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How to Escape a Creative Rut

If you’ve found yourself stuck in a creative rut, or feeling a lack of inspiration or motivation to create, it can be hard to know how to escape. I’d like to share a few ideas on how to rediscover your creative spark. It might be simpler than you think.



Sometimes, especially if you feel pressure to constantly be creative, to always be putting something new out into the world, inspiration can feel frustratingly fleeting. The pressure to create is important. There’s a reason we feel it. We know we have something to share, something to do. We want to accomplish something, to create something new. That’s a good thing. But sometimes, sometimes we just need to slow down.



Part I: Slow Down


A week ago, I was in Midtown Manhattan, and I had a couple hours to spare, so I went to Central Park. It was raining, and the sky was darkening, and I was surrounded by trees—basically, my ideal environment. I stumbled upon a place that, though I’ve lived in the city for my entire life, I’d never found before. It was a little nature preserve of sorts, a refuge in the middle of a busy city.


If you’re a creative person, it can often feel like there’s always pressure to keep on creating, to never stop. Especially in a place like New York City, there’s always so much going on, so much to do, so much that could be done. When the sky’s the limit, it can feel like you’re losing something if you ever take a moment to stop. But I think—and this is by no means a revolutionary idea, but it’s something that struck me recently—that you actually gain something when you stop and breathe. Just take in the world around you. Or perhaps, more accurately, go out of the way to find the world that’s around you that you don’t see as often.


But that pressure to create, it’s important, right? The thing is, if you’re always under the same pressure, I think the quality of your work, the quality of your life, even, can suffer. Even if your life is very exciting, it can be valuable to just have some time to breathe. To rest.


We’re not machines, though we sometimes may think of ourselves as that. We might like to be machines. I often wish I were more like a machine—I wish I could create more, be more consistent. And there definitely is value to pushing hard, to pushing yourself to your limits, to thinking outside the box, to trying new, hard things. And there are times when you need to push harder than others. There are times when you will create a lot, when it will seem like it’s effortless, like you are truly a machine of sorts. But it can’t last.



Part II: Find Inspiration


I think we all need some place, some thing, to escape to, to refuel our creativity. To find that spark again, that feeling that makes us want to create. Because if we don’t want to create things, what’s the point? Yes, there can be value to creating things even when you don’t enjoy the process. And not every part of writing a book or making a film or any other creative project is easy. There are challenges, yes, that’s part of any creative process. But we should always know why we embarked on this project. We should always know why we’re striving to create something. And for me, it’s getting outside, it’s seeing the beauty of nature, that’s one of the things that really inspires me to create. It shows me that there’s a bigger world outside of my own life. There is beauty and creativity to be found out in the world. Finding it can be as simple as going for a walk in a park.


It can feel isolating and repetitive, creating within the same four walls day after day. Which is why I think we can all benefit from escaping those walls. From getting outside, from getting a breath of fresh air. It really can be that simple.


I think an important part of creativity is doing unexpected things. Originality is prized for a reason. Now, of course, there’s no such thing as true originality in art, but that’s not what I’m getting at. What I mean is that sometimes, spontaneity can be fuel for inspiration, be fuel for creativity.


When I was walking around Central Park last week, I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t even have a purpose; I was just being. Just enjoying my surroundings. Now, perhaps nature is more revelatory to me than most because I spend a lot of my time in a city, but I think regardless of where you are, who you are, just getting outside, going to a new place in particular, without a plan, without a purpose, can be beneficial. Can spark something. Maybe you’ll find your next great idea waiting for you in the great outdoors, maybe not. I don’t think it matters. What matters is connecting with your creative self, which can sometimes be hard to find. It can sometimes feel like you’re just creating content, like you’re just churning out words or videos or art, whatever it may be. And I don’t think that’s fulfilling. At least, that’s not what I want to do. Not to sound too pretentious, but I want to create art. I want to create something that matters. To me, and hopefully to other people. And it’s hard to do that when you’re trapped in a cycle, trapped in a loop. The only way to break free of that loop is to go a different direction.


And going a different direction can be scary. It might not always look like you’re moving in the right direction, but that’s life—it’s not a straight path. And you never know. Sometimes it takes getting lost to find what you’re looking for.


I’m a pretty organized and planned person. I like to schedule my work, my life, and I like to have a good idea of where I’m going at all times. But sometimes it can be liberating, in a sense, to break free of that.


And it’s not always easy. It’s not always easy to take a break, to force yourself to slow down. Because that pressure is always there, the pressure to keep on doing, to create more, to create better. And that’s a good thing. That pressure is helpful; it’s necessary, even. But it can become suffocating sometimes, and it can be helpful to have an escape of sorts.



