The dry banks of a pond
The dry banks of a pond

Conquering a Creative Dry Spell

Paul Kiernan

The point here is even the very best of us go through slumps. Creatives face this situation all the time, usually after the finish of a big project or a success. In these situations, it is sometimes challenging for a creative to get back to work and produce again. Part of that is the fear of not living up to what was just accomplished, and part of that could be attributed to momentary burnout after putting so much time and effort into a big project.

In May and June of 2008, Bryce Harper, who went on to earn a $330 million free-agent contract with the Phillies, went through a 20-game slump. Players have slumps. Even Harper, the 2015 National League MVP, has gone through a slump.

Harper went back to basics. With hitting coach Kevin Long by his side Harper did T work and cage work, and together the pair worked on his "launch angle," and they reconstructed his swing. In the second half of the season, Harper was back, and he went on to earn that huge payday. They did the work; they solved that problem.

The point here is even the very best of us go through slumps. Creatives face this situation all the time, usually after the finish of a big project or a success. In these situations, it is sometimes challenging for a creative to get back to work and produce again. Part of that is the fear of not living up to what was just accomplished, and part of that could be attributed to momentary burnout after putting so much time and effort into a big project.

Like Harper, sometimes the need is to go back to basics and reconstruct your way of working. Sometimes, what is needed is less mechanical and more ethereal. Despite dumping people into the "creative" basket and expecting them to all behave in a similar fashion, creatives are individuals being individual. What helps one with a slump may not help others.

Here at ThoughtLab, our creatives sometimes experience a slump; here are some ways to recognize the slump, shake it and get back to your creative flow.

Take a Break

This is the best way to get out of your creative slump, walk away from the work.

One of the reasons we get into slumps as creative people is by focusing too hard and too long on the work. We beat ourselves up with thoughts like, well, two days ago, I wrote fifty thousand words in eight minutes, why can't I do that? And then you set about trying to write fifty-thousand words.

Problem is, as every creative knows, yesterday is never a gauge of how the work is going to go today.

When you hit a slump, and you're just pushing and pushing to get out of it, sometimes that can be like standing at the North Pole and saying, I'm going north. You're just moving further away from what is true. In cases like this, it's better to walk away instead of forcing things.

Walk fully away. Don't just go into the kitchen, have a cup of joe, and think about the situation, really walk away for a day or a week, or even a month.

Now, if you're working a creative job and have deadlines, walking away for a month is probably not possible. However, if you have a boss who understands creatives and how to work best with them, there is a better chance you can get some time away and clear your mind.

So, walking away means doing something completely different for a little while and not even thinking about your creative dry spell. Take your attention elsewhere. Don't worry; you may not consciously think about your creative slump, but your subconscious indeed is.

After time away, you'll discover your subconscious has been working overtime, and you will return to learn your dry spell is over.

Slow Down

Sloth climbing a tree.

If you're working in a creative job with deadlines and demands, this might be the cause of your dry spell. Creativity isn't stored in barrels like salt cod and cannot be doled out on a timer. We learn to meet the demands of the situation, but that doesn't mean it's a natural way for a creative to work.

Now and then, the demands of pace can wreak havoc in the creative's life. This is just part of the job. But, if you're managers understand how to work well with creatives, they will allow you to back off on the pace for a bit and deliver in a slower time.

Trying to produce day in, day out, under a time frame will kill anyone's creativity; again, we know that at times, you've got to hit tight deadlines, but find the times when teh deadline isn't so demanding and slow down. Take time to think, enjoy your processes, and don't worry too much about time limits.

Just slow down; eventually, your creative drive will be back and running full speed.

Give Yourself a Celebration

When you're working a job that demands you produce daily and pushes the limits of your creative brain, it's a good idea to take time once every few months and close that chapter and celebrate.

In the theater, when a play closes, there is a closing night party. When a film wraps, there is a wrap party. Those are fun, but they also serve a purpose.

As a creative, you know you don't work a 9-5 situation. You're always thinking about the project and working ideas; even when you walk to the deli to get a sandwich, you're thinking about the work. If you don't tell it to stop, your creative brain will keep trying to churn out ideas, even when one project is done. The wrap party or the closing night party is a way for these creatives to say to themselves, that's done, and I can stop trying to invent new things.

