Creative Slump: A Survival Guide

As of the time I am writing this, I have not made any significant new art for well over a month.  This is a long time for me to go without jumping deep into the creative zone.  So it is safe to say I am currently in a creative slump.

Am I worried?  Not really. I’ve been here before, and I’ll be here again.  It was scary the first few times I experienced slumps, but I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process that helps alleviate some of the stress.

The biggest way to work thru a slump is to understand what is causing the slump in the first place.   The rest of this post is me stepping thru those reasons to look for the cause of my slump.  However they are specific to me. Your reasons will vary, but hopefully walking thru the exercise will help you customize it for your own unique personality.

Lets get to it!

Is This The Beast of Depression?


I have written about my depression for the blog before, but the salient details is that my creativity is an early sign that the Beast of Depression is rearing his ugly head.  Basically, if I am having issues in my life, and both my work life, family life, and creative life are all affected, it’s a sign my depression is getting worse.

So the first thing I do in this situation is ask myself if this is true.  Because if it is I need to start getting help right away.

So it is obvious my creativity is affected, however what about the other aspects of my life, family and work?  I have travelled with the kids without losing my nut, and I generally am not overly cranky at them, so that seems OK.  Since the new year began I have actually been strangely productive at work, so that seems to be OK.

So we’re no closer to understanding the slump, except it seems to not be medical.  What a relief!

However the search continues.

Deadpool Vs The Emoji
Maybe Deadpool assassinated my creativity. You never know!

How Is My Health?

The next question is how do I feel?  Am I coming down with a cold?  Are my allergies acting up? Am I getting enough sleep?  Have I suffered an injury recently?

Basically is there anything going on with me physically that is taking energy away from the creative parts of my brain?

In this time frame, I did get a cold.  It affected me for the week between Christmas and New Years.  It may have contributed to the slump, but it shouldn’t be a factor anymore.

Has My Schedule Changed?

This isn’t small changes, like having breakfast at 7 instead of 7:30.  I’m talking big changes.

My daily schedule is basically the same as it has always been.  However I have travelled recently, and I have a lot more travel coming up.  I went on a Caribbean cruise over the Christmas break, and in a few weeks my wife will be traveling (making me a single parent for a week), then I will be traveling for work.

Here is where knowing oneself comes in handy. I am not a nervous traveller, but I am a planner so I tend to focus on the details of trips.  When I focus on a trip I have less mental energy to wander. A wandering mind is a creative mind.

So this is a likely contributor for the slump.

Is This A Normal Cycle?

It is also very common for creative minded people to go thru cycles of highly creative periods followed by periods of low creativity.  This is normal, and expected. We all need times to recharge our batteries, and creativity is no exception.

During November and the first two weeks of December I was highly creative.  I doubled my posts to this blog, wrote an article for another blog, and created many images for my own nefarious purposes.  Thats a lot of output for me. I enjoyed it immensely, but I was clearly riding a creative wave.

It is quite likely the wave has crested, and I have moved to the natural down time that follows.

What Am I Going To Do About It?

Not much, to be honest.  Since it’s not medical, but a natural cycle accentuated by a lot of travel, I am going to not worry about it, and let my creative batteries recharge on their own.

Aside from meeting the deadlines I’ve committed to for the blog (one post every two weeks), I am not going to force myself to be creative.  If the muse calls, I’ll answer, but I won’t try to force it.

So in the meantime I joined yet another online mentorship program for digital artists.  This will give me time to gain some new skills. It never hurts to sharpen my knowledge of Photoshop while waiting for my muse.

Do you have ways to deal with creative slumps?  I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

[dave]

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14 Comments

  1. Sometimes a creative slump for me means I need to be challenged a bit more. It seems I get into a creative routine (if that’s even possible?), and then I am just less excited about ideas. Sometimes working on a new technique with lighting or explosives or something suddenly sparks the creativity again. But it only works if I’m actively striving for some overarching goal.

    • Thanks for the comments joecow

      Do you find that once you are in a creative routine, after a while it becomes less satisfying?

      For me sometimes I get on a creative high, and create work, and improve over that time, but then I hit a plateau where I don’t seem to be improving in my work, or my vision for a photo becomes out of my current reach. When this happens I tend to get frustrated, and need a bit to recharge.

  2. Awesome post Dave! 😁 I really like that kind of checklist about yourself which you use… and since I‘m suffering from depression as well… it might come in handy when I have my next crestive slump! 🙂

    I can very much relate to the feeling of simply going down into that slump and waiting till the next wave hits you. However I can sometimes kind of ignite my creativity a bit, while working on any shot. So being creative brings out creativity for me… if you know what I mean. Forcing myself a bit to just start somewhere helps a lot. And to male sure I can start somewhere I have a small notebook where I collect any ideas that come to my mind throughout my day and I keep about 10-15 bigger and smaller projects there to always have something to start. And most recently I tried to make some kind of an inventory of all the minifigures I have and my goal is to use all of them at least once, which also forces me a bit to think of something and normally that works for me. 🙂 Hope that helps someone out there… 😉

    • Thanks Sacha

      I highly recommend working on such a checklist for yourself. It will look different than mine tho. I find that by being conscious of the things that signal depression issues are rising, or things that affect me that are not mental health issues, helps a lot. Really if I can identify the causes of down times that are not related to mental health triggers, it really calms the anxiety down, and it is easier to allow myself the time to ride it out.

      I totally love the idea of giving yourself a goal like using all your minifigs at least once. Having something to aim for also helps work over a slump because the motivation remains, even if the actual creativity isn’t there. And worse comes to worse, you have a tidier minifig collection 🙂

      Good luck!

  3. I’ve never been in creative slump so it might be useful when it finally hits me. Now I’m hit rather by creative avalanche. There are plenty ideas, little time, so there’s no place for slump. But sometimes, when I have an idea but don’t know how to execute it, I loose energy and become discouraged. Then I just wait or do something unrelated with photography. Most often this kind of reset helps and I quickly become hungry for new pictures.

  4. Interesting post, particularly so at the moment – I’m really struggling with my creativity and being really critical of my work – really not happy with it.
    Could you give me more details of the mentorship program you mentioned please?

  5. Astrid

    Hi Dave,
    I like your checklist! … and I know these creative slumps very well. I do not take pictures in such phases anymore. At first it worried me a lot, but now I can handle these stages reasonably well. I always ask myself the following question: What concerns me so much now that I no longer have any ideas or can no longer take pictures? So far, there has always been an answer. That usually makes me more patient. Then I wait (just like now) and hope that it’s the same as always … at some point, all those ideas are back and I ride again on the wave of creativity.

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