Part III: Create Spontaneously


When I took that walk last week, it brought to mind another idea. Spontaneous creativity. Or what I might call creating wildly. It’s experimenting. Creating extemporaneously. I think it’s a good way to break the pattern. To escape creative blocks.


If you’re stuck in a creative rut, one of the things I would recommend you try doing is creating something new, without a plan, just for the fun of it. Don’t overthink it, just make it. Experiment, have fun. Spontaneous creation is one of the things I do to keep myself creative.


If I’m stuck in a project, I’ll often switch over to a completely different one—different genre, different characters, different time period, even. What you learn from one project might transfer to a completely different one. And besides, it’s fun. It helps you avoid writer’s block, or whatever your equivalent is.


If you’re constantly doing the same thing day after day, that can be stifling for your creativity. It’s a big world. There are a lot of ideas, enough to keep you occupied for your entire life. So create what really matters to you.


But to enable yourself to create those important things, you sometimes have to take a step back. Try something completely new. Go for a walk. Start a new creative project. Create wildly. Explore. Find the road less traveled, and take a walk down it. You might find your next great idea waiting for you around the corner.


Creative freedom is important, I think. Even if you have to, or you’re supposed to, create a certain kind of thing, find ways to break outside of that, even if it’s just occasionally. Experimentation can yield unexpected results. But when you’re finding that new path or starting on that new project, I would recommend that you don’t plan it too much, that you don’t overthink it. The key here is exploration and spontaneity. Follow the path where it takes you.


It can often be helpful to think like you did when you were younger. If you’re like me, you weren’t nearly as concerned about quality when you were creating things as a kid. Now, I’m still young, I know that. But it can often be easy to start thinking in a way that’s more typical of adults, and more stifling of creativity.


So when you’re trying out a new creative experiment, don’t rush to judge yourself too quickly. Instead, approach your creative experiments with an open mind. You never know what you might create.



Conclusion


So if you find yourself in a creative rut, create spontaneously. Get outside. Disrupt the monotony of day to day life.


Try a new creative experiment. Go into it without a plan, without a purpose, without expectations or judgment of the final product. Sometimes you have to create not-so-great things so you can create really great things.


Be open to ideas. Explore the world around you. Take the road less traveled. Be as fearless and curious as a child. And don’t wait for the right moment or circumstances—they’re probably never going to come. Is it probably too dark right now to be filming? Yeah, sure, but I’m doing it anyway.


Find what inspires you and pursue that. Maybe, like me, it’s going outside, exploring nature. Whatever the case, take time to appreciate the beauty of the world around you. For me, and I think for you, it can be quite inspiring to just go outside. Exploring the world can be a wonderful way to find inspiration. You can’t always be creating nonstop. You have to take time to reflect. To recharge, to get inspiration again. You have to take time to refill the well of creativity.


Pressure to create is important, like I said, but it’s not the most important thing. You shouldn’t allow the pressure to be constant. Don’t always pressure yourself to be constantly thinking, creating. Sometimes, you just have to take a break. Stop. Reflect. Dream. Breathe.


And then get back to work.



Postlude


I shot most of this YouTube video, the transcript of which you've been reading, over five months ago, pretty much on a whim. I didn’t plan much ahead, I didn’t script anything, I just went into Central Park with a camera and a few ideas to share. So it’s an example of one of the philosophies I was talking about, the idea of creating spontaneously.


But here’s the thing—it didn’t go very well. I lost huge chunks of audio, and what did get recorded was all but ruined by the noisy streets of Manhattan so close by.


So I learned a few things. First of all, test your equipment before using it. The lavalier mic I brought kept getting unplugged from my phone, and it picked up way more external noise than I wanted.


Secondly, just don’t shoot anything with audio in the city. It’s a nightmare. I don’t know what I did to them, but you’d think the drivers in all of Midtown Manhattan were actively trying to drown out my voice with honking. So I had to re-record almost all of what I said.


The larger takeaway is this: creating things is messy, and it doesn’t always work. Especially if you’re going in without a plan, something’s probably going to fail. But I think that makes it all the more important to experiment. To create spontaneously. To dive into something before you’re ready. You will make mistakes, like I did, but you’ll learn from them.


You grow as an artist by doing things, trying things, out in the real world, not by endlessly planning a project and never starting it. If you don’t start making things, you won’t make mistakes, and if you don’t make mistakes, you won’t learn anything. You won’t get better.


So go out and create things. Fail, and learn.


If you want to watch the video versions of these blog posts, head over to my YouTube channel here, and subscribe for more videos on writing, publishing, and creativity.


– Grayson Taylor

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