How to Get Out of a Rut

Some people call it “rut”, some people call it “funk”, or even “blues”. Being in a rut is something that can happen to any creative at any point of their career. Whether it is created by a lack of projects (boredom), too many projects (exhaustion) or inaction caused by self-doubt (paralysis), it can cost weeks, even months of frustration.

I’ve been in a rut before, and I was unable to write anything for a long period of time. Nothing productive happened in my life and every day resembled the previous one. I just felt uninspired all the time, and I desperately needed to make changes, but yet I didn’t do anything. It was too overwhelming to try to tackle the issues that put me in that situation in the first place.

Fortunately over the years I’ve learned a few techniques that helped me get out of that funk, and avoid drowning deeper. Because, contrary to more complicated situations like depression, it is totally possible to get out of a rut by yourself and quickly.

Take a Small Step

Sometimes, it’s all it takes. Make one little step towards doing something creative, to re-launch the engine. It is especially true if the reason why you are in a rut in the first place is because you avoided doing anything creative. Perhaps you didn’t have the time for a few days or weeks, and now you are too scared or intimidated to start again.

So try to do something related to your art RIGHT NOW. If you are in a rut, don’t wait until it is convenient or easy to create, because it is very likely that you will never come around to do it.

Change Your State

If taking a small step was too difficult or did not work, try getting your body ready for action first. “Changing your state” is a concept that I was introduced to by Tony Robbins:

The idea is that your posture, your activity level, your body language reflects what you feel on the inside. AND that if you change that posture, activity, body language, you will change how you feel.

I noticed that when I feel unmotivated and uninspired, I usually also feel sluggish and lazy. Therefore, the answer is simple: I get up, and I do something active. Now, don’t get me wrong: I am not a crazy fan of exercising, I don’t go to the gym and I hate running. But just 5 minutes of moving can change my level of motivation dramatically!

So next time you feel in a rut, force your body to move and see how your mood improve. Chances are you’ll feel much more ready to do something creative after that!

Meet Other Artists

Meeting other artists can be a powerful way to pull you out of a rut, especially if inspiration is what caused the problem in the first place. I make a point of going to writing events at least once a month. If I can’t go physically, I participate in online webinars or chats.

Forcing yourself to get out of your usual habits and meeting artists, especially artists you haven’t met before, can change your whole energy. If you are stuck, you can ask for help. If you just need some inspiration, you can listen to their stories and how they overcame their problems.

Meeting other people can also put your struggles in perspective and give you another way to look at your situation.

Try Something New

Sometimes, being in a rut comes from the fact that we don’t push our limits as an artist, or we stay in our comfort zone. When I get really tired of always writing the same thing (which can happens in the middle of writing a novel), I take a short break and I write something completely different. A short story in a new genre, for example. Or with a character that is at the opposite of what I usually write.

The idea here is to do something that you would normally not do. Try a completely different technique than what you do usually, challenge yourself with a different inspiration. Anything to break the “same old – same old” feeling that you might get when you work on the same project for too long or when you feel you don’t get out of your comfort zone enough.

The best part is that you don’t need to do anything with that short project. There’s nothing at stake here. It doesn’t have to be good or groundbreaking or fancy, it just has to be new. You are completely free to experiment, surprise yourself, and nobody ever has to see the results!

Finish Something

Oh, the good old perfectionism! Don’t I know it well! There you have it: sometimes being in a rut means not being able to finish a project. It means going back to it, over and over again, because we can’t bring ourselves to finish it. And nothing else gets done in the meantime.

Last year, I was finishing the second draft of my novel Healers, and I was having a really hard time with it. I had reached a point where I simply hated that story, because I had spent months re-writing it and it still wasn’t as good as I had envisioned. Long story short, it took me almost two months to write the last two miserable chapters. I was stalling, I hated what I was producing and I was so freaking over this whole project. And guess what? Once I forced myself and finished it, suddenly inspiration and creativity started again. Barely two weeks after writing “the end” on that dreadful draft, I had the idea for The Part-Time Artist.

Sometimes, you have to finish the project that keep gnawing at you. And when I say finish, I don’t mean making it perfect. Just finish it! Put an end to it. Get it done! Jake Parker says it better than me:

Remember Your “Why”

Finally, if all else fails, go back to what made you an artist in the first place. Go back to the dream you had and the reasons why you made all these efforts in the beginning. Being in a rut can sometimes mean that you have lost sight of the big picture. You might be overwhelmed by little details. Or you might feel bored by your day-to-day activities because you don’t remember why you do them.

In my book, I advise readers to make a list of their why’s, to put down on paper all the reasons why they do their art. If you are reading this and if you feel like you have lost the “spark”, this is the perfect exercise to get it back! And make sure that you are honest with yourself, because this list is for you only. Once it’s done, keep that list somewhere where you can re-read it whenever you feel trapped and overwhelmed.

Get Out of Your Rut NOW

There’s no time like the present, and that’s especially true if you have been stuck “on repeat” for a long time. Try one or more of these techniques immediately, and get yourself out!

Are you stuck in a rut? Have you used something else to get you out of it? Then head to the comments below and let me know about your experience!