I hit a dry spell. Again. (Photographically speaking). And not only that, I’ve hated my photos. I ditched Instagram for two weeks and am forcing myself to take and post photos this week.
Ever feel this way? Get in those ruts where you feel completely uninspired and everything you produce feels like junk? You don’t even want to pick up whatever it is you creatively do. No matter if it is a camera, paintbrush, scrapbook, or even opening Illustrator, Sketch or whatever computer program you use to get creative, most people hit a rut.
The thing is, it’s not the tools’ problem. It isn’t because they don’t work or aren’t good enough. Oh, I’ve told myself it’s because I need a bigger camera. I do but I don’t. I’ve outgrown mine, but it doesn’t mean I can’t produce great stuff with what I have. So it’s just an excuse. What’s your excuse?
It occurred to me while I was running it is the same with athletes. (Because this is always where stuff like this occurs to me). Athletes hit ruts all the time. They don’t want to practice, they think they’re terrible at their game, running, competition, etc, and they let it get to them. What’s their excuse? And better yet, how do they get back?
I quit running for a little while. Do you know how hard it is to push myself out the door to go on a run after being off like that? So I make up excuses. Then I stay away from running longer until finally one day I suck it up and do it. But it doesn’t make the day after that any easier. The next two weeks are tough. I am out of shape – but my body is only the tool. That is an excuse. Mentally I’m not there. It takes a lot of mental practice to get out there and begin again.
It is the same for creatives. When I avoid my camera for a while it gets harder to pick it back up. The first day is ok, but yes, the next several are still difficult to remember to pick it up and do it. It’s so hard to get back in to creative shape. We even start dreading what we create and develop a fear that our work is horrible. So we avoid it.
The thing is it may be horrible while we get back in shape. Running is. Shooting is. But we have to get back into creative shape. Once there, and I’m sure you know what this is like, you can’t stop and it feels good to get out there and create things, just like it feels good to get out there and work out once you are in shape.
How do you get there?
I bet you’ve heard lots of recommendations on how to get out of a creative rut, because I have. Any of them work for you? Some do and some don’t for me but when it comes down to it one thing works every time.
The easy answer is practice. Yeah, it’s easy to give as an answer, but the act is hard. Running is hard when first starting out, but you have to start somewhere. Just keep in mind how good it felt when you are in the midst of a project that fits your vision.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m running all the time I dream about racing. When I’m shooting a lot, I dream about photos and I actually see photos in my head as I look around at my day. It’s how I know I’m in photographic shape. When I frame a photo in my mind but see a lightpole that I don’t like, I automatically picture myself cloning it out. It’s a sickness maybe, but I know I’m on top of my game. When you are in creative shape, how do you know it?
To help you get back in shape, you have to start with one day at a time. For me that means shooting at least one photo everyday. Actually I choose one moment or situation and make many shots from many perspectives. I take it back to the basics and concentrate on light and composition. Just like running, or an athlete would when getting back in shape. You concentrate on the basics first and build a base before you start any crazy workouts or tweaking. The thing is, you have to show up everyday and just do it. Even if what you do feels terrible, there will be a day down the road that is not. For example, when I run the first week it’s a struggle to get 2 miles and it’s slow. Almost not worth it. But I know if I stick to it, those 2 miles will be easy in two weeks and I can start pushing towards finishing 3 or 4 miles. You have to build on what you do.
To get out of my photography rut, I take it back to composition and light. I’m only looking for mundane things that I know I can technically frame, or I shoot the light. After a week or two I’m doing it automatically again, and I can start concentrating on making better photos. What can you do to take it back to the basics after a dry spell? Once you figure that out, work your way to more advanced creating.
It also helps me, a lot, to have a partner or coach. They give encouragement, push you to continue, and correct you when you may be doing something wrong – or at least give you a different perspective. For me, I’m taking a workshop to help me get the mentoring I need. For my running, I have a friend who dragged me to run today even though I really didn’t want to go.
So what are you going to do in those times of dreaded creativity funks (or athletic funks)? Practice! Practice the basics again. Practice until you dream about it. Practice until it consumes you and everyone knows you have a passion for it again. See your craft everywhere and practice it until it is automatic for you. And don’t let your tools be an excuse. I believe God gives us the tools, it is up to us to use them graciously.