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Getting Unstuck

Updated: Apr 3, 2019

Has the creative well run dry?

It happens to everyone. The Muse takes a vacation, doesn't even leave a note, and we're left wondering whether we'll ever have another idea ever again...

Don't freak out. Your creativity is not broken. It's totally normal.


When that dry spell turns into a full-blown drought, then we've got a problem.

Here are a few reasons we may find ourselves- ahem- creatively constipated:

We set the bar too high

There was a period when I was in college that I went months without making a single thing. Granted, this might have had something to do with the piles of organic chemistry homework, but if I'm honest, the real reason that I could't eke out a single drawing had nothing to do with my academic load.

I'd been selling some of my work to pay for my books, and it had shifted my thinking about my art. Was the subject matter sell-able? Was it representative of my technical skill? Was it good enough to be judged by the patrons of coffeehouses on the west side of Cincinnati? In short, I'd set my bar at an unrealistic height. I'd built a wall that dictated all works had to be marketable, or they were not worth the time and effort.

With those kind of parameters, it's no wonder that the task of creating art suddenly seemed daunting.

Needless to say, my output reflected this fact. I made nothing.

We micromanage our creativity

In addition to meeting the above (unrealistic) requirements, I'd run up against another creative block: I had begun thinking very narrowly about the kinds of art I allowed myself to create.

I was a painter. I was a canvas painter. I was a canvas painter in acrylics who specialized in a vary particular type of subject matter, portrayed in a very specific pallet and style.

I'd pigeon-holed myself into the smallest of possible boxes, effectively shrinking my creative capacity. I'd left myself no room to be, well, creative.

We take ourselves WAY too seriously

If it's not already apparent from the above point, during this period, I took myself and my art way too seriously.

My approach was serious. My work was serious. My execution was so freakin' serious.

Everything was clinical, reductionist... sterile. Not only was I not having any fun as a creator, but my art was lacking in any sort of spirit. There was no energy there. No feeling. It was as if a robot had tried to be a painter. Everything was technically right, but it lacked the human-ness that makes art, well, art.

We slack on our self-care

As the flight attendant says, "Put on your own oxygen mask first, before attempting to create art for others" (or, something like that.) We are whole human beings. We must care for ourselves as whole human beings. As convenient as it would be, we can't disassociate our creative selves from the rest of our person.

In my case, this meant I couldn't expect to be able to create art for others, if I couldn't even fill my own creative cup. In the more literal sense, this means that we can't expect to create our best work when we're short on sleep, or nutritious food, or we're super stressed (hello, organic chemistry). As ubiquitous as the cliche of the "tortured artist" may be, suffering rarely makes us into our most productive selves.

So what do we do? Is there a prune juice for the creative plumbing? Is there a quick way to get a free refill?

There are lots of strategies for hacking our creative habits, and I'd be happy to share some, but all the Liquid Plumber in the world isn't going to be as effective as working on the things that get you stuck in the first place.

Notice when you're limiting yourself. You are limitless.

Don't keep your creativity in a cage. We want free-range creative beasts.

Have a sense of humor about yourself, for heaven's sake!

Don't be afraid to have fun, shake things up, expand, experiment. Don't paint yourself into a corner.

And you know what else?

Sometimes it's okay to take a break, and work on other parts of ourselves while The Muse takes her sweet time.

Just tell her to bring you back a t-shirt.

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