Stuck in a Creative Slump

Stuck in a Creative Slump

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath, writer/poet

Right now, I’ve been in a creative slump for about four weeks, and it’s pretty frustrating. So, I’ve been finding small, creative projects to keep busy and help get me back into my groove.

I had a couple of IKEA cork coasters, one I use one for my coffee cup, but the other I decided to cut notches in with an XActo knife to use as a holder for my brushes.

It works really well and keeps my brushes within reach while I’m painting, keeps them from rolling around on my desk and in my paint tins, and it lets the brushes dry while lying on their sides.

The benefit to this kind of peripheral thinking, is that just doing a simple project like this can lead to considering other ideas or solutions for other projects, too.

I also had a whole bunch of spare toilet paper tubes and thought that there must be a way to turn them into something useful. I recently bought a 300-slot pencil case to hold my good colored pencils, except, it didn’t work out the way I hoped and I needed another solution.

Using the tubes, I put them in my old pencil case – a milk bottle crate with 6 deep slots and tall sides and a large handle over the top. I cut off the sides and handle and drilled finger holes in the body to allow easier access and portability.

Well, the toilet paper tubes worked really well, dividing each deep slot of the milk crate into two slots, giving me twice the space to hold my Faber Castell Polychromos pencils. I really like this and it keeps my good pencils from banging around like they did when there were only 6 slots.  

But, I kept going with the idea of making a new pencil case. I created a small prototype of a pencil case that I could make at a larger scale using wood or even heavy illustration board. 

This kind of mechanical thinking is a great way to continue being creative, but in a way that is solution-based and which accesses abstract thinking, which means I’m not restricted by my own, creative boundaries.

But, because I’m in a slump right now and can’t access my normal, routine methods of creativity, I decided to keep going with this kind of thinking and I drew up a layout for another pencil case that has 22 slots – about the same size as the toilet paper tubes – which I could build out of wood and keep right on my desk.

I may never make these pencil cases, but just developing the ideas allowed me to tap into my creative spirit – again, without expectation or pressure – and strike that spark to get me back on track.

But, despite these fun projects, the fact still remains: I’m right smack in the middle of a creative slump.

So, at this stage, I suppose the most important question we should ask is: What is a creative slump?

In my definition, a “creative slump” happens when we’re mentally exhausted or overwhelmed by aspects of our life that seem to be either out of our control, overly redundant, or that we don’t feel like we have any impact on.

Finding ourselves in a slump can be frustrating, distressing, and taxing. It can affect our creative output, as well as other areas of our life.

A creative slump is often referred to as a creative block, which is more like a wall or obstacle that we need to get past to regain our creative routines.

Creative blocks are often accompanied by personal situations taking precedence in our life,  an intense pressure to produce – like, a tight deadline, a project out of our skill set, or a project with rigid boundaries that are outside our comfort zone.

While getting over, around, or even under a creative block can require time, patience, and a flexible strategy, there IS no real strategy to get out of a slump.

The best analogy I can come up with is that a creative slump is a lot like wearing a wet blanket. It’s heavy, cumbersome, and keeps us from freely exercising our mental and creative skills in a fresh, routine fashion that we’re accustomed to.

A slump is challenging and takes time to get up from – time that could be spent doing more of the creative activities we enjoy.

If you search YouTube or Google, you’ll find a dozen videos and sites that offer “Ways to Break a Creative Slump” or “How to Get Over Your Creative Block,” and those are all fine – but while the advice being offered is good, like “go for a walk,” “try something different,” and yes, even, “take a bath,” they do not get into the actual experience of what it’s like to be in the middle of a creative slump, where natural curiosity and creative exploration are simply not accessible.

For whatever reasons, they don’t delve into the feelings of helplessness, melancholy, and even depression and frustration that comes from looking at all our creative tools and supplies and being incapable of picking them up and putting them to use, like normal.

Being in a slump is a big hit to the ego, which for me, is like I’m sitting on a big block of Kryptonite and all my super powers have disappeared. I feel flat, uninspired, unmotivated, and frankly, a little useless. 

There’s no quick fix for either a creative block or slump, so the most important thing we can do, is to understand what’s happening. To explore why we’re in this slump and recognize what it’s doing to us.

