Running on creative fumes
October 6, 2014 9:23 PM   Subscribe

What do you do to rejuvenate your creative side?

I'm a pretty creative person by nature, I work in the arts + draw almost every day. I love watching movies/tv series and reading through some books. But lately I've been feeling pretty dry, creatively. All too often I find myself dwelling on mundane things, like my list of to-dos…what to make for dinner…worries/plans for the future… These are all perfectly normal and necessary thoughts, but I feel like I'm mentally dragging a bit, like I'm less "present" because my mind is always drifting and worrying about other stuff. I feel like I'm in a bit of a rut.

I miss noticing the small, neat things going on in the world around me and being inspired by them to come up with stories. It's harder to think of things to draw when I'm starting a new art piece. I can remember times when it felt like my brain was firing on all cylinders and my imagination was humming, but it's been a while.

So what do you do when you're feeling creatively stuck? How do you get back to that mentally upbeat and focused state? Maybe what I'm asking is how to get back in touch with your inner kid, and view the world with a little more wonder. All suggestions welcome!
posted by sprezzy to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Ever since I've read a segment in this interview with Joss Whedon, I've realized that he's right:

"The last piece of advice on that level is fill the tanks, fill the tanks, fill the tanks. Constantly watch things and things you don’t [normally watch]. Step outside your viewing zone, your reading zone. It’s all fodder but if you only take from one thing then it’ll show."

Watch and read things that aren't what you normally consume, across a wide range - history books, nonfiction, documentaries, economics textbooks, science abstracts, coding tutorials, science fiction. Watch lectures, sit in on talks, etc. I find that it works great for me, often in unexpected ways; I'll have great ideas when talking/reading/thinking about something relatively unrelated.
posted by suedehead at 9:56 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, I'll tell you my little insight into creativity. Make of it what you want.

Creativity isn't the production of ideas from nothing. It's the combination of other ideas in novel ways.

A person who really prizes creativity will naturally shy away from repeating old ideas. So, it might be possible that you're having trouble being creative because you haven't had new things to combine. So, maybe try cultivating an interest in something new? For instance, everyone has posts in the Blue that they skip over, because they're not in an area they're interested in. Next time you do this, maybe pick one of them and follow the links and read the comments. It might not turn out to be interesting to you, but it might become your new favorite thing. And I've found that finding new favorite things is a marvelous spark for ingenuity.

Even if a lack of things to combine isn't the source of your block, it can be a good way to find new enthuiasm, which might also be part of it.
posted by JHarris at 9:57 PM on October 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I haven't read it myself, but a lot of people adore The Artist's Way for just this sort of thing. A concept I have found pretty useful is the idea of taking your "inner artist" on dates. Here's a decent blog post that explains it better than I can.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:28 PM on October 6, 2014

I sympathize! I've found I feel more and more like this as I get older. Some things that work for me:

1. Regular exercise makes a huge difference to my creativity. If I go for a run on some days, and take long walks on my non-running days, my writing flows much more easily. Interestingly, I've noticed that if I listen to podcasts while I run, I don't get the same creativity boost -- it seems like too much conscious focus interferes with whatever unconscious process is going on.

2. I am trying to do some simple meditation, to practice controlling my focus.

3. I give myself an objective, time-limited goal. EG, write 250 words in the next hour. They don't have to be good words-- it's fine if I end up deleting them all. I just need to get them on paper. I find that can be freeing. By giving myself the goal of just writing crap, I somehow free myself to write interesting and good things.

4. Sometimes, none of those techniques help. After years of observing my own process, I have come to accept that there will be creative dry spells. My brain just needs a certain amount of downtime. Yours might be the same.
posted by yankeefog at 3:08 AM on October 7, 2014

Three things, one of which is not like the others.

1. Consume a different type of media. Sometimes I fall into deep pits of dance videos. Sometimes I'm fascinated by quilling and marbling and other papercraft techniques. Sometimes I get really into typography, or throat singing, or window displays, or hair styling. Consume a new thing. Not just a new genre (though that's good too) but a different art medium entirely. Woodcraft? Lego design? Circus? Epic poetry? Cooking?

2. Create in a different type of media. Of course don't expect to be a master or anything, and don't break the bank, but try a different thing. This could be as small a shift as going from primarily black and white ink drawings to using color, all the way to trying out modern dance when you usually write short stories, or somewhere in between like learning how to knit. You can try creating in the same media that you're newly consuming but you don't have to (and often it's more interesting to combine the aspects of one into the other if they're different.)

3. The one that's not like the others: Take a break. Don't pressure yourself. Let your mind focus on the mundane for a while and reorganize, relax, reflect. Give yourself permission and space to not be creative unless you want to be, but do give yourself a deadline. A month, three months, maybe. Something that lines up with your life schedule. You can push through a dry spell but unless your job is on the line, give yourself time and see if maybe you start finding the wonderful in the mundane again once you've focused on the boring but pressing life stuff that seems to be taxing you.
posted by Mizu at 3:45 AM on October 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've read that there is, biologically, a connection between creativity and exposure to the unfamiliar (so, consistent with the comments above, seek out the unfamiliar!). Sorry I can't spend more time to track down the cite, but here are some practical suggestions from someone blogging on the topic at a blog called The Bane of Your Resistance: [Accidental Tourist]

"Opportunities for random encounters with the unfamiliar is one of the prime benefits of travel. We can expand our creativity by challenging ourselves to be tourists in our own towns:
o eat a restaurant in a neighborhood you rarely visit
o go to a play or concert in a school your kids don’t attend
o tune into a radio station that you never listen to
o explore a store you’d never shop in and ask questions
o spend a half hour watching a channel selected by a random number generator
o go to a tourist attraction in your area that you haven’t visited in years

Where do you find random? Please comment — I really want to know because I know I need more random."
posted by mmiddle at 6:28 AM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find that the more time I spend with creative friends the more creative I feel. So heading out for drinks with creative friends is my first step for getting the ideas flowing again.
posted by advicepig at 6:58 AM on October 7, 2014

Imagine the complete opposite of what you want to be creative about.

Writing a story about a chef? Write a story about a poisoner.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:15 AM on October 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way." She advocates: regularly going on excursions outside your normal orbit & keeping a daily journal. The book goes into great detail (with assignments and projects) on why/how this would work etc.
posted by mrmarley at 10:01 AM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find inspiration/great art is about passion. There may be a reason why you are feeling less passionate about subjects that have inspired you in the past. I suspect that there are some issues and subjects that do inspire passion in you. If they are in new territory, go there.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:37 AM on October 7, 2014

I find that travel really gets my creative juices flowing. If you can afford it, travel as widely as you can and/or feel comfortable with.
posted by McMillan's Other Wife at 11:27 AM on October 7, 2014

For drawing I've been in a rut, this month on Social Media is "Inktober" where people post ink doodles. You do one every day, and I find that even though I'm not really inspired to draw anything the act of doing something (and I must post something once a day, not to break the chain) has helped a little bit in getting back into practice.
posted by hellojed at 5:19 PM on October 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Help With Zombie Makeup, But Not Really Gross...   |   Should I end it with my great companion of a SO? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.