Breaking Out of a Creative Rut

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Have you ever felt tired of your photography or art? Like you don’t feel like picking up a camera or when you do you aren’t excited about what comes out. Or maybe you feel like you aren’t improving when you should. Or what you create is never good enough.

I’ve been there. Many times. But none was worse than this past time. Some people call them creative ruts, some just feel tired with their work, others only call it uninspired. No matter, it’s not a pretty place.

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I was happily bumping along, shooting, processing and ok with what I created. I was portfolio building and thought things were moving along well. Then it inched up on me, at least I believe that feeling inched up on me because I didn’t notice until I was sick of my photos. I didn’t like anything I created and even dreaded picking up my camera. When I realized it, I did pick up my camera to create but none of it felt right and I wasn’t in love with any of it. I kept pushing and I felt worse. I felt like I was injured and heartbroken. Like I couldn’t do anything, and if I did, it took a serious effort. Pulling out my camera was like running with heavy aching legs that only makes you hate running more.

I implemented different strategies I’d used before to ignite the love and excitement I had before, but nothing worked. And because nothing worked, I felt like I made it worse. Like scratching at a mosquito bite makes it worse, then you start to bleed, yet I kept scratching. So I tried a sabbatical from Instagram and Facebook for a little while. I retreated from looking at anyone’s photos. I certainly didn’t want to share any of mine. I even avoided my support group for portfolio building. Yet, ignoring social media also didn’t work, and since I left social media, it’s difficult to get back.

I thought a different scenic place would help and it started to. I left all my other lenses alone and used only my Lensbaby Sweet 35 which helped more. And I felt myself pulling out of my funk.

I had an obvious turning point though when I realized something was missing in my photos. Myself, my story, and emotion weren’t clear. I’ve begun to incorporate more emotion, more me now, and I’m coming back. I’m back in my support group, and I’m appreciating other photographer’s work. I’m still slow to publish my own though. Mostly because it’s a learning curve – how to shoot with emotion.

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I’m coming around and I must have patience in that. When it seems like everyone produces so much so quick, I feel the pull to produce more but I now realize it doesn’t work like that. I have to slow down and not feel the need to put out more photographs. Instead trust the process, trust my instincts to go slower and know that what I create will be better.

Now that I’m ok with producing less, I actually enjoy picking up the camera without pressure. The pressure is only self-inflicted and became a hindrance. Only I could remove that pressure and without it now, I’m enjoying the process more.

During that time, I spent more time in my garden. I ripped out massive bushes in my front yard and designed a new layout. I worked on a quilt for my daughter. I began a photo book. I baked new things. I wrote a lot. And I played around in Illustrator with some sketches. These activities allowed my creative inhibitions to drop because I’m not great at any of that stuff and don’t expect myself to be. But I do expect to be great at photography and when I don’t feel I’m up to par, I get sucked into the rut.

Playing in these other creative formats I’m reminded of how far I’ve come in photography. I allowed myself to play without pressure and knew I needed to put that back into my photography.

I also rekindled a love for photography by doing other creative projects. And I found inspiration in these projects that I can carry over into my photography. My creative projects fed my love of photography. Chris Orwig said in The Creative Fight, “Creativity is contagious. Become creative in one area of your life and it will affect the other areas as well.” I’ve lived it and believe it.

If you’ve ever been in a creative rut you know it’s tough and hard to get out of. It feels like you’ve died in your work and don’t know how to revive yourself. So many photographers and creatives encounter it, but how do we overcome these obstacles?

One day, another photographer posted in our support group that she was in a rut lately and feeling down about her work which was why she wasn’t active. I responded in agreement and we had a great conversation about what we were doing to get out.

I gathered snippets of what we talked about and other ways I’ve used to get out of a creative rut and wanted to share them with you here. I’ve got a post that takes you through 5 strategies to battle a creative rut. Or if you’d rather, you can download the free guide to 15 strategies to pull yourself out of a creative rut! Click the button below!

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I have hope that when we do hit these stalemates that it is only a part of our journey to become better photographers. That coming out on the other side means our photographs evolved and contain more of ourselves in them and less of what the world wants or what we think the world expects.

I don’t believe there is an easy fix, but I do believe there are ways out. You only have to experiment and most of all embrace this period. It most likely signals a time of growth.

I also believe we have to be kind to ourselves. It may look like everyone else produces gorgeous photos everyday, many times a day, but I don’t believe that is the whole story. It’s no use to compare ourselves to others and try to produce what we think others want.

I’ve learned more about my style and the direction I want to go creatively. I’ve learned more about my vision. Hopefully my style, vision, emotion and I will start to show through in my work.

Please, feel free to add any other strategies you use to the comments because we all overcome tough times in different ways. Sharing what works for you may help someone else.

You can download the 15 strategies below!

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