The Creative Rut

There are not many things that scare me in the same way as when I feel stuck in a creative rut. Every time it happens I seriously worry that it’ll last forever, that the fulfilment that comes from being focused on creating art will never be mine again. I worry that I’ll have to redefine my life because I can’t be an artist any longer!

You may think all this sounds a little over dramatic, but remember that most artists do quit being artists for good at some stage in their lives. Ruts aren’t just a slow day. They last weeks and some times months. And the longer they persist, the more worried I get.

The really scary thing about them is that you never see them coming. I go along doing just fine happily making art, and then – one morning – nothing. I have no motivation to go into my studio. If I do, I find all sorts of creative ways to procrastinate. I clean, reorganize, move things around, I become fanatic about paperwork. Anything so I don’t have to face the fact that I have no creative juice available that day, or the next day, or the day after that….

I’ve learned through the years to identify some of the triggers. Some ruts come when a series of work as run its course, when continuing to work with it doesn’t stimulate creativity anymore. It’s easy to want to keep pushing forward creating the kind of art that has worked well in the past. But experience has taught me that creating is an act of discovery. Trying to hold on to a process or a genre can trigger a creative rut.

Consuming distractions that last for an extended period of time will also derail a creative flow. My summer renovations proved that, for sure! But it’s now the first week of November and I’m finally feeling my creative juices coming back.

“Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working,” affirmed American sculptor Stephen DeStaebler. That is never more true than at the end of a creative rut. At some point I become so agitated about not creating work that I’m good with creating anything at all that will bring me back to my studio. That’s when I finally surrender and let go of what I was doing to discover what else I can do. In that sense, those ruts may be the necessary mental pause we need in order to be able to revisit the way we see things and the way we can express them.

But still, there are a few things we can do to get back into a creative flow. In her blog 7 ways to get out of a creative rut, Margarita Tartakovsky shares some of those tricks.

  1. Create space

“This can be anything from taking a walk to looking out the window to taking a shower. In other words, it simply means doing something else – that is, other than stewing in your dry spell.”

  1. Be present

“Presence is about aligning our attention in the moment, instead of letting our minds be endlessly divided by internal worries, chatter [and] reminders. Being in the present is what lets you access inspiration and creative energy.”

  1. Change something small

Make small changes in your physical environment like painting a wall, cleaning up your supply shelves, etc.

  1. Shake things up

“Trying new things on a regular basis or doing the opposite of what you’ve been doing. Creativity is enhanced by our ability to look at things from as many different perspectives as possible.”

  1. Commit to a project publicly

If accountability works for you, this is a good one. That’s what all those one painting a day challenges you see on social media are all about. I am doing one myself right now with my artist collective DEVENIR

  1. Celebrate your failures

“They can be a great source of new ways of thinking,”

  1. Simply show up

“The quality of whatever you’re working on doesn’t matter. What does matter is the follow-through and being there, in your creative space”

I am sensing that my most recent rut is dissipating and it’s a serious relief. I’m back in the studio, I’ve tidied up all the loose ends on my other projects, (it’s been a very long rut), and I’m feeling creative energy coming my way. And best of all, I’m looking forward to hibernating in my studio to see what I can produce with all that renewed energy.








4 thoughts on “The Creative Rut

  1. Molly

    This is a huge problem I have with writing too, the total lack of original ideas or motivation. In The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin, her main character, Shevek, is a brilliant physicist who does all of this groundbreaking work, but he also goes months, sometimes years, without producing anything, or even working on anything! That book really made me reconsider the capitalist requirement for constant production, I’ve come to see ruts as part of the creative process rather than antithetical to it. Of course, that doesn’t help when deadlines are looming, haha, but it makes ruts seem less daunting for sure! 🙂

  2. Gisèle V

    That’s a good one! But ruts are part of the creative process, and may be scary, the same way that true creativity is all about taking risks. If there was never any doubt, fear or risk, we would be happy little automatons standing by the conveyor belt of daily life, producing the same widget, day in day out. I’m in a bit of a jam at the moment over one fragment in my current manuscript, but I have learned not to let the beast run me down. I now see this state as a challenge to channel creativity into a riskier and more interesting place.
    Our languages are funny; often inaccurate. The word “rut” also means a period of sexual excitement, at least for the male deer or ram, for instance, and which will result in mating and, then, in creating a new life. Isn’t that something!

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