Five Ways to Break Your Creative Funk

Paint brush and mixing acrylic paintWe all get stuck. Those days (or weeks) that it feels like you may have to quit what you do and become a hobo. I guess it could be described as Creative Block but it’s much broader than that. It’s a Funk. It doesn’t just effect our work, it effects our mood, our life in general. That’s because life requires creativity, no matter your line of work. Creativity is ideas, plain and simple. And without ideas we cannot problem-solve or even move forward in our daily life. I have written about the Currency of Ideas before. My friend Chase Jarvis took it further and declared creativity the new literacy. Powerful stuff. So, reader, whether you think so or not, you need to be creative.

So, with that, I’d like to share my top five ways to flush the funk. Some of these are tried and true, others may seem ridiculous but give them a shot. All have worked for me at one time or another.

1. Try Something New…
…or, at least way different than your used to. Jump, without a net, out of your comfort zone. If you don’t know how to draw, go draw something. Can’t paint? Who cares. Give it a shot. But commit to it, try it for a whole day. Give in to your utter helplessness within the medium. Fail at it. Fail hard. Then push through it. At minimum you’ll end the day with new appreciation for the art form, at best, you may have found a new hobby.

When things get tough I’ll play a game of grab-bag by writing down assignments on color coded paper. Take three colors of Post-It notes. On the first, write an action, like Draw, Write or Photograph. On the next, write down a thing, like Portrait, City, or Food. On the last color, write down emotions. They can be as vague or defined as you like. Fold up the papers, put them in a bag and draw out one of each color. Maybe you got “Photograph, Food, Melancholy.” Go do that. Really explore it. Unless you’re a food photographer feeling down … maybe draw a new assignment.

2. Start a Journal
Writing, whether or not you do it well, is cathartic. Writing daily is something that takes some discipline at first but you’ll grow to appreciate it. I’d suggest using pen on paper, in a book, and not on the computer. Don’t sweat the misspellings, grammar or bad handwriting. This is only for you, no one else. Write about anything you like but try to do it for at least twenty minutes at a time. If you’re stuck for a subject, describe how you’d like the rest of your day to go, or what your perfect vacation looks like. Sometimes I just write about old matchbooks. Go with what’s on your mind, even if  you start with “Well, I don’t know what the hell to write about today, but here goes …”

3. Mimic Something
Here’s a strong one. It goes along with the idea that there are no new ideas, just remixed old ones. Every musical note in every order has been played, all the colors that exist have been mixed, all the stories have been told. So, steal someone’s idea and mimic it.

As a photographer, I’m visual, images are my vocabulary and I collect them. I subscribe to a ridiculous amount of magazines, both print and digital. I tear out things that inspire me, I pin them to a giant board in my studio visit them often. I steal what I like and mimic and emulate. But here’s the thing: the images I make never look anything like the original source of inspiration. That’s because we all infuse our own style into whatever we try to mimic or emulate. It goes back to my Currency of Ideas. We may pass an idea, someone tries to copy it but “fails” and makes something new and unique in the process. This was eloquently outlined in a great little book by Austin Kleon called “Steal Like an Artist.” It’s well worth the eight bucks. Pick up a copy.

4. Go SomewhereDowntown San Diego Steet at sunset.
Travel is the single most transformative action to get me out of a creative funk. And by “travel” I mean anywhere. In the simplest form it means go for a long walk. Get out. Change your scenery. It’s just that simple. Of course, if you can afford the time, a good road trip or weekend getaway will be a shot in the arm for your creativity. I don’t know of a single person that can deny that travel helps them feel rejuvenated on many levels. Its effects are instant.

5. See People
While I shoot on location or in a studio, I do most of my heavy lifting on a computer, in a dimly-lit room, by myself. I’d love for you to think I am out shooting photos with my crew four or five days a week and passing them to my clients but any photographer knows the reality of this business is 20% photography and 80% editing, marketing, managing, and bookkeeping.

Getting out and connecting with people is hugely important. I can sometimes cruise through a week and realize I’ve only emailed or texted with friends or family. That’s alarming. And not healthy for me. So, I’ve made it a routine to plan lunches, coffee meetings, happy hours, gym visits, or afternoon walks with my friends and cohorts. Social interaction is important but it’s also a chance to knock around ideas, which usually leads to, you got it, more ideas.

6. Bonus Idea!
Make your own top-five list of ways to break out of a creative funk. In building and writing this list I refined a few ideas myself. Try writing out what inspires you regularly, then go do those things.

Have a tried-and-true funkbuster? Share in the comments, hit me up on Facebook, shoot me a Tweet, or inspire me on Instagram.

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