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.


  • 51.
    Heidi said…

    Thank you. I’m not in a rut right now but rather I’ve got so many ideas swirling around that I’m sure I’m coming up on an overload “breakdown” real soon. Your article has reminded me that I can give myself permission to step back a bit.

  • 52.
    joslyn said…

    good to know you have ruts. i pretty much ignore my ruts. i just wait them out until i feel like entering my craft space again.

  • 53.
    Traci said…

    I really needed this right now. I’m feeling overwhelmed by everything and couldn’t focus on any of my crafts. THanks!

  • 54.
    Lauren said…

    nice blog post! such great ideas :) I actually was going to suggest Keri Smith, too! I LOVE her work!!! Her “How to be an Explorer” book is what has helped me throughout my “creative block”. You can check out my inspiration on my blog at!
    Thanks for writing about this topic! I think everyone could use this advice for a fresh start anytime!

  • 55.
    Pascale said…

    This is so true

  • 56.
    Pascale said…

    Sorry about this split comment, but there is something wrong with the display and I can only see the right hand part when I’m typing, so I didn’t know if my commnet was in or not! I wanted to ask you if you would allow me to translate this into French and post it on my blog. I have many friends who could use those useful tips but their English might not be good enough. Of course I will add a link to your article and quote you. I hope that will be all right with you…

  • 57.
    Whitney Beard said…

    Great article! Like most things in life, if you are easy on yourself, it’s so much better. The challenge is being easy on yourself!

  • 58.
    Jennifer said…

    How perfect for a day when I keep thinking about all of the things I need to start and do to project my design career forward. The more I think about it, the more I stop because I can’t think of how to start and need some inspiration. So a big thank you!

  • 59.
    Heidi said…

    THANK YOU! It is great to hear when others are having struggles with being creative…and it meant even more coming from you. This is your job, not just a hobby. It is nice to hear it can get the best of anyone. Thanks for sharing and for sharing the sweet pics of your sweet baby girl. My daughter LOVES them!

  • 60.
    Morissa Sweeney said…

    Thanks so much for posting this, Ali. I’ll take it one step at a time and it WILL come back. It always does. :) Blessing!

  • 61.
    moseyalong said…

    This hit exactly the right note for me! I just recently wrote a (slightly irreverent) post about overcoming inertia – getting over the humps that stall me. So your tips and tricks for how to move on are so timely.

  • 62.
    Mary said…

    Hi Ali: Just catching up on your blogs after vacation and the one relating to being in a rut hit home. I thought I was in a rut … but now I think the real problem right now is your #9 – CLEAN. I desperately need to tidy/clean up my scrapbook room before I can start a new project and, consequently, I haven’t scrapped in about a month. I guess I know what I should do this weekend …

  • 63.
    Water meters said…

    You are a great encourager.

  • 64.
    Tammy said…

    Taking my camera with me is key. In photographing patterns, lines, colors, textures, oddities & collections, ideas start flowing like mad! Experimenting with other types of art also expands your creativity. Great post!

  • 65.
    Beatriz from Spain said…

    Hi Ali, on item 8, type in google the phrase “beautiful things” and found KIREEI.
    To my way of KIREEI is filled with creativity and give myself a break from day to day. I recommend it.

  • 66.
    Jacey said…

    This info is the cat’s pasajam!

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