If you consider yourself a “creative” (a term I kind of hate using because aren’t we all creative in some way? Also it just brings to mind imagery of every smug “creative” type I’ve ever known and puts a bad taste in my mouth which is admittedly my own baggage but maybe you relate? This intro is already too long), then maybe you’ve gone through a slump.
A period of days or weeks or months (hi.) or even years (hello!) when your brain and heart just didn’t combine forces to do the thing you love for them to do.
When our brains betray us in this way, it can be damn near impossible not to spiral out in frustration. I’m certainly no expert on the topic (although I do have years on years of experience with plateaus of almost every sort…), but I’ve put together this list of 9 ways to break through a creative plateau that have worked for me in the past, in hopes that one (or two, or all) of them will help you flip that switch and get back to creatin’!
1. Take a break
I know, it sounds counter-intuitive. We want our creative brains to work, not be distracted. But sometimes taking a break from the thing that you’re working on can be the ticket to getting those ideas flowing again. I’m not saying back off forever, but take a scheduled break. Whether that means a 20-minute walk around the block or a 2-week full-blown vacation from your craft. Schedule it, then DO it.
If inspiration strikes during that time? Go with it! But don’t, under any circumstance, force it, or expect it.
Another important piece of this – note that I said a scheduled break. With a date and time in mind to return. Schedule it, and honor it. This is not permission to abandon your work, this is permission to give it space and let it (and yourself) breathe. Without that return time, you can very easily find yourself saying “I’m going to take a break from (blank) and I’ll come back to it when I’m feeling inspired” and then the next thing you know you haven’t blogged or touched your camera in like 8 months. I mean…you haven’t done whatever it is that YOU do. Def not speaking from experience here.
2. Get some variety in your consumption
Most of us have our favorite ways of consuming art/media/creativity. Some people abhor television and film and only read. Others can’t get enough classical art, and would rather go to a gallery or museum than pick up a book. Whatever your *thing* is that usually provides inspiration? Switch it up!
If you’re used to relying on words, go hang out at an art museum or gallery. If painting is your thing, go dine at a restaurant that’s known for their creativity with flavors and presentation. Film more your deal? Challenge yourself to read 5 non-film related articles, just to give your brain a stretch.
Even if inspiration doesn’t hit (and it might not, but try not to get discouraged!) look at those cells you’re exercising that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Regardless of our opinions on art, creativity, what counts or doesn’t count as a craft (and honestly who is so presumptuous as to say they know? Get out of here with that.), I think we can all agree that reading words challenges the brain in a special way that other mediums might not.
Reading doesn’t come easily for everyone, and some people just don’t enjoy it. I totally understand and I’m not saying go speed read War and Peace here. Just try to read a little each day. It forces our brains into imagery. Pushes us to comprehend. Plants us, even momentarily, in the author’s shoes and gives us a different perspective.
That perspective may be terrible, but it’s different from ours and challenges us in a new way, which can only do good things for these creative brains we lug around.
4. Go outside
Nature! Think of how many creative mediums RELY on nature, and how creative nature itself IS. It feels SILLY to call it creative, THAT’S how creative it is.
Seriously. Go outside. Even if it’s just a walk around your yard or down the block. If you’re in a rural area, pay attention to everything your senses pick up. Sights, smells, all of it. If you’re in an urban area, do the same thing, and pay special attention to the pieces of nature that force themselves into the space. Plants growing through sidewalks. Birds stealing bread. Cats. Pretty much take any excuse to look out for cats.
Go outside, and breathe it all in.
5. Check in on your peers
Okay, while I fully endorse this advice, I also issue this disclaimer: be careful with this one.
When I say check in on your peers, I don’t mean stalk them and then compare yourself to them. And I DEFINITELY don’t mean copy their ideas. (DO NOT DO IT.)
Use their art as a gentle reminder of why you started what you do in the first place. Why you love it. And, note that I said NO copying, but if there’s some piece of what they do that really resonates with you, consider how you can adapt to fit your unique needs. Do they post updates on their art to social media in the morning instead of at night? Maybe that works for you because you’re awake in the morning and working on your craft at night, and it’s been really hard for you to balance your social media promotion. Bingo – adopting this strategy might be a step in the right direction.
Want to know more? Reach out! We all know how lonely the Isle of Creativity can be when we’re the only ones on it. Reach out to your peers. Grab coffee. Talk shop. Or don’t! There’s not much that feels better than making a true connection with someone who also loves the thing you love.
6. Try something new
I won’t sugar coat it, this can be HARD. I have about 3-ish things that I’m actually good at, and when all 3 of them were just completely stuck, I decided to try some new mediums that I knew — just KNEW I was going to be mediocre at best.
I won’t bore you with the details, but I enthusiastically tried my hand at painting, hand-lettering, and guitar. You will note, that I do not boast success in any of those areas.
BUT. There’s something so fun and enriching about giving your brain a shot and just trusting it to do what it does, even with stuff you know it hasn’t historically been great at.
7. Do some free-association writing
Sometimes breaking through a plateau is as simple as tricking your brain into identifying the problem. This is a fun exercise I do from time to time when I feel cloudy, and it couldn’t be easier. Put your pen on the paper, set a timer for 3 min (or more if you’re feeling up to it) and just write.
Don’t try to make it make sense, but if it does, that’s okay too! Sometimes I’ll end up writing words my brain thinks are pretty. Sometimes it’s very specific about the emotions I’m feeling. Sometimes it’s just gibberish that I read through after and realize is mostly items I’ve been circulating in my head to put on a grocery list. Whatever it is, it gives you a little insight into where you’re at, which gives you insight on where to start.
(Note, this is different than a “brain dump” where you write down everything you’re worried/stressed about so you can keep it from floating around in your head. While different, those are also awesome, and highly encouraged.)
8. Clean your space
Respect your art, give your work room to breathe, and clean up the area you work in. I know it can be really challenging when you’ve got a deadline approaching and haven’t eaten real food or showered in longer than you care to mention and just don’t have time to do anything but keep your eye on the prize. I get that.
And while even in those circumstances I think a quick 2-minute straighten up session can work wonders, that’s not what I mean. When your work has slowed down (and if your work never slows down, schedule this into your time), clean your space. Get rid of things you won’t use. Then use actual cleaning products to remove dirt and dust from the area. I literally just did this before I sat down to write, and I cannot TELL you the difference it makes to have that coffee ring gone and all the cat hair off my desk.
Clean it up. Your brain will feel so much better.
9. Just do it.
This isn’t glamorous. And if your creativity is a hobby that you don’t want to force? Feel free to skip this step. But if it’s a hobby you’d like to eventually turn into a career (hi.) or already your career (jealous.), then sometimes you just have to look at that blinking cursor, those brushes, the flowers before you waiting to be arranged, the ingredients on the counter waiting to be prepared into something delicious…and just do it.
If you mess it up, that’s okay. But logic says if you want to keep going, you can’t quit. Those two end games do not exist in the same universe. If you’ve tried everything else on this list and you’re still stuck, try barreling through and see where it gets you. Who knows, maybe it will get you off that plateau for good.
Any other tips to add? As always, I’d love to hear.