Ali Edwards Capture life. Create art.

May 1, 2009

Breaking Out of A Creative Rut

Ruts. Down periods. Being stuck. Dry spell. That time where nothing feels right. You start and stop and just can’t find that happy, magical place where it all seems to come together.

I have so been there. I am there. And I know I will be there again.

The good thing is, I am not afraid. It is a natural part of the process. Anyone who participates in a creative endeavor experiences times when they are less prolific. Less inspired. Where they just feel blah about something that normally fills them with excitement and passion.

I try to look at ruts and creative dry spells as simply a part of the cycle of artistry – a chance for the place where my creativity comes from to take a break. To rest. To be filled up again. For a bunch of new stories to be experienced.

Here are some of my favorite ways to get back in the groove again:

1. DO NOTHING. Yep. Ignore that thing that you normally love all together. If you have a scrapbook room, shut the door and give yourself permission to take a day, a week, a month off. No guilt. No pressure. No worries that you will never feel “it” again. You will. It will come back.

2. BE SURPRISED. One of my favorite ways to get re-energized is to allow myself to be surprised, delighted, and inspired by someone or something. Taking some time to surf around on the web can be a great source of delightful surprises. One of the coolest things is that people like to link to other people. People online like to share information, share the things that fire them up, the things that kick start their creativity. You can go from one thing to the next to the next and end up in a totally crazy wonderful place you never knew existed. You may even learn something. You may even be absolutely surprised at where you end up. And you may not even be able to wait another minute until you can go create something.

3. GO HERE: Keri Smith’s 100 Things.

4. DO THE OPPOSITE. If you are normally a very linear scrapbooker/artist, force yourself to do something very organic and messy and free. If you really let yourself go and give yourself to the process and you end up hating your creation, throw it away or paint over it or cover it and start again. By simply going through the exercise of forcing yourself to do something totally opposite from what you would normally do you may be able to wake up your creative impulses enough to get back into the groove. I liked this quote from Cameron Moll: “Inspiration weaves its way into every facet of life. We’d be sorely remiss if we sought to be illuminated only by the medium or genre with which we work.”

5. GO. Get in your car, on your bike, or use your own two feet (one of the best methods) and go somewhere NEW to you. It may be a new restaurant, a new store, or it may be simply walking down a new street in your neighborhood – the key is to get out from under your normal vision and see and experience something new. I love doing this by myself (it is one of the reasons I have come to love travel), but it can also be done with a friend, your partner, or even with your child(ren). Kids are amazing at seeing what exists right in front their noses, whereas we as adults tend to have lost that ability. Getting out of your normal environment and seeing something different is a great way to kick start your creativity.

6. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. One of the simplest and most effective ways (and one of the things I do often) to break up those negative rut vibes is to walk to your front door, open it, take a step onto your porch, stand up tall, and take a deep breath. Sounds cheesy but it is something that has worked for me – it clears my head, helps me focus, and allows me just enough of a break that I can go back into the studio and feel ready to work again. This is especially effective if you are working under a tight deadline.

7. COLLECT SOME EYE CANDY. Another way I like to work my way out of a rut is to pick up some new magazines. Usually they are unrelated to scrapbooking – most of the time I will pick them up because the design looks interesting or something catches my eye. Larger bookstores tend to feature a wealth of interesting and different magazines that you won’t find at the grocery store. Check out a magazine for art or photography or cooking or parenting (maybe use #4 from above and grab something like dirt biking if you normally gravitate to knitting) or design. Magazines tend to be so visually stimulating that it is hard not to see something that makes your heart beat a bit faster.

8. GOOGLE. Try this result page. As you will see, a TON has been written on this topic. Most get down to the same thing: give yourself a break – it will come back.

9. CLEAN. This is one of those things that has worked for me in the past. It’s almost a guarantee if I commit to cleaning my space, or even cleaning up around the house, that I will be bombarded with ideas. I am either inspired by things I discover in my workspace (gems often hide in the piles) or through the act of refocusing my energy elsewhere the ideas begin to flow. This works especially well if you commit to whatever cleaning task you detest the most.

