I’ve written a lot lately about creative ruts but I can’t help it. I went through a pretty big one last summer and came out with a more definitive style and more confidence. Creative ruts at a minimum are stifling but some can be disastrous. For most they’re drudgery and we may not even recognize when we’re in one. We try to create but something feels off, something isn’t working like it should, or we dread creating. It’s like trying to find a new show after watching a great series but everything falls flat and doesn’t fulfill. But it’s important to pay attention and notice that feeling of longing to create but failing.
Slumps can come when you least expect it and kill every desire to do your creative thing. We don’t want to be there, but we need them to be there. When you find yourself in one, take notice.
Why take notice? For several reasons. First it most likely means you are ready for growth. That’s the great news! You’re stuck in a place where you’re bored, unsure of how to improve next, or know something is off but not sure what. Growth resolves these. It’s good but much like a child has growing pains as it grows, you’ll find these moments unsettling at best. Embrace this troubled time, because as you grow, you’ll find more creativity and surprising improvement at your craft.
While it may sound dramatic, slumps aren’t usually so bad they infiltrate the rest of your life, but they are frustrating. The growing pains are tough to swallow but I promise it gets better.
I read With by Skye Jethani and came across a section that made me think deeper about creative ruts. Specifically, why everyone goes through them and while pursuing higher creativity. He tells the story of Dr. Paul Brand, a physician working with lepers in India, who discovered leprosy destroys the nerve endings so lepers can’t feel pain. If something is wrong they don’t know it. This is problematic because it can lead to broader health issues. Jethani applies it to spirituality. When we avoid pain or cover it over, we become incapable of recognizing something is wrong. We miss out on experiencing the beauty of God working in our lives and the freedom we can experience from that. If we are aware of the pain, we awaken to our spirituality.
Whether you are spiritual or not, it’s the same with creativity. When we cover up the pain or uncreative feeling, we cover up little warning systems that tell us we need to pay attention to something.
How do we cover up that feeling that we’re in a rut? It’s different for everyone. Some avoid it and put down their camera for a while. Others keep pushing and ignore the signals. They become unsettled but force doing the same thing the same way without change or growth. Others move on completely and give up. These may be ok and may help someone revisit their craft at a later day after their rut is through. But, if we sit quietly and recognize the rut for what it is, we may find more and find a way out faster.
I wrote a post on how to climb out of a creative slump, so I’m not going to go back into it here. I believe it starts with quiet stillness, recognition, and reflection. Once you do, you can move forward.
I know it’s hard in this world where it seems everyone is moving so fast, creating much faster than you, and putting out work that you wish you could. But take the time to reflect, to be still.
Part of the reflection is an acceptance of the fact that you are human, and you always have room for growth. It’s why I love photography. There is always something to learn, to become better at. It’s true of all creative fields. But accepting ourselves as human is the beginning. It’s a time to give ourselves grace. Yes, you might have been on a creative high when you believed your photography was fantastic. Yet, your humanity emerges again with a single comment or a thought. Embrace that though. It’s time to reflect on why, accept yourself as human, and begin to grow.
Once the reflection begins, there is much to do. You’re learning to improve and grow in a deeper way. The rut was a trigger that we needed the improvement. It usually comes in the form of stagnation, mistakes we continue to make, or a dreading or disdain of our own art. Yet, once we accept and reflect, we begin to improve, the mistakes are less, stagnation no longer exists, change is happening within our art and usually we like it. So embrace the time and use it to be quiet in your work and look at your work introspectively
One of the things that helped me move out of the rut was a good support system of other photographers. A mentor is also a place to start to help guide you. In addition to product photography services I also offer a general coaching package for just this sort of thing because it’s a lot easier to when you have guidance.
I’ll leave you with a quote by C.S. Lewis to think on your creative ruts. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pains: It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.