breaking out of a creative rut – by ali edwards

Feb 22, 2011 | Entrepreneurship, Life in Progress

hey guys,
oprah was amazing. really truly amazing. it was a once in a lifetime experience, and our time in chicago (the whole three days) was insanely fulfilling and so much fun. i have so much to tell you!

as i work on pulling my words and experience together, and as i work on settling back into home life (i missed True + John sooooo much AND we’ve got a friend arriving in town today for a visit), i wanted to post a couple of guest posts this week that i never had a chance to post during my maternity leave.

Monday Sunset

today, we’ve got my pal ali edwards sharing her thoughts on breaking out of a creative rut. recently, as i try and navigate my way back to my studio and painting, i’ve been thinking about this topic a lot. we all have creative ebb and flow and her words on how to break through are smart and insightful.

i met ali a few years ago (i had a major blog/career crush on her before we met) and i always really love being around her. in so many ways, she’s not just a good friend, but she’s been a creative mentor for me for years. i look up to her, respect the professional choices she’s made, and i love how she’s fearlessly lived her dream while also being mom to two pretty awesome kids. often, when i have something to celebrate, i’ll email ali and she’s right there with me, cheering me on. she gives the best no nonsense, practical advice in a way that makes the most complicated of situations all of the sudden feel clean, clear, and easy – not just when it comes to creative biz stuff, but life stuff, baby stuff, mom stuff. on top of all of that, she’s funny, smart, inspiring (hello, inner athlete! and one word project!) and i love the way she dresses (crush!).

enjoy her post (it’s a good one!)………….

(photo of ali taken by tracey clark)

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’m 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.

The bottom line: take heart, it will come back.

Ali Edwards’s passion resides in that very special place where the stories and images of life intersect. Visit her at

Sending much love,

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I’m Kelly Rae Roberts

Before I picked up my first paintbrush at the age of 30, I was a medical social worker. I followed my creative whispers, and today I’m an artist & Possibilitarian. I’m passionate about creating meaningful art and experiences that awaken and inspire our spirits.

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