How to Climb Out of a Creative Slump

"Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!"

Artists, academics, athletes, whatever categories you happen to fall under, we all feel dried up at some point, losing our sense of why, how, and even what we are doing. As a creative, it can be easy to feel pulled in many different directions at once until you reach a breaking point and realize you have nothing left to give. It's all used up. Not an ounce of inspiration left. 

Some days that feeling can last for a short time until you step outside, or until you play your favorite music. Other days it just buries you. It's all-consuming self-doubt, like looking into a void that's constantly teasing you with fleeting ideas that evaporate the moment you think you've got the spark back. 

Two weeks ago I broke down. I've hustled for the past two years, hardly fazed by anything, and now that I'm slowing down to pay more attention to my craft rather than my connections, I found myself hyper-critical of my own work and without any vision of where I wanted to go next creatively. I built a brand based on a very clear vision - a simple studio with natural light, linen, natural wood tables, eucalyptus branches, models modeling denim and white button-downs, candles smelling like hotel lobbies (the nice ones).... but my surroundings brought me somewhere else. Obviously somewhere without a brick-and-mortar studio to build my brand around. So I went with it, and loved what I was creating. Until one day I was looking at the projects I had just photographed, and everything felt disjointed.

I was in California with my family, trying so hard to get my clear vision back. But I finally just called my husband and all of a sudden I was sobbing and talking about all the directions I wanted to go and how everything I did just felt stupid. It was a total breakdown, but it was what I needed.

I was editing and shooting how I thought I should be editing and shooting, instead of trusting that my work is branded my the very fact that it's me producing it from a genuine perspective and vision. 

My two years of hustling weren't just running around creating nonsense. I was meeting new people, learning more about photography, jumping into projects that scared me, and pushing myself every day. 

So how do your pull yourself up from a creative rut, hole, or chasm that has engulfed you? I don't think we'll ever know. But these might help:

1. Do something just for the fun of it.

"Something" can be your craft or something entirely different. Go out and take photos with a friend (which is where these images happen to come from). Go to a concert. Unplug and cook a meal and drink GOOD wine and listen to music.  Take a load off. Just enjoy life, enjoy the moments, and inspiration will come back to you without you hunting it down and hoping it will surrender and come crawling back. 

2. Read magazines.

Get off Instagram. It's a life ruiner. It ruins people's lives. Look to the professionals. They know what they're doing. Immerse yourself in quality writing, curated images and styles. We all know it's hard to not compare yourself to whoever you follow on Instagram, so just don't even go there for a while. Magazines are beautiful works of art that deserve more of our attention. 

My favorites: Darling | Food and Wine | Kinfolk

3. Pick your head up.

Whatever you're doing, you're doing great. It's easier said than done, but don't compare yourself. Look up from your usual field of vision and see your work from what it is. Want to change? Fine. Want to improve? Go for it. Do you need to slow down? Do it. It's rarely a case of all-of-a sudden we think everything we've done is complete trash, but it's normal to see areas where we can improve. So acknowledge that and give yourself some time to figure out what that is.

4. Give yourself a break.

A real break. An honest to goodness break. Take a vacation. You don't have to go anywhere, but without the office structure of being able to physically leave work, or putting in a request to leave, we often just work through days, weekends, family vacations, and holidays. Turn on your vacation response and just dedicate SOME time to freeing yourself from your inbox, your clients, and your computer. It's the breath of fresh air you desperately need.

5. Find something pretty.

Go to a museum, attend high tea, or go window shopping at a fabulous boutique. Appreciating the beauty and design of work from another field can be really helpful in getting the creative juices flowing without comparing yourself to others in your field.

Highly recommend in Dallas: Tea at Taschen | Forty Five Ten | DMA

6. Talk to someone.

Everyone knows what it feels like. Chat it out with your therapist or family member or friend. It's a great way to realize how small of a problem it really is, and that it's only a matter of time before the feeling passes. 

7. Believe in yourself.

Trust me, you got this.