Diversify and Become More Creative


We all get stuck. Feel like there is no way out of a rut. That our creative well has dried up. Usually it is only temporarily – and if we have experienced it a couple of times, we may actually be able to not freak out completely, knowing from experience that we will eventually get out it again. It happens to everybody who does creative work, if that is of any consolation. Of course, we have all heard about the writer’s block – and writers certainly have experienced it. However, it is the same thing for all other creatives, although we do not talk about the photographer’s block or the painter’s block or the performer’s block as such.

How do we get out of the block – or even better prevent it in the first place? First of all, I do think it is almost impossible to completely prevent feeling that the muse leaves us behind from time to time. I know artists who have such unremitting amounts of positive energy that they hardly ever get in a rut, but I think they are the exception. For the rest of us, our inspiration will dry up every so often. How we deal with the block then is as different as there are creatives. Sometimes giving full speed may get me out, for instance. I will go out and photograph even when I feel uninspired and stuck. Eventually something changes in my receptiveness and suddenly I find myself in that wonderful flow, which I know, will take me to new places. However, sometimes that doesn’t help. Then, putting the foot on the gas, when the wheels are spinning, almost never helps.

When the well is empty, there is no point in keep lowering the bucket into it hoping for a miracle to happen. When the well is empty, it’s empty and instead of wresting out the last drop of water we should rather find ways to fill it again. I really think the biggest blocks happen, when we run out of raw materials, when we get so busy with what we have that we forget to seek new inputs. You can only draw water from a well for so long if the source dries up.

One of the best ways to revive a creative well that has run empty is by finding new sources from which to fill it up again. The more streams that lead into the well, the quicker it fills up again, and the less likely it will dry up in the first place. More figuratively speaking we should encourage ourselves to draw from a whole range of new impulses outside of our artistic field and give ourselves some nice experiences without having to be creative ourselves. Just take in from everywhere. It could mean going to a concert. Enjoying a moment of silence. Going for a walk. Watching a movie. Treating yourself with a nice meal. Visiting an art museum. Doing meditation.

It’s really about expanding your horizon, finding impulses from outside your regular world, and it’s about finding new dots to connect in a different way. The late Steve Jobs once said that creativity was nothing more than connecting dots. If that is the case, we need to collect more dots before we can make connections between them, and the more those dots come from different sources, the better. Diversification is simply the best preventive measure against creative blocks. We will learn much more, and find more interesting ideas, if we look beyond the lessons already learned by our peers, and look elsewhere. Why do landscape photographers spend most of their time looking at other landscape photographer’s work? Or photographers in general look at photography? When I think we should rather spend as much time with other works of art or even collect inspiration outside of the artistic world?

On his blog the Photographer David duChemin once wrote: «The best dots of all, so long as we’re talking about collecting them before we can connect them, are the people with whom we choose to surround ourselves. The more divergent from our own field, our own work, our own thoughts, the better. Connections beget connections, and nothing makes us more the people we are, creative or otherwise, than connections to people that inspire us, that push us, and that create new connections for us, than amazing people.»

So, go out and collect more dots, collect more diverse dots and try even to collect dots you don’t think would be interesting to you. How do you expand you horizon? How do you diversify? It would be fun to know.


66 thoughts on “Diversify and Become More Creative

  1. Interessantissimo il tuo post. Io il blocco spesso lo sento, perché mi sembra di fotografare sempre gli stessi soggetti e quindi di non avere fantasia. A volte lascio a riposo la macchina fotografica per un po’ di giorni, ma spesso per non bloccarmi totalmente cerco di fare foto ugualmente, guardandomi intorno e fotografando quello che attira la mia attenzione, anche se non è niente di eclatante e poi mi ci diverto a elaborarle, a cambiare i colori o cose di questo genere, finché non torna la voglia di fare foto spontanee, quelle che proprio senti dentro!!
    Ciao, Patrizia

    1. A volte tutti dobbiamo stabilire il nostro lavoro, la fotocamera per i fotografi come te e me. Lentamente i succhi cominciano a scorrere di nuovo. Grazie per aver condiviso i vostri punti, Patrizia.

  2. I’m feeling a bit this way myself right now, and not just photographically but in wider aspects of my life. I’m going to go look for some dots to collect…and then connect. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I needed it.

  3. Excellent post – honest and down to the truth. I think it is a difficult situation one faces and it appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel once you in it. I am also believe it also depends on individual as well. I was always impressed by those who can produce stream of works very regularly.. Amazing.

  4. These dots are complicated. In order to connect them, we have to see them. Sometimes they are just a mere pin prick, nearly unrecognizable. We need to let in the light that will define them…easier said than done! Another thought provoking post, Otto.

    1. I like you description of letting in the light to find the really small dots. Often those are the ones that will move us the most – when we find them and connect them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Nina.

  5. Going to a museum is a big dot for me; I seem to “see” so much after that when I walk out on the street. I also feel renewed after watching a good foreign film (subtitled so I hear the language it is filmed in). And travel, that’s a big one. Great post, Otto.

  6. “Something’s happenin’ here. What it is ain’t exactly clear…..” remember that song? Your posted words, Otto, once again parallel “happenings” in the place where I stand. Too many thoughts at the moment to succinctly convey what you so aptly confirm. Wishing you well….and…it’s back to the [dotted] drawing table….

  7. What a sweet and inspiring post! Thank you. It makes me think of Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way”, in which she recommends a weekly ritual of filling the well: getting out and enjoying stuff OTHER than what you do creatively. Like, for me, it might be going to an art supply store (I don’t paint), or going bowling, or visiting a hardware store (what is all this stuff for????), or visiting a cooking store (what does all this stuff do????). I guess it means to take our inner child out for a play date?