10. WRITE. Sometimes when I feel really blocked I will use my time to just focus on writing. This often ends up being stream-of-consciousness writing where there is very little structure. It’s writing with the intent of clearing my head and getting all the crazy thoughts, stories, and feelings down on paper or in my computer. Sometimes a great story will emerge from these sessions, but most of the time the value comes through the process rather than the result.=

11. GET BACK TO BASICS. Think words + photos + cardstock. Create something using just those three basic elements without judgment. You’re not trying to win an award, you’re trying to get back in the groove. I find that going back to those core elements lights a fire inside me and helps me get back in the creative mindset.

Originally published January 10, 2007 as part of my AEzine newsletter series. I will be periodically bringing content back from the archives, updating/adapting, and re-publishing here.


  • 1.
    Lara said…

    I was planning on cleaning and reorganizing my space today fro that very reason. Thanks for sharing this!!!

  • 2.
    Lauren said…

    Always good advice. I’m there right now too.

  • 3.
    Nicky from Canada said…

    Thanks Ali – I needed this right now – haven’t been in my scrapbook/sewing room for over 2 weeks right now – just finished about 6 quilts for a fund raiser and exhausted, just can’t go there right now.
    Have a great weekend.

  • 4.
    Susan Raihala said…

    Great article, Ali! It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that all things ebb and flow, even creativity. It’s natural and normal, and going with the flow rather than fighting it always works. Always.

  • 5.
    Carrie said…

    This was so good to read this morning. I am totally in a rut myself. Haven’t scrapbooked in almost a month. It’s seems spring break completely exhausted my creativity. I’m hoping to find it sometime soon! Thanks for sharing. Have a great weekend!

  • 6.
    Jennifer M. said…

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been in a creative rut for a long time, but I know I will pull out of it. I just have to let myself relax and know it will happen when it happens.

  • 7.
    Michelle B said…

    Great post Ali! I really needed this right now. As I have found myself in a creative rut. But this week I just started to jump in. And I think I am making my way out.

  • 8.
    Linn said…

    Again, great tips! I want to add that it helps me to do some sort of different craft or art…I stopped scrapbooking for several months and was sewing like a mad woman. There came a point when I couldn’t wait to get back into my scrap room! I like the idea of doing a different style than I’m used to…I haven’t tried that one. Thank you.

  • 9.
    Christina Klauer said…

    Thanks for posting this, i’ve soo been in a rut too! I posted alink to my blog as well. Thanks So Much!!

  • 10.
    Bree said…

    I think I will print this out and hang it over my scrap area table :-) Super helpful Ali!!

  • 11.
    o-girl said…

    Love this…I’ve had to tell myself a few of these things at one time or another. Thanks for the ideas, suggestions & links!
    Have a lovely weekend with your lovely little family!

  • 12.
    kp said…

    Thank you for the great tips! Here’s another one: take a different route to a place you drive to all of the time, or change your route through the grocery store. Even brushing your teeth with the opposite hand can free your brain up for looking at things differntly.
    Love your blog!

  • 13.
    Katie said…

    Such helpful advice. Thank you so much.

  • 14.
    Melissa said…

    I have been looking through your archives (love them) and was just wondering about the color class you kept mentioning in 2005. I was curious if you had a link to it and/or what it was all about. If anyone reading this knows anything about it please let me know. My email is Thanks.

  • 15.
    soulemama said…

    You rock my world, ms. ali edwards.
    Happy weekend to you & yours. xoxo

  • 16.
    Joy Buss said…

    Permission granted….and accepted. Thanks for the reminder Ali! Have a wonderful day. :-)

  • 17.
    Lisa said…

    Thanks for this, Ali.
    Hugs to Simon & Anna.