So, once we begin to recognize it and understand it, we can then address it, talk about it with others, and seek out ways to support our creativity to eventually lead us back toward our normal routine. One way is to:

1. Force Ourselves to Work Creatively.

Despite what you may hear or read, taking a break from our creativity is probably the worst thing we can do during a creative slump or block.

Giving in to the desire to “give up” is to turn our back on the passion and sheer joy we get from immersing into our creativity. By taking a break, we put our creative spirit at risk of being shut down and allowed to fall away, when we should actually be nurturing it in a healthy, organic way.

Sure, taking a few days to regroup and contemplate, or to try other things is always beneficial and works for most people. However, for some, it can become a permanent break and they fall away for months, years, or in some cases, for good.

It can take every ounce of effort to forcefully immerse into our work, especially when the feeling, motivation, or inspiration is just not there.

But, I know for me, it’s the only way for me to get back on the proverbial bicycle and start riding again.

The most important thing to do when we find ourselves pressed against our creative boundaries, is to recognize that we’re unable to create in the way we’re accustomed to – to recognize that, for whatever reasons, we are blocked.

Recognizing that we’re blocked or in a slump allows us the freedom to breathe easier instead of struggling, and replaces the question of “why can’t I?” with the question of “How can I?”

I try to see it as though when we overwork our bodies, our muscles need to recuperate and heal to be healthy. When we’re exhausted, our bodies need to rest in order to heal both mentally and physically. But, no one really talks about how when the creative spirit is depleted, that it also needs to recuperate and rest to get back to being sharp and focused.

It’s not easy, though, because there are so many other factors that can affect our creative spirit, including overworked muscles, an exhausted body, or anxiety and stress that can weigh us down.

If we don’t exercise those muscles, they won’t work the way we need them to when we need them to. If we don’t rest, we become aloof and confused, and risk harm from fatigue. The same is true for our creative spirit. If we don’t exercise it and we don’t rest it, then we risk putting it in harm’s way by letting it get stale, shelving it, or abandoning it, altogether.

For me, that’s not acceptable and it shouldn’t be for you, either, no matter what your interest or skill level may be.

That’s why, anytime I find myself falling into a creative slump or block, I’ll go back and revisit something a teacher of mine introduced me to when I was in art school:


This is when the information we’ve acquired no longer serves a purpose and can be dismissed, and when all ideas and approaches to solving a problem or performing a task have been exhausted.

It’s going down a path and finding a fork in the road and choosing to go to the right. Only to find that the path to the right is blocked! We then have to go all the way back to the fork and try again, going to the left toward our destination. 

We have to “unlearn” all the information about the path on the right, which no longer serves a purpose, and refocus on the new information on the left.

In other words, it’s unlearning all the skills we have about the way we create, and going back to a childhood-like state and starting all over, from scratch. And it can be extremely rewarding.

I have a video on this topic called the “10 Benefits of Unlearning.”

So, for me, revisiting this “unlearning” process, it begins with:

2. Revisiting the Basics 

This is always a great way to step back to the start, review the fundaments, and be creative without any pressure, expectation, or frustration.

I’m talking about simple scribbles, loose circles and squares, basic paint swatches, quick washes, and laying out a wandering abstract composition that sets the creative mind free and is a great way to help unravel the tangles that can cause a creative slump.

This is purely exercise and makes no attempt to access the ego in creating something “good” or of “value.”

Something that I do, like in this drawing, is to revisit old drawings that I never added color to. These are usually doodles and drawings that I created with no intent of finishing, showing, or doing anything with. They were just for fun and to keep myself fresh and in practice.

This is exactly that kind of exercise that helps flush out the creative block by using all the creative tools and staying connected to them, even though I’m not really producing anything serious or with a purpose. 

Another way I like to exercise my creative spirit is to:

3. Find Creative Uses for Household Items

If you look around the house, there’s a ton of stuff sitting there, not doing much of anything. Using those items as the free weights for our creative spirit can not only be a lot of fun, but can produce some unexpected results.

I really enjoy digging through my old books and drawing in them. It’s something I’ve been doing for years, whenever I find myself unable to work on a blank page and create something new.

