Have you ever been in a creative rut? (Yeah, who hasn’t, right?)
I’m in a bit of a rut right now. Watch the video for my off-the-cuff, “first thoughts” thinking about ruts and how to get out of them. Keep reading for a fuller story…
A couple of years ago I started making art again after a long, resistance-fueled “hiatus.” At first I had no idea what I wanted to create, but in keeping with the intention behind what later became rule number five of my 10 Rules for the Creative Sandbox (If you don’t know where to start, start anywhere – click to tweet!), I just started.
The first day or two was mighty uncomfortable. I loved the process of making messes with paint and ink, but the outcomes were less than thrilling.
Actually, I hated them.
Thankfully, one of the very first rules I set for myself was what would later become rule number two of my 10 Rules for the Creative Sandbox: It doesn’t matter whether you like it or hate it; what matters is joy in the process. (Click to tweet this!)
So I focused on playing and having fun, and did my best to let it go when I felt like the outcome was crap.
Just Do It
I figured this period of “cranking out crap” might take awhile, so I settled in for the long haul, but much to my surprise, within just a few days ideas started popping like popcorn. I started actually liking what I was making, and things began to flow.
Suddenly I was in a groove, and it felt great!
I couldn’t wait to start my fifteen minutes making art each day, and often fifteen minutes stretched out into much longer.
From February 1 to December 31, 2011, after over a decade of making almost no art for myself (except once a year at my calligraphy retreat), I made over 150 finished pieces!
In keeping with what was later to become rules number three and four of my 10 Rules for the Creative Sandbox (Think quantity, not quality, and Think tiny (and daily) – click to tweet!), I intentionally made these pieces tiny. I wanted to keep my investment small, so the fear-of-using-up-expensive-materials gremlin and the fear-of-“ruining”-a-piece-I’d-already-put-hours-of-time-into gremlin wouldn’t make me choke. And I wanted to get away from my usual M.O. of working very meticulously and slowly.
I wanted to be prolific, dammit, and I wanted to learn by cranking out a lot of pieces.
We get better by doing, after all, not by dreaming about doing. (Click to tweet this!)
I called the little pieces I’d made “ArtSparks,” and a couple of months after I started making them, I upped the ante by adding some external accountability. I knew being accountable to others would keep me on track way better than merely being accountable to me, so I started the Not Quite Daily ArtSpark Newsletter, which initially sent out a new ArtSpark every weekday.
It was great. I was more prolific than I’d ever been, and I was learning, growing, feeding my creative spirit, and having fun!
Time to Rotate the Pots
Eventually, though, other passions on my passion pluralite stovetop called out to me, wanting to get off the back burner. I wanted to spend more time writing and making music, and honestly, the time and energy required to scan the ArtSparks, prep the images, and create the newsletters was wearing on me. (I think that may have taken more time than making the art did!)
So I scaled back on ArtSpark issues, taking it from five times a week to two, then one. And eventually, I sent the ArtSpark Newsletter on hiatus.
Honestly, it was a relief not to have yet another deadline hanging over my head. But I was also a bit anxious that, without the external accountability, I wouldn’t make as much art.
I was right. My output went down dramatically. I was gentle with myself, because after all, I was still creating, just in different forms: writing or making music or making videos.
But still, whenever I got to my drafting table to make art, it made me happy. I felt better afterwards. Sometimes I was utterly delighted with what I made, and other times I didn’t particularly like them at all, but I reminded myself that this didn’t matter — what mattered was that I was doing it, and getting joy from that.
A Groove Deepens Into a Rut
Time went on. The periods of not “clocking in” at my drafting table got longer.
Partly I was busy with other stuff, yes. But partly, I realized, I was in a rut.
Actually, I am in a rut. As in right now.
See, what happens when you just start is eventually things start to flow, and you get into a lovely groove. This part feels great! We love grooves!
But when grooves go on for long enough, they can deepen into ruts, without you even realizing what has happened.
A groove is comfortable, but in a slightly uncomfortable way. That’s why it’s exciting and fun! You have a direction, but you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.
There’s still a bit of uncertainty, which keeps you on your toes.
When enough of the uncertainty wears away, when you know most of the answers, when there’s none of the sheen of newness anymore, it loses its excitement. You might hate to admit it, but you get kind of bored.
Rut City, baby.
Yep, I do hate to admit it, but that’s where I am right now.
The Key to Climbing Out
The good news is that getting out of a rut is really not that hard. It might be uncomfortable, but heck, we already know that the most important thing you can do to achieve any goal is get comfortable with discomfort! (Click to tweet this!)
The key to getting out of a rut is basically the same as the key to getting past a block: do something.
Tired of making the same old art/writing/music/whatever? So try something new!
Try a new medium. Try a new prompt. Try painting with your other hand. It really doesn’t matter — just do something.
You don’t get out of a rut or past a block by thinking about it. You’ve got to take action. (Click to tweet this!)
Really, that’s it.
I won’t get out of my rut by intellectualizing. I won’t even get out of my rut by writing to you about it. I’ll get out of my rut by planting my sweet self over at my drafting table and trying stuff.
I never know what I’ll create when I sit down at my drafting table, but for a couple of years I’ve had a bit of a rough idea — a small, spontaneous work on paper, an ArtSpark (as they’ve been defined up til now). Now I really have no idea what I will create, and that’s really exciting!
A bit scary, to, but with my Creative Sandbox Rules, I know fear’s not going to stop me.
Squee! I’m buzzing with anticipation for my next sandbox session!
I’ll keep you posted!
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!