  • 18.
    Elizabeth said…

    What a wonderful article. I have not been there before but I am now. At least I know it is not hopeless and I will feel like being creative again. Right now, I feel like I am in a black hole. Nothing has inspired me for a while but after reading your article, I know it will all come back. Thanks so much.

  • 19.
    Edi said…

    Great list Ali! We all get in a rut sometimes…but you gave us so many great ideas to get over them :) Thanks!

  • 20.
    Kim said…

    I so needed this right now. Thank you for posting again.

  • 21.
    Tina said…

    Thank You….I so needed this, I am there in the non-creative spot, and just wanting so to get back again…So Thank you again for the inspiration!!!!!

  • 22.
    Ali Edwards said…

    Hey Melissa – that was a class that was put together for a Creating Keepsakes event, then used as an online class (not available anymore). I will look into being able to re-purpose that information here.

  • 23.
    Melissa said…

    Thanks. That would be great.

  • 24.
    SchoolMommy said…

    Thanks – I really needed to hear this. You are a great encourager.

  • 25.
    Jo said…

    Great advice for any creative! I try and do much the same but it’s hard when you’re the one in a rut. Thanks for the reminder! Well worth passing along.

  • 26.
    Shanie said…

    Girl…check this out. Who knows…a new medium? FUN! Shanie ;)

  • 27.
    Caryl Hope said…

    You’ve talked about the creative cycle sometime last year but this is truly helpful. Thank you so much… Just got out of one which lasted for about a month and now have to pause again coz we are moving house + visiting family for a month… Hope I’ll be able to create something or at least plan on the pages. :-)

  • 28.
    Caryl Hope said…

    This is so cool and the watercolor technique… now that needs skills {lol}. Thanks for sharing!

  • 29.
    Melissa said…

    so true.

  • 30.
    Beth said…

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful advice. I have to remind myself that cycles are curvilinear – periods of high, low and everything in between. Embracing the low, giving myself a chance to explore something else, or just not be creatively productive, is part of what sustains my highs.

  • 31.
    Kristi said…

    Definitely a great way to kick off a scrapbooking weekend! Happy National Scrap day!

  • 32.
    Vonda Orders said…

    I’ve been there too and I would add along the same line as do nothing is get some sleep – I find sleep can bring back creative energy, or just energy – and I bet sleep is something you’re not getting a lot of right now. But as you said above during these periods, just continuing to write and to take pictures and to live will eventually bring you back with more to share.

  • 33.
    Lecia said…

    Thank you for this – perfect. Happy weekend!

  • 34.
    Lisa said…

    What timely post for me. I have been feeling less than enthusiastic about scrapbooking, fearing i wouldn’t be excited to scrap for a long time. Your post helped put things in perspective…that it’s okay for now to take a break and eventually i will return to this hobby i love. Thanks, Ali.

  • 35.
    Nicole said…

    Just found your blog searching for blogs on scrapbooking. Simply lovely! I am a scrapbooker and blog designer. So glad to find another great blog to add to my blogroll…

  • 36.
    Lacy said…

    I am not currently in a rut but I’ve been in one before and I too know that it will happen again. Thank you for reminding me, and others, that it isn’t something to fret over. I have to say that when it happens to me, I feel scared that I will NEVER get it back. Letting go, not worrying, totally taking a time out and shutting the door has always worked for me in the past, and will again when it’s time.

  • 37.
    Melissa Blair said…

    I really needed this post today. I have just not been feeling it ever since Gabriella arrived. I am dying to make her first layout but just can’t get in the creative groove to get it done. Plus starting her baby album just seems like such a HUGE undertaking. I can barely find the time to take a shower let alone plan a keepsake that will last a lifetime and be a reminder of how much she is loved. I’ve been keeping a little journal of things I don’t want to forget about her and I’m going to try some of these tips. Thanks A!

  • 38.
    MrsM said…

    I usually delve right in and start cleaning my scrap space and that always works for me. There is something about having a CLEAN space that gets me all inspired.

