By TULA Contributor, Lizzie Locker
It happens to all of us: artist’s block, a dry spell, a slump, a funk, a phase. Whatever you want to call it, even the most brilliant creative minds have found that, at times, they just don’t feel like creating.
But getting out of a creative rut is much more complex than simply forcing yourself to “work through it.” That’s like popping a pimple instead of medicating it - all that extra pressure you place on yourself can actually cause more damage below the surface. Attempting creative work when the inspiration just isn’t there can be overwhelming, frustrating, and deeply demoralizing - and in my experience, all the discipline in the universe isn’t enough to change that.
That’s why I believe self-care is the key to breaking out of a creative rut. I don’t just mean bon-bons and bubble baths either. I’m talking about being intentional with our work while also being gentle with ourselves; pushing ourselves and our work forward, without pushing beyond our limits.
Here are a few of my own favorite self-care rituals for busting out of a creative block. Try them out yourself, or use them as inspiration to come up with a few of your own! Remember: caring for yourself as a creator = caring for your creations.
1. “Touch the work every day.”
By the time I was in grad school for fiction writing, I’d spent more than a decade having the mantra Write. Every. Day. hammered into my skull in a way that felt threatening and overbearing. I heard it like a drum in my anxiety dreams: write, write, write! But one of our professors, author Jasmin Darznik, had a saying: “Just touch the work every day.”
To touch my writing. Now that was an altogether gentler act, one of tenderness and care. This concept reframed how I approached my writing. I didn’t have to write, write, write, every day. I just had to reach out and connect - physically, mentally, or metaphysically - with the project.
“Touching the work” can mean many different things for different creatives. It might mean that instead of literally working on your project, you spend some time reviewing and admiring what you’ve accomplished so far. It might mean that you give the project just a few minutes of your attention before going about your day, instead of trying to chain yourself to the desk for hours at a time. It might mean revisiting some aspect of the project right before bed, and falling asleep to dream of the next steps.
Like yoga or meditation, “touching the work” is a self-care ritual which must be maintained over time - a practice in the active, ongoing sense. I won’t promise that this will be easy to do every single day, but that’s what makes it an act of self-care and forward motion. As you practice, you will wear away at whatever creative blockage you are dealing with and over time you’ll be able to break through.
2. Give yourself a three-minute challenge.
For me, the biggest obstacle to getting out of a creative slump is that cruel seductress, Procrastination. Luckily, I have a little trick to interrupt my doom-scrolling and meme-trolling.
It’s relatively simple: do something challenging for three minutes. Think of the word “challenge” less as an expression of competition/aggression, but more as an invitation to stretch a new muscle. It may feel good, or it may feel not-so-great, but it definitely should not feel bad - remember, we’re talking about self-care rituals here. Even if it’s not easy, we don’t want it to hurt.
So you challenge yourself to put a few more stitches into that embroidery, edit a few more lines of code, ink a few more strokes on that sketch. Now get yourself all set up, get comfortable, set a timer, and go!
That buzzer will sound so much sooner than you expect. When it does go off, spend just 10 seconds considering how you feel. Do you want to turn that buzzer off, clean everything up and quit after your three minutes? You can do that! Do you want to reset the timer and go for three more minutes? Hey, it all adds up, baby ;)
But maybe, just maybe, that three minutes got you into The Zone. Maybe you’ll laugh when you look up and realize a few hours have passed. You don’t know till you set that timer and try!
3. Consume content with joyful intention.
Ah, the Internet, offering near-total accessibility of art and information! With just a few clicks, you can listen to almost any recording by your favorite pop star, see almost any type of dancer in action, or learn how to become a master baker from a celebrity chef.
But social media - hell, the internet at large - can be a dangerous place for our self-esteem. Following creators whose work inspires us can also lead us down that slippery slope of comparisons and competition into the mire of depression. That’s why curating your social media feed is a gigantic and ongoing act of self-care that is absolutely worth the effort
It’s time to go all Marie Kondo on your Instagram. As you scroll, pay attention to how each post affects you (this can be difficult, as the brain is easily distracted in scroll-space, but think of it like meditation: when you notice the mind wandering, just gently bring it back to the focus). Ask yourself, “Does this content bring me joy?” Then ask, “Does this creator’s content consistently bring me joy?” If the answer is not a resounding “YES!” to both, do yourself a favor and hit that unfollow button!
Here’s the tricky part: sometimes we don’t realize how much our admiration of others (a very GOOD feeling!) can feed into our habits of comparison and our jealousy of others. Following a creative whose work you think is amazing is a great idea; but if you find yourself constantly comparing your own work against theirs, or feeling discouraged about ever achieving similar success, it’s time to reassess whether or not they’re a good follow.
Once you’ve curated a feed that delights you, excites you, and gets you fired up to create, social media will become a tool in your arsenal rather than a distraction. You can even use that joyful feed as your three-minute challenge! Challenge yourself to spend three minutes looking at all those wonderful, joyful things. It’ll be the start of a whole new relationship with social media, and a whole new world of creative inspiration.
4. Allow yourself to play.
When was the last time you played a game without feeling pressured to win? Or, when was the last time you sat down and created something just because it felt good?
As adults living in a capitalist society, we have been trained most of our lives to believe that productivity = worth, and that fun = unproductive/unworthy. But nothing could be farther from the truth! Play is necessary for our physical and mental development when we are children, and it doesn’t become less important when we grow up. Play is absolutely an act of self-care, and when we ritualize and prioritize it, it can be a powerful tool for breaking through your creative blocks.
Set aside one hour a week to play - and I do mean actively play. Find something that feels truly fun to do, that has zero productivity potential. Drag your partner out into the driveway for a game of catch, give yourself a crazy makeover, pull out the board game box, or jump in some puddles!
Now, if the phrase “zero productivity potential” just totally squicked you out, you’re not alone. For me, the idea of being quote-unquote “unproductive” absolutely gives me hives. If that’s the case for you too, try to find a toy or game that makes you feel as though you’ve achieved something at the end. My favorites are jigsaw puzzles or Legos because the act of building and putting things together gives me a tangible product to show for my efforts.
I’ve gotten myself out of a lot of ruts with these self-care rituals, and I hope you do too! Let me know how they work for you in the comments :) Happy creating!
Further resources for developing your own Block-Busting, Slump-Slapping, Rut-Wrecking self-care rituals: