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5 Ways to Break Down the Walls of a Creative Rut

Stop. Look. Listen.

The other day I came across a comment on Twitter from a friend of mine wondering if he was in a creative rut. That got me thinking about how ruts form, creative and otherwise, and how to breakdown the walls that form when we find ourselves doing the same thing, the same way, for the same reasons.

Ruts are formed when day after day, we travel the same road, the same way, at the same time, in the same vehicle, going to the same destination. So, with the open road being our metaphor, let’s refresh our creativity by breaking down some walls.

Wall #1 – The Same Road

Routine is a blessing and a curse for creativity. Creatives need the rituals, the muse, the superstitions, it puts their creativity into gear. But what happens when routine overshadows curiosity?

Curiosity is the foundation of creativity and is something that must never be lost.

If you find yourself traveling the same road, I urge you to foster your curiosity by asking questions about your creative process:

The best way to not go down the same road is drive down a different road. Turn left instead of right. Ask questions. Find your voice of curiosity.

Wall #2 – The Same Way

“All roads lead to Rome.”  All creative solutions can be found by asking the same questions.  Or not.  Each creative problem is unique and demands that we look at it in new ways.

It is pure laziness that takes away our desire to learn or try something new.  There is also a fear of failure, but sometimes you need to learn that even when you get lost, you actually end up where you need to be.  Creativity works that way as well.  Get lost in a new technique or a new way of approaching a solution.  You might just find what you were looking for.

Wall #3 – The Same Time

The business world runs in a fixed clock of hours.  How do you force yourself to be creative in a specific block of time?  Holding ourselves to large blocks of creative time without a chance to refuel and rest is dangerous.  It is one thing to know when our best times or creativity are, but it’s when we take advantage of the creative muse by forcing it to constantly perform that ruts begin to form and we get “tired.”

Most solutions come when the mind has had time to process and work through the emotions and logistics of everything involved.  Time is the best friend of a creative, because if they can learn the power of slow-cooking solutions instead of constantly deep-frying them for instant gratification, the outcome avoids “rut-ification” and works that much better.

Wall #4 – The Same Vehicle

Ever notice how a road’s appearance changes as we go from driving down it in a car doing 50 miles per hour to walking at a leisurely pace?  Details are noticed in both situations that are essential to the experience of that particular road.  Creativity is the same way.  Take the difference between photographing someone laughing versus filming them.  With a photograph, you capture a single moment at the peak of the laugh.  Your mind fills in all of the gaps and often we hear the laughter, even though it’s not actually there.  We smile.  But when you film the same scenario, we hear the laughter, it might be shrill, it might not be what we heard in our minds.

When you change the vehicle, the experience changes and new solutions are formed.

Wall #5 – The Same Destination

You either know where you are going or you don’t.  How often do you creatively go to the same destination or solution for each project?  Starting with Helvetica, the same lighting setup, the same pre-production process.  It’s time to realize that every creative project is unique, therefore each destination must be different.

On the journey to your destination, pull over at places of interest along the way and ask people what they like.  Seeking the wisdom and sharing in the destinations of others gives you new exposure to things, places and people.

Find a new destination by taking the time to interact with others.  Learn, share, try, fail and experience all of the beauty that the creative life has to offer.  If you give in to the day-in and day-out process that the world forces upon us, the ruts form, you become numb to what you are really doing, and you start thinking the problem is other people, that you weren’t cracked up to be a creative, or even that life sucks.

By taking the time to breakdown the ruts in your creative life, you will find a more fulfilling and expressive work that will encourage and inspire the people that you are around every day, as well as the people that engage and interact with the physical and tangible manifestations of all that you do.