  • 39.
    Jaime Martinez said…

    Thanks for the link to Keri Smith’s 100 Things. I am planning on doing one of them today! : )

  • 40.

    It’s funny you should post on this topic, In my weekly Q&A feature I’ve taken to asking how people unblock, other peoples ideas and tips for breaking out of a rut are inspiring to me.
    My husband is currently experiencing a creative rut himself.
    Since I met him he has always done everything with full attention and commitment. Back in the 90′s he used to drag race. Even though he was only racing an 82 Toyota Tercel he still researched air currents, learned about air temperature and weather patterns and how they affected speed and followed all the races on TV, locally and in magazines.
    Later he took up kart racing and he immersed himself in all things open wheel.
    Now he plays bass. Most nights he plays for hours, practicing songs with his two bands, learning new chords or theory or trying to get a line down from a new song he’s heard. Or he’s online, trading information on Bass forums, talking about or looking for new guitars and pedals. Or he’s learning how to build new pedals to play with or modifying them. He is immersed that he eats, sleeps and breathes the bass.
    Every few months he loses interest, stops playing, gets frustrated and talks about quitting because he’s not getting better or because he seems to have lost interest. Each time I tell him that it’s he’s entered into a rut and that it’s OK to take a break and each time within a few days he’s fallen back in love with it.
    Now, I’m off to copy and paste Keri Smith’s 100 hings and try to use them the next time I’m in a creative rut.

  • 41.
    Kelly M. said…

    It is reassuring to know that even the most talented artists get in a rut… thanks for sharing, Ali!

  • 42.
    Sandra said…

    Very excellent advise and tips!We all need to give ourselves permission to just take a break when needed and be reassured that inspiration will return again.

  • 43.
    MelissaL88 said…

    Thanks, Ali! I needed this right now. I’m really going through a dry spell. I will let it go and relax about it, rather than let it add to my stress. Have a great weekend!

  • 44.
    cate said…

    thank you for the reminder! I’m currently five months pregnant, with the desire to scrap, but no energy to move forward… I’ve closed my door, and spend my time “window shopping” for new ideas and products – I’m facing my first baby boy, with no idea how to scrap him!

  • 45.
    Shanie said…

    Your welcome! And…yeah…pretty cool stuff! ;)

  • 46.
    Veronica said…

    It is amazing how simply we can be stuck in a creativity blank…..but so simle to dive back in….to get back inot the groove after a serious drought…I so what I call Cover Girl Knock-Off…I take a scrapbook magaazine athat has a catchy cover and scrap lift it!!! always seems to help me!!!

  • 47.
    Sarah said…

    You know what came to mind Ali while I read your post? Being Mum to two kids is so very demanding and requires ALL of your creativity at times, quite long times. I remember when my lads were babies I had no time for a garden or a pet or anything that required any more nurturing or giving from me.
    We all have obligations and responsibilities and of course your work deadlines still need to be met. But, what about some time off? Or time out? Even just a bubble bath or a walk with Anna in the stroller so you can’t really feel or see her, and your mind can wander. Or better still a walk alone. This is an incredibly demanding time, emotionally, mentally, physically and creatively. I think we under-estimate the demands on us as our heart and soul expands to include another child.
    Your juice will flow again – and you are right to be kind and patient and believe this to be true.
    Sending you some Mother-Love through the ether and around the world.
    Sarah, New Zealand

  • 48.
    kris said…

    These are all great creative block busters! Thanks for the list.

  • 49.
    anna said…

    thanks ali! it’s good to hear all those inspiring ways to get back into things, as well to know that i’m not the only one! :)
    alos, i love that you ‘recycled’ your article. :) it’s new to me!
    have a great weekend!

  • 50.
    cindysoul said…

    My rut happened when I moved to Eastern Oregon from the Willamette valley. I love living here but, it’s such a drastic change compared to living in the valley! Plus, I really miss all my friends!!! Ali, maybe you need to come visit Alecia and Sheridan, and meet your #1 fan…ME! LOL!

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