much as basking in their sunlight. It’s great for gathering inspiration

My most recent foray was to attend Writers with Drinks at the Make-Out Room in San Francisco this weekend. Charlie Jane Anders is a live electrical wire on the stage and she always selects amazing writers to perform. It was a fantastic event and I felt energized by the end, excited to get some of my own words down.

Read Things That Inspire You

Books are full of inspiration. When I read an excellent poem or novel, I find myself buzzing. It’s a connection with wonderful, amazing, captivating words that I would never have thought of in a million epochs, and somehow instead of sitting around feeling jealous (okay, maybe a little jealous), I find myself driven to want to write my own words, to try and approach that same level of awesome and inspire someone else.

Likewise, books about writing or art can be wonderfully inspiring. A good book on creative techniques will make you want to jump up and try a particular suggestion.

I recently completed and recommend Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon, which is more of an inspirational, rather than practical, how-to book. It dispenses some of the epiphanies Kleon has come to discover over the course of his life as a creative artist and writer.

Most of these epiphanies felt rather elementary to me, being things I already knew or had a sense of — such as, “Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use – do the work you want to see done.” And yet, though this is not new information, I still found it refreshing to hear this advice again. The easier or more common a piece of advice is, the easier it is to push that advice to the back or your mind. Reading them again, reminds me and reinvigorates me.

The titular bit of advice, “Steal like an artist,” Kleon reveals is in a sense another way of saying, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” The idea isn’t to enact plagiarism, but to know that every experience, every book read, movie watched, every debate with a good friend intensely discussed feeds the creative machine of your mind. This both frees up artists trapped in the desperate search for originality to just sit down and create work, while also urging them to seek out experiences that best feed their work, enacting a kind of selective inspiration.

Most of the advice in Steal Like an Artist is designed to free the artist from obstacles, so that they create. It’s a perfect book to read when you’re feeling stuck.

Get Away from the Screen

Step away from the computer, the iPad, the TV, or whatever. This is one of Kleon’s pieces of advice, as well. There’s something powerful about working in the physical realm instead of on a screen. It engages different parts of the brain – plus, doodling or writing with a pencil lets you enact rage scribbling and paper crumpling and other emotion purging actions that a (expensive) screen denies. I find when I work out of a physical notebook, it triggers ideas and word flow that I wouldn’t normally get from writing on my laptop.

Reach for Small Accomplishments

Make it teeny, tiny. Make it the easiest little bit that you could possibly do.

For example, I recently set a daily goal of writing for 10 minutes a day – barely enough time to get a paragraph or two down. But once I finish those 10 minutes I know I’ve accomplished something: I put words on the page. And, more often than not, I find myself writing past the 10 minutes and putting down more words than expected.

Think about what sort of small goals might induce you to get started.

Anchor Yourself and Face the Blank Page

At a certain point, you have to just sit down in front of the terrifying chasm of the blank page and force yourself to put one word down, then two. Words will lead to sentences will lead to paragraphs will lead to a completed that may not be brilliant, but at least will be something.

I’m not saying it will be easy.

My Sunday involved me sitting at my laptop for over an hour, too paralyzed to do much more than stare at the screen or hold my face in the palm of my hands, groaning in despair. Every little word I typed hurt. It felt like I was drawing words through my skin like steel wire. But the more I wrote, the easier it got until I had a nice little rhythm going.

Sometimes you just have to force yourself to write, draw, paint, whatever, despite how much it sucks. Eventually, the sense of rhythm returns, the feeling of habitual action that leads to work getting done.

Be Gentle With Yourself

When you’re in a slump (or in most cases, really), giving yourself an emotional beating for not meeting or achieving a specific goal is less than helpful. Be gentle, be kind. You’ll find your way out of the dark. You will get back in the swing and rhythm of your creative flow. I promise.