If you don't stop now and then and celebrate what you've done, your mind will keep working and working. It would be best to give your creative brain a complete stop, a celebration before you start on the treadmill again.

When you take time to stop and celebrate, it allows your creative brain to end one project, put it away, and have a clean slate to start on something new. Unless you do this, your brain will endlessly churn, and eventually, you will burn out.

So, take a day and treat yourself well, have a good meal, visit with friends, leave it behind and celebrate all you've accomplished. When you get back to work, your creative brain will be fully rested and ready to commit to the next project.

Write a Letter

Open journal on a table with a camera, a pair fo glasses, and a pencil.

Sometimes when you're feeling creatively tapped, it's good to write a letter to someone and put down on paper, or screen, what you're going through.

An adult human brain can hold and process about 2.5 million gigabytes of information. That's a lot. However, that much information can make your brain feel like a storage locker. Everything is piled on top of each other, and you have no idea what's in the back of the unit. It can be overwhelming, and it makes sense that this situation would create a creative dry spell.

Writing a letter to a friend, yourself, or an imaginary person, allows you to unpack the storage unit and see all that is in there. You lay it out on the page, and then you can more clearly deal with what's in your head, keep what you need, and jettison the things holding you back.

It's better to write this letter to an imaginary person because if you're writing to an actual person, you may overthink what goes in the letter. The purpose of the letter is to get it all out. Don't worry about grammar or spelling or even if your sentences make sense; write about what's holding you up and get rid of it.

Get Physical

Sometimes creatives in the marketing, advertising, and copywriting world spend all day in their heads. When facing a dry spell, it is constructive to take a walk, jog, or throw a ball around. Physical activity is a great way to send some energy to the brain and get the juices flowing again.

The physical part of your being is very much connected to the metal part. Physical activity has been shown to improve depression and give a jump start to the creative brain. So, take a walk, throw a ball, play basketball, or do something physical to shake up your routine.

Break Your Routine

Routines are lovely; they give us stability and comfort. Getting coffee at the same place every morning before work, sitting at your desk and reading the paper while you drink your morning coffee. Chatting with the people in another department to start your day, waking and going for a run. Whatever the routine is, it helps us feel grounded, and it is something familiar that helps you start the day on an even keel before all hell breaks loose.

The problem for creatives is, routines make you settle and get into a rut. Creativity is all about being on the edge, risking, leaping before you look, and none of that is routine.

So, whatever your morning routine to ritual is, break it. Stop doing it for a month. Just go with the flow and see what comes from that.

For creatives, a routine can easily slip into superstition. If I don't do these things each day, I won't be able to produce. If I don't sit at this desk, use this pen, etc., etc. What's happening here is you're hanging your creative power on external sources that are just not reliable.

So, take a month and completely destroy your daily routine. Do it and see what happens. You'll feel out of sorts at first, but breaking a routine will shake things up in your creative brain, get you seeing and listening again, and then who knows what you'll create.

Give Yourself a Damn Break

A man laying in a field of grass.

Do not beat yourself up if you find yourself in a creative slump or dry spell. Do not tell yourself you're failing or that you'll never have another creative idea again. In this time, the last thing you want or need to do is beat yourself up.

Beating on yourself only makes you cling tighter to things that have worked in the past and the endless why can't I, what did I do to lose this head trip. Do not beat yourself up, that's not going to open any creative avenues, and it's more likely to push you further from your most fertile and creative mind.

Give yourself a break and trust that you have been creative and working up to this point, so your skill or talent or whatever you call it is not gone; it just needs time to recover and recharge. While that's happening, give yourself a break and be kind to yourself.

ThoughtLab Understands the Creative Mind

Maybe you need a little guidance on how to work better with your creatives, or you want to add more creativity to your entire office; we're here to help.

Along with getting your brand elevated and helping your entire company see further, we're also in the business of fostering and improving creativity in all aspects of your life.

Drop us a line, and let's discuss how you approach your creative work. Can you improve it? Can you get more people involved? Let's talk.

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ThoughtLab is an independent digital agency focused on design & marketing, with a mission of elevating your brand.