    1. I have enjoyed The Artist’s Way many a time. She talks about the artist’s date as a way of filling the creative well. Yes, we should definitely Let our inner child play more. Interesting that you find dots in hardware stores and cooking stores. 🙂

  8. Such great advice and I recently did something just like that. Feeling too overwhelmed, I took a few days off to go to the beach and then did what a friend called a ‘brain dump’. Putting all the things I needed/wanted to do on a piece of paper and getting it out of my head, so that the creative juices could once again find their way in without competition from all the mundane activities that we all have in our lives. Thank you for a wonderful post.

  9. I don’t currently have a creative block per se, as it is more of a creative distraction. The whole world has gone photography mad in the past several years (at least), and because the high demand (yet increasingly tightening selectiveness for the most original looking shots) I have been stuck producing nothing but photography for years now.

    I am originally an illustrator.

    I’ll always love photography, and between personal projects and assignments for clients, I’ll always be available to shoot something but I really need and want to get back to drawing and painting. That’s what I’m now desperately working on.

    I am not a one trick pony, and I won’t be pigeonholed.

  10. “Looking for dots” is always in my agenda. I try to visit art events, conferences and lectures, museums, movies and music so much as possible. Sometimes also sitting in a coffee shop and looking around can be a way to find a dot. And a good book…
    But to connect them, possibly in a creative way is sometimes difficult for me. First I need to be ia a relaxed mood with no other problems or worries in my head. Sometimes even small practical worries can stop my creative thinking. Second this connection phase needs energy, needs to be ready to work, fail, and work again.
    Meeting other creative people in this cad helps a lot: in this case are not only the ideas shared but also that kind of energy which is required to be creative. Thanks for this post Otto.

    1. How come I am not surprised that you are always looking for dots… I believe connecting them is not only a conscious process but happens more intuitively while working with a project for instance. But agree meeting other creative people certainly spurs that connecting phase. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this issue, Robert. As always very interesting.

  11. It’s especially hard for writers I think. We work alone, we live in our heads, and sometimes we forget to refill our own wells. I’m learning to step away from my blog for periods of time to just focus on the work at hand or to enjoy life. It’s always right there when I come back full of energy and zest! Great post, as usual.

  12. This is just what I needed to read today.While my well is not completely empty, the water does seem to be stagnant, non-moving therefore it’s time to stir it up a bit. I am always on the lookout for inspiration, a new idea, etc in hopes that the well water gets stirred up and moving..
    Really good post, Otto!

  13. Oh Otto… you must be reading my mind. I’ve been running on empty for some time now. Digging through archives has helped, but health problems have kept me from getting out much. Hopefully that’s improving and a change of scene may add to recovery. Running on empty seems to make the world a whole lot darker somehow.

  14. So true, and I like your thought of when the well goes dry, do not keep sitting there hoping that it will fill up again, but instead go out and find a new source…and beginning the digging again. The ebb & flow of creativity is part of the process itself, and getting out of the rut of apathy is always so difficult. Great post Otto, exceptional writing and ideas as always.

  15. Following blogs is one of the best ways to diversify – I receive a new gallery of images on my desktop every day. I’ve no idea what’s coming next but the diversity of the work is always inspiring. I also think that the more I use my camera the more I stretch my creativity and open up new wells from which I can can draw water. I’ve had a three weeks spell just now when life has been particularly manic. It included Matisse – The Cut-Outs, Henry Moore and Rodin sculptures, three other trips to London for various reasons and visits to two other new places. I now have a vast quantity of new material to work my way through. Later this week I am off to see Mondrian and next week Malevich. London has such cultural diversity. Sometimes the relevance of what I see to my own output can seem tenuous, but the inspiration acquired through viewing the work of such skilled people is like a ‘fix’ figuratively speaking. Endorphins are flowing, shall we say.

    1. That is really what I love about London, it’s cultural diversity. Besides the city itself, I mean. And, yes, of course you are right, the blog community does provide an abundance of new inputs. Thanks for sharing your experience and new ways of connecting the dots.

  16. I love what you say about connecting the dots–diversifying! For the last many years I’ve really enjoyed making friends with people often very different from me. Many are much smarter and more talented than I, who expand my world, making me really stretch sometimes just to keep up! 🙂 I’m going to think about other dots I may want to connect. Such an excellent source of inspiration, Otto!

  17. i often have to give up and change everything, which i did most recently, i am disciplining myself to stay out of photoshop and process minimally for a different look to everything i do, and i have to change my web presence…. i have had writer’s block since the 90’s i don’t knoooow how to get rid of blocks, only change

      1. yes it really does! i thought all my photoshopping was making me more creative, and maybe it did for a bit, but then burnout happens… i got sick of the excess… i’m having a good time now, taking bad pictures and making them look boring haha, but they look nice to me 🙂

  18. While I have a professional background as a writer/editor and strong skills as an amateur photographer and humorist, I like to test the limits (?) of my creativity by trying out a new medium. A few years ago I saw an announcement for a competition in the visual arts sponsored by The Ohio Arts Council. Although I had never done any sculpture before, I created a whole series of “Art from Recyclables” pieces for the competition: http://www.ohio.edu/people/robinsoj/recycled_art/ I didn’t win any awards in the competition, but I was more than compensated by discovering that I can be creative in more ways than I ever thought possible. I’m at retirement age and don’t know how many years I have left, but I wouldn’t at all mind ending up being a Renaissance Man. Just as, when I left school, my dreams never graduated, I’ll never retire from being creative.

    1. That sounds like a good plan – which I intend to follow myself. And it’s really fun to read about your discovery of the sculptural world. I think the reward of trying out something new – or just being creative in general – is not the awards (although it’s of course nice to be appreciated) but the joy of the process itself. Thanks for sharing this side of you, John.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s