Whether it’s a children’s book, an old novel, or even an instruction manual, it’s a great way to breathe new life into something that’s just sitting on a shelf or in a storage bin collecting dust.

And it may seem unethical to draw on someone else’s work, but for me, that work is lifeless unless it’s being used.

Another favorite is my old music books. I have a whole bunch of children’s music books that are filled with wonderful lyrics that can produce some great images to draw from. Doodling on the pages, in the margins and around the words, can really stimulate our creativity in a way that we’d normally overlook.

In my video, ”FUN WAYS to Draw with Old Magazines!” I share my joy in drawing in old magazines, catalogs, and on junk mail. 

Still, another way draw out our creativity is by:

4. Use Food Creatively

We’re taught when we’re kids not to play with our food. However, food can be an extremely fun way to draw out our creativity.

Cooking is always a treat, because we get to eat whatever creative dish we come up with, but there are other ways to put our food into a new light and find inspiration and motivation in playing with it.

Have you ever carved a pumpkin at Halloween? Have you ever carved a shrunken head out of an apple? What about sculpting using the insides of a banana? Or making a collage out of peeled carrots and parsnips? And you can even carve a sculpture from a potato and paint it with beet juice!

Personally, I really enjoy grabbing a Sharpie and drawing on melons, lemons, oranges, and bananas. It’s harmless to the fruit inside and makes for a really fun way to be creative and make some interesting decorations to display.

But what it’s really doing is allowing us to freely “play” with our food in a way that stimulates our creative spirit outside of our normal method of working and in a place, like the kitchen, that is vastly different from where we might normally work.

The great thing, too, is that it can lead us to see what else we can “play” with, like old Amazon boxes or cereal boxes that we can cut up and create with… old sneakers or plant pots that we can draw on… or even old photographs we can clip and rearrange into a new collage or photo album.

There’s so many ways to subtly work out of a creative slump without discounting the emotional or physical reasons of why we’re in it, in the first place.

It’s all about that natural, organic process of nurturing the creative spirit instead of walking away from it or feeling negative or guilty emotions for not being able to access it.

Lastly, it’s always beneficial to…

5. Explore Other Outlets of Creativity

There are endless ways to be creative that are different from our regular concentration or discipline which can help bring us back, slowly and progressively.

Finding ways to stimulate the core components of our creativity is key and again, understanding “how” can have huge benefits. For example, instead of that useless feeling of not being able to paint a painting, understanding how the preparation of a painting is a vital component to the process can be exercised in a different way. 

Like, cooking. It requires the same kind of preparation as a painting, where instead of brushes, canvas, paints, and water or thinners, we use knives, cutting boards, food, and pots and pans.

Keeping our workspace in shape for us to be creative requires organization so we know where everything goes and how we have access to our tools. Ironically, our closets, bathroom cabinets, and kitchen cupboards require the same organization skills to keep things in the right place and so we have access to what we need.

In the middle of creative slump, it may seem impossible to plan a day of creative activities, but it’s not impossible to plan a day of resting, watching television, going for a walk or a bike ride, or writing a letter to a friend.

And purging old art supplies is not much different from purging old clothes, books, or things in the garage. I just recently went through all my art supplies and put everything I haven’t touched in the past two years in a storage bin. That way, the only things I have out are things that I consistently use.

The key is to understand how these components work together – preparation, organization, planning, and even purging – and how to apply them to those outside, peripheral areas of our life can work in our favor and help us get back in our groove and put our normal creative routine back on track.

Again, there’s no guarantee, but while some advice you may find out on the internet doesn’t directly address why we fall into a creative slump, and only offers ways to distract us from it, it’s important to remember to keep engaged.

Because, not for nothing, when we are in the middle of a creative slump, it’s so easy to wander into that distressed, helpless way of thinking that when we leave it unfettered, it can easily turn into a blasé, apathetic attitude that, after extended periods of time, can make us cynical, resentful, and worst of all – uncreative.

I thank you so much for reading today and, for me, writing this piece was helpful in taking a look at the creative slump I’m in right now and remembering that it’s not permanent and there are things I can do to get myself out of it.

As always, have a great day, stay healthy and safe, and God bless!